Nightwish + Arch Enemy + Amorphis
@ Wembley Arena
19th December 2015
Review by Jacob Ovington
Photography by Graham Hilling
Time after time, it seems as though Nightwish have reached their peak. It seems impossible for them to get any bigger or better, but they just keep outdoing themselves. It was over ten years ago with ‘Once’ that they really began making ground in the UK. Back then they were seen as some kind of strange hybrid imported from the depths of northern Europe, an exotic fusion of opera and metal. It was a few years later with the release of ‘Dark Passion Play’ that they had an even bigger commercial breakthrough on these shores. Ditching Tarja and replacing her with Anette’s more conventional pop-friendly voice probably had a lot to do with that album reaching 25 on the UK album charts. Even earlier this year when ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ reached 12th place, nobody thought that Nightwish would be headlining Wembley. And when Wembley was announced, people thought it was too big for them, that they were aiming too high. Nobody thought that they’d manage to sell it out. But they did.
Joining Nightwish on this special occasion and up first were Amorphis. What an opportunity for the band, getting the chance to play to an audience of this scale in the UK.
They opened their set with ‘Death Of A King.’ Anyone who didn’t know them before was almost certainly won over by their psychedelically tinged metallic sound.
The lead singer’s microphone was quite a contraption, with springs and all sorts giving it a steampunk look which matched the quirky aspects of their sound.
Arch Enemy were up next. To many they seemed like an odd choice to be supporting Nightwish. On paper, it may seem so, but in reality they have a large mutual fanbase.
What do they have in common with the headlining act? They both have women at the helm? That’s not really relevant. They’ve both replaced their vocalists twice. Also irrelevant. They both fucking rock!? That’s the one.
If there’s a band that can stand tall and kick-ass in the shadow of Nightwish, Arch Enemy is that band. They’re different enough to do the job, that’s what makes them such a good choice.
Selecting an act too similar to Nightwish would mean the support would just pale in comparison, but Arch Enemy stood their own ground!
Opening with ‘Yesterday Is Dead And Gone’ from Khaos Legions, the new vocalist, Alissa White-Gluz was immediately able to prove her worth in the band. In her previous band, The Agonist, she developed a reputation for being one of the best at what she does.
With Arch Enemy, she is continuing to do so. At this point the audience really starts to pack in, and a mini mosh-pit forms as ‘War Eternal’ begins. It doesn’t last long, as most of the audience decide they’re not up for that and the pit is defeated.
Arch Enemy’s music can be complex and multi-layered at times, but they’re an experienced team who are more than capable of the task at hand. The audience roars as the classic ‘Ravenous’ fills the arena.
It could be described as one of the outfit’s anthems, so seeing it performed to such a large audience was immense! The energy of the song was magnified by the audience and filled the arena creating an electrifying atmosphere.
The rest of their set was performed with an air of confidence, before finally being topped off by another classic, ‘Nemesis’.
There was no better way for Nightwish to open their biggest ever show in the UK than with Richard Dawkins inspirational words at the beginning of ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’, the first track of their evolution celebrating opus, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’.
The first sung lyrics of the set were ‘Awake Oceanborn’, a reference to the side of the band that has laid dormant since that album. Hearing those words was a thrilling moment that so many fans had been waiting for. Its dark verses complete with the band’s trademark double-layered orchestra and guitar riffing, combined with a climbing chorus that takes Floor into her upper range make it a great intro to what would be a landmark show. This is the first time the UK has had the chance to see the band’s full production, complete with pyrotechnics which add that extra bang to the bombast.
‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ followed, one of the band’s angrier numbers, giving Floor a chance to show off the raspier side of her voice. A bit early in the set cames ‘Ever Dream’, one song that has remained constant in their sets since its release.
That romantic piano opening never fails to fill the audience with tears whoever is singing it, and when it comes to doing it live, Floor outdoes Tarja by a long way.
Following ‘Storytime’ was ‘My Walden’, which is interestingly opened by some Welsh language lyrics sung by Troy Donockley. He seems to fit the band like a glove, it’s hard to imagine there was ever a Nightwish without him. This is a song that seems to go along a well-trodden unadventurous path, that is until it bursts into what can only be described as a celtic orgasm!
The uilleann pipes create an otherworldly melodic climax, which combined with the size of Wembley and the energy of its audience, created a moment that will be hard to forget.
Before ‘While Your Lips Are Still Red’ Marco made a moving speech about making the most of life in light of the recent tragedies that have affected the world, and even closer to home, the tragedies that have affected fellow metalheads. The song that followed was just as moving, aided by the softer side of Marco’s voice.
The unadventurous side of the band was embodied in ‘Elan’, making it a bit of a lull in the show. Songs like this aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re the the reason your gran suddenly likes Nightwish, and why they sold so many seated tickets. After the relative calm came the storm, with the far from weak ‘Weak Fantasy’.
Opening with acoustic flamenco-style guitars, the more adventurous and experimental side of the band was shown. With its dramatic composition, it’s as if it was designed to be played in stadiums, and when Marco shrieked at the song’s climax it was a spine-tingling experience.
‘7 Days To The Wolves’ made an unexpected return, and it’s another song as big as the audience there to see it, as everyone screamed ‘Howl!’ in unison. Surely by then, everyone was having a great time, but Floor checked just in case, and assures everyone that if they’re not in a good mood they will be after ‘Alpenglow’.
The visuals throughout the night were hit and miss, but on this track they were particularly good with the iconic “we were here” written in fire, flashing behind the band. That sentiment summed up the night. They were here, they left a mark on everybody there, they left a mark on Wembley, London and the UK.
The stage turned a dark blue as Dark Passion Play’s blade descended upon them. It was time for the first epic of the night – ‘The Poet And The Pendulum’, a song that allowed the band to showcase the full range of their sound in one continuous composition. Despair, anger, beauty and pain all rolled into one.
Although Floor seemed too sophisticated for some of the cringe-worthy lyrics she had to project. ‘Nemo’, arguably the band’s most iconic song got everyone singing along next, before the more uplifting but equally as infectious ‘I Want My Tears Back’. This highlighted how well Emppu’s guitar work and Troy’s celtic pipes can duet, and that’s what makes the new sound of Nightwish.
The Finns then set sail on the virgin oceans for the first time in a long time; that’s right, ‘Stargazers’ is back on the setlist after many years, proving that the band still has what it takes to perform the speedy neoclassical style that dominated their early era. Floor also proved that she has the operatic ability to be able to bring that era back to life without slaughtering it.
The song’s theme also ties in with that of their latest album, and as the first song on ‘Oceanborn’, ties in nicely with the lines that open 2015’s album.
The second epic of the night, and one of Tuomas’ most filmic compositions ‘Ghost Love Score’ sent shockwaves across the arena with it’s iconic introduction. Like ‘Ever Deam’, it is recognised as one of their best ever compositions and a song that Nightwish cannot leave out of their setlists.
The orchestration was obviously on playback, and at their last UK show they it a hollow sound quality, making the band and the symphonic elements sound separate. However, this time the mixing was spot on.
Nightwish aren’t a band to do encores, but they did tease us slightly with ‘Last Ride Of The Day’, which wasn’t actually the last song of the night. What did come last, did in fact summarise the night. ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ is arguably the greatest achievement of Nightwish to date, somehow summarising and conveying the beginning of life on earth and the history of evolution into a 20 minute song.
Its twists and turns mirror our planet’s history, and the music itself manages to evoke a sense of primordial fear as well as joy. To be able to carry off such a composition live is quite a feat. And to take it even further, joining Nightwish on the stage at Wembley with inspirational words about the privilege of having the experience of living, is the one and only Richard Dawkins, who ends the show on a high and to a standing ovation. As the saying goes, life may be the greatest show on earth, but Nightwish at Wembley comes in a very close second.
It was also announced that the show was being filmed for a live DVD, so you’ll be able to experience its wonder in the comfort of your own living room, see it if you weren’t there and possibly be in for some extreme embarrassment if you were! Any bets as to what the DVD will be called? Knowing Tuomas, mine is on ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Will they make the O2 Arena next time? Who knows…