There was a time when Finland’s contribution to global music could be summarised with the name of a single composer – Sibelius. However, in recent years, metal acts such as Stratovarius and Children Of Bodom, together with the commercial dream duo of HIM and The Rasmus, have ensured that Finland is now known as much for its rock music as its reindeer.
Top of the pile, though, are Nightwish – a band who not only have the commercial clout of Ville Valo, Lauri Ylnen et al (their Once album spent parts of 2004 as the best-selling album in Europe), but also provide the link between Finnish music old and new by incorporating classical and operatic elements into their heavy metal core.
Of course, there is plenty of scope for the execution of such a concept to go horribly awry. However, such is the quality of Nightwish’s songs; such is the technical ability of their instrumentalists; such is their understanding of the need to deliver a “show” rather than a gig; and, crucially, such is the X-factor star quality of front-woman Tarja Turunen; that Nightwish don’t just pull it off, they can be utterly spellbinding – as tonight’s sold-out London show amply demonstrates.
Where other bands play at being “gothic” by wearing black, a few feathers and looking miserable (well wouldn’t you when your music’s that crap?), Nightwish do it properly, which means colossal background choral vocals, film score strings (all synthesised, mind) and Turunen’s Broadway-beating vocals that lend an appropriately heavenly touch to songs such as Dark Chest Of Wonders.
In fact, Broadway is a pertinent reference because this is no ordinary concert, it’s theatre – from the melodramatic rising of the safety curtain to reveal the huge Nightwish banner, to the pitch black entrance of the band, to Turunen’s costume changes and colour-coordinated microphones, to the upright flame throwers that go off at the end of various songs.
Thus, when the band play a very metal version of Phantom Of The Opera part-way through, somehow it all makes complete sense, with Turunen’s star turn making Sarah Brightman seem very silly indeed and bassist Marco Hjetala proving himself no slouch in the vocal department either.
The only time the quality level drops is when Turunen leaves the stage to allow Hjetala to lead a song accompanied by his male colleagues. Unfortunately, it comes across as slightly cheesy, anthemic Euro-metal, but all is restored when Turunen returns for some stomping thrash (proving she can mosh too) before she even does an aria – not something metal fans are renowned for sitting through patiently, never mind rapturously acclaiming.
After the obligatory rendition of “big-hit” Nemo, it’s time for an encore and this time Nightwish surpass themselves with a fully cinematic intro, Turunen appearing in a pure white dress and what seems like the world’s most powerful confetti machine releasing a huge swathe of julienne paper into the crowd, with some even reaching the planetary seats in the upper circle. Wish I Had An Angel then closes things out in suitably heavy fashion before a firework finale and a set of theatrical bows from the band to an adoring audience.
All of this may make it sound like Nightwish need to rely on gimmicks to boost their appeal. Nothing could be further from the truth; instead, the grandeur of their music and the escapist, Lord Of The Rings-styled lyrics are complemented in an entirely appropriate and natural manner. However, as Sibelius himself once said: “Pay no attention to what the critics say… Remember, a statue has never been set up in honour of a critic!” In other words, don’t take my word for it – go see for yourself.