Nightwish – Beast In Black: Live at Arena, Birmingham (UK)

 

Swapping medium sized venues for full sized arenas can be a big gamble for a band, but after a highly successful show at Wembley Arena in 2015, Finnish Symphonic Metal act Nightwish decided to take the plunge and returned to UK shores for a lengthier three date arena visit in support of their recently released compilation album Decades (Nuclear Blast).

Fellow Finns Beast in Black open the show with their infectious brand of bombastic eighties influenced Eurometal, and the already respectably filled arena reacts with a sea of horns and cheers. In no particular order, the band tear through virtually all of their debut album Berserker (Nuclear Blast) with huge cheesy grins, none more so than endearingly charming frontman Yannis Papadopoulos who runs, hops and leaps around the stage, whipping up the already enthusiastic crowd even more. And with most of the band wearing black sunglasses featuring a scrolling LED display which reads “INSANE” during ‘Crazy, Mad, Insane’, this just adds to the enormous sense of fun.

Unfortunately, you can’t help but notice that a sizeable percentage of the music is being piped in via backing tracks, and not actually being performed live. The bass and guitars are all loud and in your face, but the distinct lack of a keyboard player, plus the electronic drums which occasionally leave sticksman Atte Palokangas twiddling his thumbs, and even some pre-recorded vocals, detract from the band’s performance rather than enhancing it. However, none of this does the band any irreparable damage, and they still leave the stage to a suitably entertained audience.

With the arena already filled with anticipation, the lights go down to thunderous applause and to the sight of a huge video screen acting as a backdrop to the evening’s proceedings. After a couple of minutes, a very English sounding voice booms over the PA, inviting the audience to put away their phones for the next two hours and actually enjoy the show without any form of digital distraction.

While politely and amusingly informing the crowd that in the past, tours and live shows never used to be spoiled for future audiences because “nobody posted rubbish, wobbly videos on the internet”, the announcement is instantly, and all too predictably lost among the sea of mobile phones being held aloft, their owners continuing to record the semi-serious anti-social media message (and in some instances, the entire show) while remaining blissfully unaware of the glaring irony.

A timer begins the countdown to the band’s grand entrance, and the volume of the excited audience reaches a peak as the final few numbers appear on the screen, revealing the band’s Cumbrian, multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley as the first member to take his place in the spotlight for opening instrumental ‘Swanheart’. With a burst of guitars and explosions of fire hot enough to melt contact lenses onto eyeballs, the band launch into an electrifying ‘Dark Chest of Wonders’, ‘Wish I Had an Angel’, and ’10th Man Down’.

As the name of the album and tour suggests, Decades includes songs from their earliest material to their most recent, with vocalist Floor Jansen laying the ghost of former singer Tarja Turunen firmly to rest with stunning versions of ‘Come Cover Me’, ‘Nemo’, ‘Gethsemane’, ‘Dead Boy’s Poem’, ‘The Kinslayer’, and a simply wonderful ‘The Carpenter’. The work of the band’s second singer Anette Olzon isn’t forgotten either, with a quite stupendous ‘Last Ride of the Day’, and ‘I Want My Tears Back’, Jansen’s own contribution thus far represented by ‘Elan’ and a slightly abridged version of the twenty-four minute epic ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.

Thankfully resisting the urge to show off with pointless drum solos and ego-fueled guitar solos, the band opt for short interludes and instrumentals like ‘Elvenjig’ which showcase the talents of each member while allowing others some time away from the stage during the lengthy two hour set. Both Donockley and bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala engage with the audience in their own amusing styles, with the former telling the Brummie audience that it gives the band great pleasure to be playing in the birthplace of… the chicken balti.

With Floor in imperious form, her voice effortlessly and constantly switching between so many different and contrasting moods, plus flawless performances from Hietala, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and drummer Kai Hahto, the band’s main composer, Tuomas Holopainen oversees everything from his impressive array of keyboards, and is clearly just as exhaustedly elated with the show as everybody else inside the arena. The show ends in typically overblown fashion with a magnificent version of ‘Ghost Love Score’ and a huge explosion of blood red ticker tape, fireworks and pyros, and hordes of beaming audience members already talking excitedly about the next album and tour.

 

GARY ALCOCK