Pick Your Rock and Metal

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ambitious Scandanavians win over Belfast


For the past decade or more hard rock and heavy metal acts have been pouring out of Scandanavia like a guitar laden plague. Some have achieved worldwide acclaim, and some have carved out a niche in the underground. This is far removed from the days when the only rock stories from the lands of winter's permanent night were black metal murders and church burnings.

While the Scandanavian Black Metal scene still exerts a healthy influence on diverse acts, there has been a revival from these Viking lands of what some disparagingly call 'mainstream'. And, it was one of the leading exponents of Finnish mainstream metal, Nightwish who touched down in Belfast's Mandella Hall on Wednesday.

Thus was the challenge faced by Swedish act Pain...opening to a partisan headliner crowd Pain have more than a hint of other acts from the lands to the north. Energetic and with melody playing a key part in songs that could have been lost in the low end, they at times came across like a 'lite' version of Children of Bodom.

Their energy and willingness to try to engage the audience eventually paid off, though in terms of pacing the set they could learn from other Scandanvians. While Turisas have made Rasputin a rambunctious set closer, Pain's excellent cover of The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby was lost in the middle of their set.

Nightwish have no such problems in terms of pacing their set. Seasoned in arenas across Europe, the Finnish act know when to turn on the power, allow the crowd a breather, and mix the new with the old.

However, their very existence was called into question less than two years ago after their very public and acrimonious dismissal of Tarja Turunen. In May of last year Anette Olzen was announced as a replacement. Fans who worried that Anette could fill Tarja's shoes need not have worried.

Kicking off with the stomp of Bye Bye Beautiful Anette proved a worthy foil for the complex melodies and power of Tuomas Holopainen's wrting. Mixed with Marco Hietala's vocals any doubts over Anette's ability to match Tarja's range paled into insignificance.

Instead she brings a different dynamic to Nightwish, which whilst retaining the symphonic elements of the past, comes to the fore live.

Tracks off latest release Dark Passion Play are given a fire and energy live. And, Anette's treatment of older tracks such as Nemo and Wishmaster showed she can adapt her performance when necessary.

The smattering of older tracks were almost overwhelmed by the new material. Amaranth and Sahara stood out, with the Stephen King tribute track 7 Days of the Wolves raising the bar yet further.

But what stands out with Nightwish is their ambition. Tuomas - as founder, chief songwriter, and band leader - is not afraid to tackle live lengthy epics. Album opener The Poet and the Pendulum was unveiled in all of its 13 minute plus glory. Even such an ambitious live performance was pulled off with aplomb as far as the crowd was concerned.

The only niggles of the night were the occassional over-reliance on samples and Anette's absence from the stage during longer instrumental pieces.

However, for a band who play stadiums in Europe the fact that they are prepared to play, what for them, are smaller venues such as the Mandella Hall is worthy of praise, and a tribute to promoter Wonderland that they were able to snatch such an act.

The stadium work of Nightwish paid off for the Belfast punters, who saw an international act lay down a mighty, ambitious soundscape in a relatively intimate venue. There were few that walked out on to University Road without a smile on their faces.

Pic courtesy of Nadia - Junior Editor, Belfastmetalheadsreunited


Anonymous said...

Very nice article, but just for the record, Finland is not part of Scandinavia :)

Jonny said...

Thanks for that correction Elina - I do know this, but as I was typing this last night, well it was late, there was a beer or four being consumed, and just keeping the typing fingers going was tricky enough :) Apologies to you and the Finnish nation from your geographically challenged editor!

Anonymous said...

Only 1 photo!
Shame on you!
There were a few good 'uns in there!


Anonymous said...

Jonny, it really is okay :) I really enjoyed your article, and it was a great concert.

Jonny said...

Thanks Elina - it was indeed a good gig and in my defence Anette is from Sweden, so perhaps I can get by on the 1/5 qualifying rule which I just made up!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely ;)