author: Ann Marie Reilly
The air in the Ice Palace vibrates with tension as over 3500 fans milling on the floor and shifting restlessly in the stands await the arrival of Nightwish. Spots of light begin to trace eerie patterns on the dimly lit stage as an orchestral intro begins to play, intensifying the building excitement. In the burgeoning glow, dark silhouettes can be seen taking their positions and the crowd responds with an appreciative roar. A whispered voice breathes back, “Once…I had a dream….and this is it!”
Instantly, growling, guitars stalk through the arena, possessing every corner of the hall. In a burst of intense flame “Dark Chest Of Wonders” breaks over the crowd as Tarja Turunen, dressed in black pants and a long red coat, spears the air with the first heart-rending vocal notes. The flashes of frenetic lighting and erupting fire hypnotically ensnare every eye while the overwhelming majesty of the music envelopes the audience in an passionate embrace. The first song to be played live off the new album, Once brings every sense in tune, and the outside world evaporates into a meaningless void.
The show has begun.
As the song ends in a crashing crescendo, the audience is given no release from the tension as the words “Master! Apprentice!” herald the start of the popular title track from the Wishmaster album. The crowd sings along, reveling in the wizardry of keyboards that conjure fantasy images of sorcery in song. The energy of the band rises during the instrumental break as the rippling keyboards of Tuomas Holopainen, pounding drums of Jukka Nevalainen and Emppu Vuorinen’s snappy guitar solos inspire the crowd into a flurry of head banging. Followed quickly by “She is My Sin” from the same album, the excitement has no chance to abate.
A streaming curtain of rain blurs the band into a surreal and distant image from which the heart-breaking chords of “Nemo” pool and eddy. The single release from Once takes on a mystical quality played behind water effect. Ethereal lighting flickering through the droplets seeming to shroud the entire stage with mist. The pure beauty of Tarja’s voice, rising in a sorrowful cry one moment and slipping into a mournful lament the next, wrenches the heart-strings to the point of tears.
Just when the heartache becomes nearly unbearable, the band blasts into “Dead to the World”, from Century Child. The lighting swirls in a myriad of colors as Tuomas’ lightening-fast keyboard scales send excitement flying back around the hall. The harsh vocals of Marco Hietala duel back and forth with Tarja’s sweet singing until a final combined shout ends the contest in a draw.
Horror and harmony meld into a hypnotic spell as “Planet Hell” from the new album engulfs the crowd. The evil commands of Marco contrast dramatically with the dire warnings crooned by Tarja. Tuomas’ keyboards sparkle across a river of heat and flame produced by the chanting chorus and phantom orchestra. The blazing pyrotechnics erupt continuously with scorching heat that flushes the faces of even those standing in the back row. Truly an overwhelming display of music and imagery that snatches the breath from the lungs leaving the listeners panting in fear and ecstasy.
Terror and turmoil give way to lust and longing as the band concocts a potent spell in the ravishing “Come Cover Me” off Wishmaster. Tarja’s voice evokes bittersweet desire as her vocals soar with unbelievable power to the heights of passion. Another crowd favorite, the entire audience seems to sway in time with the music, as Tarja, now wearing a knee-length, red jacket, enchants every eye and ear.
“Higher Than Hope” was an unusual selection for the release party. This tribute to Nightwish fan, Marc Brueland, who passed away last year from a chronic illness, is one of the most unique and unsettling songs on Once. Co-written by Marco and Tuomas, the song alternates between sweet sorrow and frustrated anger at the unfairness of a young life taken too soon. The slow cadence and strident chorus pound through the arena creating a disturbing feeling of fear and despair.
Tarja is given a respite as Marco takes control with a demanding rendition of Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction”. His trademark rasping vocals and commanding guitar, combined with Emppu’s crackling lead breathes fresh energy into this old favorite from the metal archives.
After donning a form-fitting, shorter red jacket, Tarja regains the matching red microphone and takes control with “Bless the Child” from Century Child as the curtain of rain returns like a purple waterfall. Her powerful pleas sinks deep into the psyche as the staccato bursts from keys and guitars set every nerve tingling.
“Elvenpath” from Angels Fall First follows, launching the crowd on a fantasy journey into the world of elves and mythical creatures. The mood is maintained as the band blankets the crowd with the mystical shroud of “Stargazers” from the album Oceanborn. Rarely played live, the song brings a hush of breathless wonder from the audience relishing this unusual treat. Once again Tarja’s voice rises to unbelievable heights taking possession of hearts and souls.
A brief pause allows the audience to refocus, setting the stage for the next surprise. Unbelievably, the opening strains of the “Phantom of the Opera” radiate from the stage over the shocked assembly. This cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s title track from the famous play appeared on the Century Child album and is a rare addition to a live set. Marco and Tarja spar vocally in a dramatic duet with no quarter given. Tarja clips the usually prolonged soaring notes at the end but delivers with more power and energy as a result.
Showing no sign of tiring, Tarja launches immediately into the haunting single, “Sleeping Sun.” Once again, the power and beauty of her voice fills the hall with grace and passion ensnaring every shred of consciousness in a dulcet dream of melody and emotion. The lyrics, “I wish for this night-time to last for a lifetime.” draws the entire audience into a single entity of shared desire. No one wants this show to end.
A return to normality is briefly granted as the popular cover of Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” sweeps the assembly into an enthusiastic sing-a-long. With the crowd’s pleasure now at a fevered pitch, the band disappears from the stage, leaving the anxious fans frantic for more.
The heart-breaking melody of Dead Boy’s Poem ushers the band back on the stage. This sorrowful lament to lost innocence off the Wishmaster album sucks the crowd back into a whirlpool of melancholy ecstasy. Just as the little boy’s voice ends his bitter soliloquy, Century Child’s, “Slaying the Dreamer” devours the poetry like a roaring lion erupting from a wounded lamb. The mood shifts from angst to anger as the pitiful pleas from the previous song are overtaken by the furious rant of the next.
The real world surfaces momentarily as Marco takes the time to introduce the band, eliciting laughter as he debates whether it should be “Miss” or “Mrs.” Tarja Turunen. The stunning singer has once again changed outfits gracing the stage in a satiny, red, halter-style top and loose, flowing black pants.
A pounding dance beats takes control of the hall as “I wish I had an Angel” claims it’s territory. Marco’s predatory vocals evoke a sense of fear and loss as he howls his unfulfilled desire for love and beauty. The song, and the show, end in a last shout of frustration and despair, echoed in the hearts of the fans who realize, as a shower of glittering confetti burst over them, that this incredible journey is truly over. The band remains on stage awhile for final bows and the presentation of awards for the single, “Nemo” sales success. Slowly, the cloud of confetti settles to the floor and the crowd’s euphoria with it. Mixed emotions will prey in the minds of many as joy mingles with the sadness that usually accompanies the end of such a long-awaited and intensely enjoyable experience.
The Once Release Party was a monstrous performance swirling with sights and sounds. Obviously the orchestra and some other sound effects were recorded and there were some minor glitches in timing and production, but the overall hypnotic effect shielded most of these little disappointments from all but the most observant in the audience. Rarely do metal music shows even twice this size indulge in such a massive display of light, fire, water and color. Truly, Nightwish has given a special gift to their hometown and the privileged outsiders who had the good fortune to join them. It was an incredible display of vision and talent leaving many listeners breathless and somewhat troubled by the necessity of returning to reality.