CONCERT REVIEW: NIGHTWISH Take Denver Through a Bombastic Journey of Symphonic Metal Treasures (May 15th, 2022)

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The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish opened its Denver set with “Noise,” and concluded with “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Which one best describes their performance? I’m happy to say that answer lies much closer to the latter than the former. Nightwish has a real penchant for the dramatic. The music is mammoth in scope, conjuring up cinematic vibes one moment, bombastic symphonic strains the next, fronted by an attention-getting, tall lead singer who , rock and metal. Dynamic? Yes. Dramatic? Yes. Entertaining? You bet!
Even the inner workings of the band seem to be an environment where chaos and creativity collide. The lineup roster over the years looks like a crew that went to war with the road and though the ship itself always seems to return to harbor, many good and hearty sailors appear to have lost their lives (roles, health, sanity) along the way.

Formed in 1996 with the operatic voice of Tarja Turunen as the aural centerpiece, the band steadily grew in popularity, selling more than 1 million copies of its fifth release, “Once,” which creatively proved to be a high point to that stage of their career with memorable tracks like “Nemo,” “Dark Chest of Wonders” and “Ghost Love Score” among the highlights. It is there, at their zenith, that the members of Nightwish decided to part ways with Tarja, and an ugly break up played out in the media with both sides taking high visibility shots at each other.

Eventually, the band brought on a Swedish replacement, Annette Olzon, whose voice was more pop oriented and less classical sounding. For some, it was an interesting new direction for the band. For many others in the fan base, it was a betrayal. Nightwish put out two successful studio creations with Olzon, and while her performances on the records worked well with the new material, some of the classic older material was a tougher sell to fans in the live setting with Olzon at the helm. There were threats of mutiny in the distance.
The Denver Post sent me to cover Olzon’s performance with Nightwish on September 28, 2012.  But it was not meant to be a normal show. In an historic moment in the band’s career, they opted to take the stage without her that night. Within a few days, Nightwish had flown out Dutch singer Floor Jansen to replace Olzon on the tour. And nearly 10 years later, she is still at the bow. Other road casualties since then include drummer Jukka Nevalainen, who reportedly suffered from debilitating insomnia and left in 2014, and bassist Marko Hietala, who shockingly announced his departure in Jan. 12, 2021, citing mental health and disillusionment among the reasons for his farewell.

And so, Sunday night’s edition of Nightwish featured newer faces in the rhythm section of Kai Hahto on drums and Jukka Koskinen on bass. Both performed very competently and solidly, but it must be noted that the presence of Nevalainen and Hietala were both missed more by my eyes than my ears. Nevalainen always played with a lot of force and seemed to really throw himself himself into his performances, whereas Hahto seems more surgical and measured, though his drum tone was fat and immense. Hietala brought a bit of a wild man’s vibe to the show and his voice is not easily replaced, in particular when he sang lead lines. But, as they say, the show must go on, and Nightwish has a history of doing so, regardless of who has jumped ship. Koskinen did little to draw attention to himself, but that also meant he seemed to be hitting all the right notes.
It must be noted that keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen is truly the captain of the good ship Nightwish. He even looks a bit like Jack Sparrow. Not only does he steer the ship into new waters musically with every album he composes, but he has mustered up the morale among the crew enough to have kept the boat afloat all these years. His wise decision to bring in multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley as a member brought fresh winds to the sails with his vast array of pipes, whistles, bouzouki and other eccentric sounds. And he certainly provided some highlights of the night in his acoustic vocal duet with Jansen on “How’s the Heart?” and the jig instrumental section of “I Want My Tears Back.”
Guitar player Emppu Vuorinen has been Tuomas’ first mate throughout the numerous voyages, and he consistently provides the audio punch and attack like massive metal barnacles stuck to the sides of the on the ship. His chunky tones were essential components to strong songs like “Dark Chest of Wonders” “Storytime” and “Ghost Love Score.”

But while Tuomas is busily running the ship, there can be no denying that all eyes and ears are glued in a live Nightwish show to Floor Jansen, who has somehow managed to win over hardened fans of the previous two singers by her dominating stage presence and staggering vocal performances. On display at this show was the fact that she deftly handles songs originally recorded by the two previous singers and makes them her own with her incredible versatility and range. Floor seemed to appreciate the big energy presented by the crowd and furiously twirled her hair to the raging beat when she wasn’t owning the crowd with her confident strutting around the stage.
Her vocals sounded energized, consistent and powerful on everything from “Planet Hell” to “Elan” to “7 Days to the Wolves.” And yet she brought a delicate touch to her duet with Donockley that was a welcome dynamic respite from the crashing waves of bombast that was most of the set. Try as I might find it, there was simply no place in the set where the boat started to take on water when Floor was holding the mic. And to me, the real proving ground is the raging waters of “Ghost Love Score.” The internet is full of reaction videos to Floor’s live performance of it at Wacken in 2013. People weep at her crescendo at the end, and even on Sunday night, you could see in the eyes of the band that they’ve been fortunate to regularly witness a spectacle in their fellow crew member when they reach the shores of the end of that song.
And that’s really the point. Floor is such a force and consistent performer that she is Captain Tuomas’ greatest recruit, and she enables the ship, and the show, to go on now decades since its maiden voyage. The ship looks and sounds a bit different. But it’s very much still sea worthy. For some listeners, Nightwish might be just a bit much. But for the symphonic metal fans in Denver, many who in attendance were female, they found treasure carried in on this ship. Floor, Tuomas and the crew took them all on a journey that had their fists pumping, their voices shouting, and their smiles beaming for a grand old night out at the Mission Ballroom in Denver.

And to that, I simply cry, “Sail on, Nightwish. Sail on!”

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1 Comment

  1. doug marcus on

    i would suggest that comparing kai to jukka is like comparing bill bruford to john bonham. i kinda prefer kai’s fills, there is a jazzy ring to it wheras jukka has heavier beat.

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