For much of the audience at The Bang Your Head perhaps the highlight of the
first day of the festival was the first appearance in Germany for some time of
the Finish Progressive/Power Metal band Nightwish. The band, who blend a
symphonic/progressive metal with the unique 'operatic' vocals of singer Tarja
Turunen, have been hugely successful in Germany (as well as other parts of
Europe and South America) and were about to embark on an short 'World Tour'
which will see them visiting Chile, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Russia
and other countries in addition to the usual big European cities in support
of their 4th Studio album - Century Child.
With the festival running order having been amended a number of times during
the afternoon due to some artists having cancelled at the last minute and others
having got themselves stuck in customs at Frankfurt Airport, the band's slot was
moved slightly ahead of the scheduled time. A huge backdrop featuring the cover
of Century Child had been hauled into position above the stage and with
the daylight gradually beginning to fade, the stage looked fantastic as the band
entered to some lovely intro music.
The feeling anticipation amongst the crowd had been evident ever since the
previous act had finished their set, but as the band began with 2 new songs,
clearly unfamiliar to much of the audience, the response was very warm rather
than ecstatic. The first track from Century Child, Bless the
Child made for an excellent set-opener. It's a huge, anthemic tune that
sees the band in a heavier mood, but which is softened by Tarja's delightful
vocals and the following number End of all Hope continues in a similar
vein. The pounding bass and drums convey a military sort of feel allied to
a typically catchy chorus and the fans will surely sing along when they are
more familiar with the new album.
Cheers rose from the crowd as Tarja approached the microphone to thank the
crowd for their warm reception and to introduce the following number. It was
Come Cover Me from the hugely popular Wishmaster album, which
begins quietly before springing to life with a chorus which the crowd gleefully
sing along with. This slightly softer tune is then followed by the more aggressive
Kinslayer from the same disk. It is a song which was written following
some of the school shooting incidents in the USA and which I guess is also
fairly topical in Germany right now. Driven along by Tuomas Holopainen's
keyboards, it really gets the crowd moving and singing.
At this point the band's new bassist Marco Hietala took the microphone
and introduced the third song from Century Child. Dead To the
World perhaps indicates a slight change in the band's direction,
as Marco vocals features significantly throughout the tune dueting with
Tarja. For a band whose popularity has centred very strongly around the
vocals and style of its front woman, its a brave move and one which works
well, but the audience are not so sure, and their response was quite
reserved compared with the screams which greet the Tarja introduced
Sacrament of Wilderness, from the band's 1998 album Oceanborn.
At this point it became apparent just how many girls were in the audience
as I found myself almost surrounded by young females who pressed their
way towards the stage and sat on their boyfriend's shoulders to get a
closer look at the stage. The message was clear - the crowd wanted to hear
their old favourites.
However the band proceed with two further tracks from Century Child
both introduced by Marco. Slaying The Dreamer, described by Marco as
"Showing the rougher side of Century Child" and the lengthier 3-part
epic Beauty of the Beast in which Marco and Tarja alternate on lead
vocals are further confirmation that Marco's position in the band involves
him playing bass and singing. The audience remained unconvinced and voiced
their disappointment as Tarja announced the 'set-closer' Wishmaster,
only 50 minutes or so after they had stepped on stage. This song however was
a clear crowd-pleaser as the audience once again began jumping up and down
and sung along with the chorus with great enthusiasm.
It was as clear as day that there would be an encore, but rather than play
one of their more vigorous tunes, they band returned to play the gorgeous
ballad Sleeping Sun, which rather caught the crowd by surprise. Although
this was a huge hit for them in Germany and one of their most beautiful songs,
its a rather slow paced tune and it made for a rather subdued encore, but one
that the crowd swayed and sang along too all the same. The band however did
close out with one of their more rocking tunes as Tarja introduced
"a song Gary Moore has done" - namely Over the Hills and Far Away
which appeared on their recent EP.
I was very impressed with the bands rhythm section of Marco Hietala and
Jukka Nevalainen (drums) who laid down a very powerful backbeat over which
the keys of Tuomas Holopainen and Emppu's guitar, heavily supported in places
by samples, wove rich tapestries of sound. Marco's and Tarja's vocals were
very good without being really impressive, but one can be forgiving as the
band generally play much smaller halls and playing a large festival like this
appeared to be a new experience for them. The length of set and the somewhat
variable sound are one of the downsides of playing an open-air festival,
but the band certainly left the audience wanting more.
The band and the new material will clearly settle in over the course of
the next couple of months as they tour the world and I for one will be trying
to catch another of their gigs before Tarja returns to her studies and the
band take a break from performing.