As the first day of Canada’s premier rock and heavy metal festival begins to draw to a close, it’s hard to ignore a building sense of anticipation around Nightwish’s set tonight. The Finns rarely do things by halves as it is, but uniquely, tonight’s show will give them a rare chance to bring their full European production to North America – a big coup for Heavy Montreal and a booking that should give tonight’s closers – an on-form Five Finger Death Punch – some serious competition.
It’s a large crowd that has gathered, too – a common occurrence here given that the two main stages at Heavy Montreal are staggered, avoiding most awkward clashes – and a huge roar goes up as Hans Zimmerman’s Roll Tide booms over the PA. The band soon arrive to raucous cheers and, in a flurry of pyro, launch straight into Shudder Before The Beautiful. “Come on, Montreal!” screams Floor Jansen as she proceeds to dance, headbang and air-punch her way around the stage, all fire and shit-eating grins and still firmly consolidated as The Best Thing To Happen To This Band In Fucking Ages.
While for most bands Festivals = Greatest Hits Autopilot, Nightwish underline the confidence they have in last year’s rapturously received, boldly conceptual Endless Forms Most Beautiful album, reeling off enough new cuts to fill up almost half the entire set, while only a smattering of songs aired tonight go back further than 2011’s Imaginaerum. It might make it a more cumbersome watch for the casual fan – for a band hardly known for rock club bangers in the first place, their music has grown increasingly complex and progressive over the years – but it’s a fearless showing all the same, and when they do reel off the Big Tunes (She Is My Sin and Nemo garnering predictably loud responses), they absolutely nail it.
Then, of course, there is the show itself – and what a show it is. Pillars of steam, sparkling pyro and towering, blood red flames lick, swirl and dance around the set, giving proceedings a Big Night feel and, coupled with the festival’s gorgeous surroundings, making for a spectacle worthy of a band who have determinedly risen up through metal’s ranks to become one of our biggest and, arguably, most vital modern names.
“It is so awesome that we can all be here, today, for great music!” beams Floor before the bands launch into closing number The Greatest Show On Earth (another Endless Forms Most Beautiful cut), and with the stunning Montreal city backdrop looming over the vast Saint Lawrence River behind us, it’s hard to not agree. While a couple of extra big hitters from their vast back catalogue might have made for more big festival singalongs, tonight Nightwish have reminded everyone why they’ve got where they are today, and perhaps most importantly, while they’re still only looking forwards. Ultimately, you just can’t knock that.