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Nightwish / Children Of Bodom / Sonata Arctica

Finland’s biggest band electrify their home turf

The air has been hanging heavy with a brewing storm for the past 24 hours, but in the end the only thunder and lightning comes from the stage. Tonight, Tampere – a mid-sized city of 200,000 in southern Finland – plays host to the biggest headline show by the most successful band the country has ever produced. And with it comes a manmade spectacular that matches anything nature could conjure up.

This isn’t quite a homecoming gig for Nightwish – not when its members live in half a dozen different cities spread across Finland, Sweden and the UK – but it may as well be. Nearly 25,000 devotees of a band who sit at the top of the symphonic metal food chain have been drawn to this modern athletics stadium. Most are Finnish, but by no means all. There are British accents, German accents, Japanese accents, even a handful of fans from the Philippines. If you’re looking.

It’s not a perfect setup. For starters, alcohol is only available in a proscribed drinking area at the back of the dusty central field, which encourages the more thirsty audience members to knock back, then head to a more visually accommodating part of the stadium (on this evidence, no one weaves happily quite like a Finn). And, if we’re being honest, we could have done without the presence of SONATA ARCTICA [5] opening this all-Finnish three-band bill. Sure, frontman Tony Kakko is an old mate of Nightwish mastermind Tuomas Holopainen, but there’s something underwhelming about their anaemic power metal. The likes of X Marks The Spot and 8th Commandment strive for the operatic but fall well short, while Sakko ladles on the overwrought posturing like someone auditioning for an am-dram version of Hamlet. Worst of all, there’s a man playing a keytar onstage. That’s a straight red card right there.

According to the stats, CHILDREN OF BODOM [7] are the 35th best-selling band in their home country – nowhere near as huge as the headliners, but bigger than Iron Maiden, Scorpions and, um, the Pet Shop Boys. It’s a status that explains both the band’s swagger and the crowd’s euphoric reaction to a 12-song set that encapsulates their two-decade-plus career. Alexi Laiho may no longer warrant his old ‘Wildchild’ nickname, but he shreds through Are You Dead Yet? and Sixpounder like there’s a bomb strapped to the underside of his instrument that’ll detonate if he drops below a thousand notes per minute. Fittingly for a band who have covered Andrew WK and Poison in the past, there’s a party atmosphere to it all. Even despite the limited drinking facilities.

Floor Jansen spreads her wings

Floor Jansen spreads her wings (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

By the time NIGHTWISH [9] take the stage at 9pm sharp, more than one of those formerly happily weaving Finns are lying prostrate on the ground, deep in a boozy slumber. Luckily, the band have come armed with enough pyro to wake the dead. The Finns’ journey to a level where they can play to 25,000 people is a gloriously unlikely success story. Not only have they almost singlehandedly turned symphonic metal from naff northern European specialist pursuit into a part of the 21st-century metal landscape, but, thanks to the band that keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen formed nearly 20 years ago in rural North Karelia, their home country is punching well above its weight on the international stage. Not that Nightwish haven’t had their struggles, most of them stemming from their vocalist issues. In Floor Jansen, they’ve finally found the perfect replacement for original singer Tarja Turunen following the ill-fated Anette Olzon years. As she belts into tonight’s opener, Shudder Before The Beautiful, it’s clear that the Dutchwoman matches Tarja’s range, while bringing a depth of emotion that her predecessor-but-one frequently lacked.

Tuomas risks some singed fingers

Tuomas risks some singed fingers (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

On a human level alone, it’s a spectacular performance. Dark Chest Of Wonder and Weak Fantasy find Tuomas launching into his keyboards like they’ve insulted his mother, though his songs are so perfectly structured that they never threaten to overwhelm guitarist Emppu Vuorinen’s deft six-string heroics. Bassist Marco Hietala provides the ballast for Floor’s flights of vocal fancy on Yours Is An Empty Hope and The Islander (the latter one of a quartet of songs they play from their first three albums, alongside She Is My Sin, Stargazers and Sleeping Sun).

But a Nightwish show is more even than the sum of its parts, and tonight they’ve gone for the full Hollywood experience. A set of enormous screens pulsate with life: animated clocks and tumbling parchments, burning suns and twisting double helixes – even a film charting the evolution of humankind. Above their heads, a vast lighting rig looks like the undercarriage of an alien spacecraft. There are more explosions, bangs and jets of fire than a typical afternoon in downtown Fallujah.

Nightwish bring the light

Nightwish bring the light (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Inevitably, it all comes to a close with The Greatest Show On Earth – the grand finale of this year’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful album and one of the most unashamedly epic pieces of music never to be staged on Broadway. But for all its sturm und drang and Richard Dawkins narration, its ‘We were here’ climax possesses a genuine emotional wallop.

The night ends as it so easily could have begun: with an explosion in the sky. But rather than an electrical storm, this is a display of fireworks timed perfectly with the song’s final beats. As far as full sensory overloads go, this takes some beating.