Tarja Turunen at Koko, London - live review

The Finnish soprano wows the crowd in Camden

the crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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A classical music intro provides the epic, dramatic fanfare for the uncommon woman that is former Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen, who arrives flanked by three bald meninblack (a cellist, a keyboardist and a drummer), along with two hairy metallers on guitar and bass.

Demons In You unveils the concept: symphonic goth metal featuring Finnish frontcreature Turunen, she of the soaring soprano, dressed like a Black Forest gateau and stalking the stage like, well, a night witch: think Diamanda Galás fronting Pantera for some idea of the shredding and histrionics on offer tonight, or Slayer: The Opera. Celine Dion in hell? Same difference.

For 500 Letters she throws back her raven mane and does the sign of the horns. “I’m so excited to be here,” she proclaims. “To feel you.”

She’s out of this world, Kate Bush on steroids; asteroids. Each song feels climactic as the musicians prove themselves to be a band for all reasons: metal melody? Check. Pristine power? Check. Enigmatic wonder? Check. No Bitter End receives rapturous cheers of recognition, which isn’t bad for a track that’s only been out for eight months. “Oh wow,” Turunen says, clearly taken aback by the reaction.

This is music for Transylvanian freeways, the wind in your black-dyed hair. Turunen smiles and bounces about, even as she sings the word ‘mysteriously’ – she is actually as engaging and warm as she is bewitching and aloof.

“I can turn a pretty, happy song into something dark – that’s just the kind of person I am,” she warns ahead of Lucid Dreamer, which opens with off-kilter keyboards from an ancient horror movie. The set reaches new theatrical heights: you almost expect a heavy metal Heathcliff to ride onstage at this point on a black chrome Harley, propelled by Jim Steinman and surrounded by vixens and Valkyries in Valhalla… or something.

The cover of Muse’s Supremacy has the polish and staccato power of a prog metal James Bond theme. There’s a Nightwish medley of Tutankhamen, Ever Dream, The Riddler and Slaying The Dreamer, followed by a cosy five-song acoustic interlude, during which the players sit on stools, and Turunen does a heartfelt spoken voiceover that’s pure fromage of the most pungent order.

Fortunately, the relative quiet is broken by Undertaker, which is quite poppy beneath the Sturm und Drang, and the closing climax of Too Many. They return for no fewer than three encores, beginning with the tech metal and classical piano flourishes of Innocence, then embracing a bold, bombastic Die Alive, which builds to a crescendo of considerable sonic-symphonic intensity.

They conclude with Until My Last Breath, which sees Turunen finally introducing the band, who take a well-earned, flamboyant bow. Oh wow, indeed.

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.