It’s cold. The winter storms are rolling across the country, and it’s wet. Walking down Wembley Way from the underground to Wembley Arena, one would be hard-pressed to know that a Metal gig was taking place. Yet as you round the corner, you soon realise you’re in the right place for Nightwish as the queues snake their way around the barriers.
Nightwish – Beast in Black – Turmion Kätilöt
Wembley Arena – 21 November 2022
Words: Paul Hutchings
Photography: Robert Sutton
It’s not your usual Metal crowd, though, although there are the usual denim and leather-clad types. Nightwish are in town, and they draw a wide and varied audience. There are long-haired gnarly Metalheads, couples of all ages, groups of women, and single men, all captivated by the Nightwish spell. Their appeal is universal.
It may have been delayed for over a year, but there is no doubt that Nightwish remains one of the biggest draws in world Metal today. The Finns arrived in the UK buoyed by the great news that their Dutch singer Floor Jansen has successfully come through her recent surgery, and whilst there may be further battles ahead for her, tonight she looks in fine fettle with a performance that matches anything she’s delivered in her decade with the band.
Wembley Arena is full to bursting as Nightwish enters the fray for their third appearance at the venue. The floor is a seething mass of humanity, crammed closely from back to front, evidence if you needed it that whilst some may dismiss Symphonic Metal, the band’s broad appeal hits the right note for thousands of fans worldwide.
The sight of three young lads, no older than 20, holding each other as they jump up and down, word perfect to I Want My Tears Back sums it up.
The curtain at the front of the stage has the cover of their most recent album Human. :II: Nature painted across it. The lights dim, and the curtain falls to the screams of the 12,000-strong crowd. The stage show is impressive. Drummer Kai Hahto, founder member Tuomas Holopainen and Englishman Troy Donockley are located high on a platform.
Behind them, three screens linked by four banks of lighting strips play stunning imagery throughout the show. The stage is flanked by two huge screens which portray live images of the band for those further back from the action. On runs guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and newly appointed bassist Jukka Koskinen as the band launch into Noise, the first of five tracks to feature from the latest release.
On she strides, a beaming smile on her face, and Wembley erupts with a roar that shakes the roof. Clad in a leather bodice with flowing wings, Floor Jansen looks amazing. She is glowing. And then she starts to sing, and you realise once more that she possesses one of the most astonishing voices in the world. Her range is phenomenal, as she switches with ease across her three-octave range soprano throughout the evening.
Few bands smile as much as Nightwish. They’ve taken a quarter of a century to get to this point. They are masters of their art and deliver a show. This is the full performance, not a gig, but a stage show that befits the setting. There is pyro, lots of pyro with the front row recoiling from the heat. There’s a lighting set to match anyone, banks of rich lights that bathe the band in deep reds, greens and brighter whites.
Nightwish have the songs as well. Unsurprisingly they draw deeply from the most recent albums, which feature Floor, with only Sleeping Sun (from 1998’s Oceanborn) surviving from the pre-2004 albums. It’s the later music that gets the biggest cheers, perhaps a reflection of their more recent popularity.
Tribal sees the first pyro explosions, huge fireballs pumping out both front and rear of the stage. I Want My Tears Back is emotional, with the audience in fine voice, whilst Nemo is the song that it’s impossible not to smile to. Couples hold hands, and those on the floor punch the air. It’s one of three from 2004’s Once, and it’s brilliant.
Musically, the band are tight and intricately crafted, and they intelligently blend their playing with the necessary backing tapes. Vuorinen is a restless spirit, ever moving from left to right, climbing to the platform, and disappearing for split seconds. His solo work is crystal clear and superb.
Koskinen plays it steady but doesn’t miss a note, linking in with the powerhouse drumming of Hahto. Next to Hahto, Holopainen is a frenzy of keyboard wizardry. No top hat tonight, but his lush, layered keys are integral to the band’s sound. Donockley brings another dimension to the band. A multi-instrumentalist, he uses uilleann pipes, tin whistle, low whistle, guitars, bouzouki and bodhrán through the evening, as well as adding vocals. It’s an impressive ensemble.
They can do it all. Nightwish bring the heavy on many of their tracks, which are deeper in the live setting than on recordings. Time and again, Jansen cannot resist headbanging as the riffs cascade. But they do the gentle beautifully as well. Her duet with Donockley on How’s The Heart sees the arena lit by mobile phone torches.
It’s impossible not to be moved by it, and it happens once more on Ghost Love Song towards the end of the set.
They exit the stage to huge applause, to return to conclude with the majestic The Greatest Show On Earth. It’s a true epic to close on, but then Nightwish are a truly epic band. Whether you like their music or not, this was a breathtaking show with added poignancy.
Beast In Black
There’s a buzz about Beast In Black, which I’m not sure I understand. I’ve seen them before, supporting Gloryhammer in Bristol in 2019. They were all poses and smiles back then, and nothing much has changed.
Regardless of my view, the packed audience is up for 45 minutes of Eurovision Power Metal, and that’s exactly what they get. There’s more cheese on display here in than many deli counters, with their choreographed moves taken directly from the Judas Priest handbook. Even their outfits owe much to the Midlands Metal Gods. There’s leather everywhere, including drummer Atte Palokangas, who plays a nine-song set clad in full outfit.
There’s certainly high energy about the band, as they draw three songs from each of their three albums. They open strongly with Blade Runner from 2021’s Dark Connection. Beast In Black is anthemic, and the crowd are up for fist-punching and a good old bounce.
Vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos spends as much time off stage as he does on it, the Greek seemingly disappearing during each song to allow the dual guitars to do their thing. It’s a strange approach, interspersed with his Bruce Dickinson-style attempts at getting each section of the crowd to scream for him. Heavily reliant on their backing tracks, there’s a slightly awkward feel to the set. It doesn’t flow in the way one might expect, with the occasional pause and wait. This is the case at the start, as their intro tape stuttered into life, leaving the band to meander on stage as it concluded.
“We’re here to play you Metal,” Papadopoulos says to the crowd before the band launch into Die By The Blade. The song titles are impressive. And yet they are synth-heavy, almost disco in their beats. It’s the lightest end of Metal I’ve seen for a while, whilst Papadopoulos sings in such a high-pitched manner that he’s often drowned out.
I may be unimpressed, but the packed crowd love it, and by the time Beast In Black have synced out their routine one last time with End Of The World, there are likely to be more than a few in the arena, considering tickets for the band’s February headline tour.
With a mere 20-minute opening slot, it’s all credit to the Finns Turmion Kätilöt that they give it everything to get the evening started with a bang. They are a confusing and bizarre outfit. Badged as industrial in genre, the six-piece arrive on stage looking like they’ve raided the Dimmu Borgir second’s shop. Corpse paint, leather coats, offcuts, it’s all a bit homemade jumble sale appearance.
Two vocalists in the shape of veteran MC Raaka Pee and newish member Shag-U (real name Saku Solin) prowl the front of the stage, interchanging places and taking turns to sing. The band sing in Finnish, relies heavily on electronic programming and their heavy accents make much of what they say to the crowd difficult to interpret. They play a smattering of tracks which are pulled from their vast discography.
It’s all a bit chaotic, full of what they describe as “disco beats”, the result being plenty of bemused faces around the arena. As an opening act, they do okay, with the more enthusiastic members of the audience getting their energy levels pumped early. There’s a vague hint of Rammstein and The Prodigy in their music, but it’s conference-level in comparison. Whilst there is a novelty value in their approach, it’s difficult to believe that many would pay to see them headlining in a smaller venue.