April 14, 2015 Nightwish bewitch Hammerstein Ballroom NYC 4-9-15 w/ Sabaton & Delain
Heavy Metal has endured plenty of ups and downs in the United States over the years. It is safe to say that 2015 is turning out to be one of the former, as Metal fans of all ages turned up in droves for the highly anticipated return of Finnish Symphonic Metal masters Nightwish. Playing the Big Apple for the first time with third and latest vocalist, Floor Jansen, at the helm, this tour sees them supporting their latest album Endless Forms Most Beautiful. It has been three years since Nightwish appeared in the States, and on this tour they brought along for support, artillery, and all things martial and epic, Sweden’s very own post-millennial answer to Manowar, the mighty Sabaton, as well as the dulcet, driving Dutch sensation Delain to open the night’s festivities. Unlike the usual haunts of Best Buy Theater or Gramercy Theatre, it took the cavernous grandeur of Hammerstein Ballroom to adequately house this monster of a billing on Thursday April 9th in New York City.
As the lights went down and Delain took the stage, the floor was already packed, abuzz with eagerness to see Charlotte Wessels and company perform their set. Delain is rounded out by former Within Temptation keyboardist Martjin Westerholt, Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije on bass guitar, Timo Somers on guitar, and Ruben Israel on drums. Despite her vocals being too low in the mix, the uptempo jaunt of “Mother Machine” and “Get the Devil Out Of Me” came over well. Hands were raised throughout much of the sprawling general admission floor, and it was clear from her radiant smile that Charlotte was enjoying the reception. The sound engineers appeared to correct the issue and by mid-set, Delain broke it down with the enchanting “Stardust.” A song with a driving beat, some good piano, and the capable voice of Ms. Wessels behind it, ensured the crowd’s attention never left her crimson wave of hair as she headbanged along with the rest of her mates. Excited by the New York crowd, Delain closed it out with “Not Enough” and “We are the Others.” Wessels’ voice filled up the hall on the latter song, piloting the smooth sung chorus with aplomb. The crowd clapped along in the final minutes of the set, eating up the catchy power of Delain and ensuring they left the stage feeling the New York City love.
Sabaton has played the support role many times now here in the states, and each time the Swedes come through they generate more and more excitement, sweeping up new legions of fans in the wake of their anthems to battle and history. Amongst the crowd, Sabaton shirts could be spotted with as much frequency as cups of beer, worn by youthful faces new to Heavy Metal as well as the timeworn vets who have lived through Metal’s many storied eras. Still in support of last year’s storming Heroes album, Sabaton took the stage as their ridiculously charismatic frontman Joakim Broden invoked, “We are Sabaton. We play Heavy Metal music, and this is Ghost Division….” Perhaps it is this simple, unapologetic philosophy or their larger than life Heavy Metal personas, but something has clicked for this hard working band. Greeted like returning heroes, the synth-heavy drive of “Ghost Divison” had the crowd at Hammerstein jumping from the time the guys – literally – ran out on stage. The battlefield flute intro to “To Hell and Back” inspired a clap-along and copious amounts of jumping, while field general (and vocalist) Broden exhorted his adoring troops to further heights of joy. By the time the pulse pounding “Carolus Rex” began, the crowd was chanting the band’s name.
At one point Broden noticed a young fan near the front, and pulled him up onstage, asking him his name and how old he was. His name was Freddy, and he was only ten years old. The crowd chanted the boy’s name, and Broden remarked that at age ten he had not attended his first gig yet, let alone had twenty-two hundred people chanting his name. Sabaton, it seems, have quite big hearts beneath the steely iron exterior.
Rousing sing-a-longs reminiscent of Manowar had fists in the air, with many and more singing along word for word. Fan favorite “40:1” continued to blow the doors off the venue, as Sabaton’s infectious Power Metal formula entranced those gathered. Broden’s grandiose gesturing, bowing and kneeling, channeled his band’s catchy melodies with every move, giving even more life to the Helloween-like gallop of the historic battle anthem. The remainder of the set kept the crowd rightfully enamored, as “Swedish Pagans” united the hall as one, with its storming chorus and rousing pace. When the set slipped by, riveted fans were treated to a majestic rendition of “Prima Victoria” and “Metal Crue.” As the band retreated from the front lines, chants of “Sabaton!” rang out. The headlining tour cannot be far behind.
Few bands captivate their audience quite like Nightwish. Band mastermind Tuomas Holopainen has faced the daunting task of replacing the irreplaceable when original singer Tarja Turunen departed for more solitary pastures in 2005. Just when their legions of fans had fallen in love with Anette Olzon, singer number two, the bottom fell out of that arrangement as well. In 2012, Holopainen made the bold move of bringing in Dutch sensation Floor Jansen of Revamp as a replacement. When the marriage became permanent, it truly felt like Nightwish had found their woman. Jansen possesses a mezzo-soprano vocal repertoire on a level with Tarja’s own, but unlike both Anette and Tarja, Floor Jansen has Heavy Metal roots. She can lilt and soar with the classical set, but she can rip it up and bang her head too, and this is exactly what Holopainen and Nightwish needed.
Anticipation was at its height as the wall-to-wall crowd awaited Jansen’s debut fronting Nightwish in the city that never sleeps. A long intro tape wound down to chants of “Nightwish” as blue searchlights pierced the gloom. When the voice of famed biologist Richard Dawkins came in, the tension broke as the crowd went wild. Strobing searchlights arced crazily as the band banged out their uptempo new album opener “Shudder Before the Beautiful.” A hearty cheer welcomed the woman of the hour, Jansen, to the stage. The statuesque vocalist is as striking as she is tall. During the chorus, she and bassist Marco Hietala soared. In the mid-song breakdown, the crowd clapped along enthusiastically. Tuomas Holopainen, noted for having epic stage fright, swayed and gyrated behind his wicked keyboard array, and by the time Floor brought home that first song, he must have been as relaxed as a baby in swaddling. Nightwish was back, the New York crowd was stoked, and their vocalist had charisma leaking out of her like sound waves from a Marshal stack. The band then went right into the driving “Yours Is An Empty Hope.” Jansen was in command, her voice strong and her timing impeccable. The rest of the band, Emppu Vuorinen on guitar and fill in drummer Kai Hahto, were every bit as sharp as the bite of the early Spring air outside. Easily the heaviest song on new album Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Marco Hietala’s voice lent an added element to a quite heavy, symphonic number. After the song, Jansen thanked the crowd for the honor of having them, before they launched right into “Amaranth.” A bit too Pop Rock for some, it did get quite a welcoming reception from the crowd. Jansen exhorted the fans to chants of “hey, hey, hey!” before they jazzed up a final rendition of that extremely catchy chorus.
Nightwish returned to 2000’s Wishmaster for their next number. The crowd roared as the intro to “She is My Sin” heralded a former Tarja-era favorite from the amps. Exhibiting the versatility that makes her such a great pick-up for Nightwish, Jansen easily shed the Metal persona for the Operatic one. Her voice control was the very image of precision as the delighted masses rocked along to a song that is somehow fifteen years old already. How time flies along so effortlessly, just as Jansen’s voice rode the crests and troughs of “Sin” with equal ease. The singer absolutely dominated during the double-bass finish, to a rolling thunder of approval from the crowd. Hietala then quipped about the difficulties of coming to New York, of course in his usual humorous fashion. He introduced the title track to the new album, which despite being a bit workmanlike in structure, still kept the crowd happy with its catchy, easy to digest cadence. The song has the driving pace of 2004’s “Wish I Had An Angel,” and judging by the crowd participation will most likely become as beloved as the aforesaid tune. Hahto, drummer for Wintersun and Swallow the Sun, showed his chops as the song wound down, owning the kit and making the tune even heavier.
Nightwish’s newest permanent member, Troy Donockley (ulliean pipes/bodhran/low whistle), introduced the next song, the uniquely structured “My Walden.” Referencing the literature of American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, the song is low key but has a very catchy, group sung chorus that elevates it to the magnificent sphere it occupies. Jansen’s voice was emotion conveyed through sound waves, and as she sang Hietala stalked the stage with a downright wicked double-necked bass guitar. Donockley dazzled the crowd with a flute solo Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) would be proud of, as some of Nightwish’s Celtic influences cropped up on this number.
The lights went down, and one shaft from above illuminated the seated form of Hietala. “This is what I’m going to do now,” the deep-voiced veteran intoned, before launching into the glorious ballad, “The Islander.” The crowd sung along in places, as captivated as can be. The night had been special to this point, and it was going to get even better. Jansen took latest single “Elan” and taught the New York crowd to love it. Donockley once more mesmerized with the whistle. Unafraid to pull even more songs off the new album, Dawkins’ voice once again heralded a stern keyboard/drum introduction to the symphonic, flare and drama of “Weak Fantasy.” The song showed the split personality of Jansen’s blessed larynx, as she vaulted between a halcyon lilt and a gritty Heavy-Metal bellow with uncanny ease. At the end someone yelled “I love you Floor!” She gushed her love right back, and one could see that she meant it. This led to the immensely popular “Storytime” off 2010’s Imaginaerum. The crowd lapped it up, singing along to another almost unfairly catchy Nightwish gem.
“Nemo” came next. One of Holopainen’s finest hours, the song could raise the hair on the arms of a dead guy back when Tarja sang it. But here, now, in the capable lungs of Jansen, “Nemo” was brought once again to its emotive heights of yore. Hammerstein Ballroom was officially putty in the hands of Nightwish. After this, the bouncy “I Want My Tears Back” injected some jump back into the crowd, as once again the vocals of Jansen, Hietala, and the whistling of Donockley brought it all home in fine fashion.
Nightwish had some surprises up their sleeve, as Holopainen, who had been relying heavily on newer material, delved into the past to delight the crowd. When Floor said the song had not been played in ten years, Marco Hietala added that it had never been played in the states before. The crowd, bursting with anticipation, exploded when the give-and-take keyboard intro to “Stargazers” blared out. Nightwish then went right into “Sleeping Sun,” a magnificent ballad off that very same album, their second, Oceanborn (1998) and the one that broke them. It cannot be overstated how Floor Jansen absolutely owned these songs that fans associate so strongly with Tarja Turunen. While the backing tracks will always be Tarja’s, the present and the future of Nightwish belongs to Jansen. Make no mistake, she killed it, and the New York City crowd went nuts for every note played.
After concluding their set with a stirring rendition of Parts 2 and 3 off “The Greatest Show on Earth” from their latest album, Nightwish returned with a beautiful encore of “Ghost Love Score” and “Last Ride of the Day.” The crowd left elated and satiated after a tremendous night of music. In parts epic, touching, rousing, as well as emotive, there is not much more a fan of Symphonic Metal could ask for here, and everyone hopes there is more to follow from all three bands.