28.5.2021 An Evening with Nightwish in a Virtual World

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NIGHTWISH is one of the bands that released an album during the terrible year that was 2020 and due to the pandemic, the band lost every opportunity to tour their new album,Human. :||: Nature. On top of that, because of the pressure in music industry, Marko Hietala decided to call it quits earlier this year right before their streaming concert: “An Evening with Nightwish in a Virtual World.” This unique experience with NIGHTWISH thus was not only their very first virtual concert, it was also their first time playing with a new session bassist that would be announced during the stream. The Finnish stream took place on May 28th, 2021, with the North American stream to follow the next day.

The stream started with the VIP session, which included an interview with the bass player. Before that began, a lot of fans were discussing who they thought the bass player was in the chat. A lot of names popped up in the chat, from Sami Vänskä (NIGHTWISH‘s first bass player) and Jarkko Ahola (TERÄSBETONI) to surprisingly Yannis Papadoupolos (BEAST IN BLACK). In the end, it turned out that the band had chosen Jukka Koskinen (WINTERSUN, ex-NORTHER) to help them out with bass on their upcoming tour. Radio Rock face Laura Vähähyyppä had the honor of interviewing him for the occasion. I will perhaps remember most how Koskinen stressed that he is not there to replace Marko Hietala because that is impossible, but he will help out the band with the tour as much as he can, and moreover, he seemed to be very excited for this opportunity, as WINTERSUN is right now in the songwriting process, so he has time at hand to do this. Altogether, the interview was a nice way for fans to get more insight into the process of getting Jukka Koskinen involved and to see his thoughts about his upcoming adventure.

Some moments later, it was time for the concert to start. I did not understand that I had to switch to a different stream and therefore missed the intro to “Noise,” which was a shame; however, I instantly got immersed in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the chat also stopped syncing for me, so I opted for full-screen mode instead to focus fully on the show. While I thought that Tuomas had mentioned in some interviews that the venue would look like a tavern and the gig would have a cozy atmosphere, it looked completely different than I had in envisioned. The best way to describe it is if NIGHTWISH was playing in an observatory, round with large windows, looking out on different projections later on, with a tree in the middle of it all – altogether this fit NIGHTWISH‘s identity pretty well. If you were to focus on the outlines of each of the band members, you could quite easily see that it’s done by green screen, yet the setting was done well enough to forget about it during the show.

Right from the start, it became clear that due to Marko Hietala‘s departure, multi-instrumentalist and singer Troy Donockley would have a bigger part in the band, as he took care of a lot of the backing vocals, as well as some of Marko‘s parts. In the next track, “Planet Hell,” however, singer Floor Jansen sang Marko‘s vocals in a very impressive manner, swapping tones between lines to match the play-off between the original vocals by Marko and former singer Tarja Turunen. In between songs, the outside of the virtual venue was also shown regularly. I could imagine that this place looked somewhat like the inside of Tuomas Holopainen‘s mind, as the observatory-tavern was situated at what could very well be the edge of Discworld, with the sea cascading over the edge, and a zeppelin docked in the port. The weather, incidentally, changed as the show progressed, featuring everything from snow to lava.

Next, the band started playing the live debut of “Tribal,” another track off their latest album and an excellent song to play live, as it turns out. Unfortunately, the band didn’t opt for the skeleton dance like in their lyric video, but I guess we can forgive them that. What was fun, was that the tribal-like vocals in the middle of the song didn’t come from a backing track; rather, Troy and Floor took care of them with considerable poise.

The intense mood shifted with “Élan,” considering the track is a little bit lighter and more uplifting, and may have offered a bit of a rest for Floor due to its gentler nature. It was also the first time you could really hear Jukka Koskinen‘s bass lines, which were particularly clear during the verses. Even though he must have felt an immense amount of pressure, Koskinen is an excellent bass player and it is no wonder the band thought of him to join their tour. NIGHTWISH returned to the Anette-era to play “Storytime,” an energetic track with a singalong chorus, that I’m sure many fans alike sang along to in their living rooms. This is one of the tracks that Floor has masterfully made her own and let’s face it, who doesn’t love it when Floor actually sings the operatic parts too – those moments always give me goosebumps.

So far, the band had balanced the setlist very well, with a taste of every album save “Angels Fall First”; “She is My Sin” was the sole representative from “Wishmaster.” After all the intense singing tracks, Floor was given a little break as she focused on backing backing vocals, while Troy took the lead in “Harvest.” Drummer Kai Hahto changed his drum sticks to mallets to give that extra tribal feel to the drums. If there’s one thing that felt kind of strange, it was the abrupt ending to the song. The fact that there was complete and utter silence between songs made it feel rather awkward, transitionally. I don’t blame this on the band, but I will point my finger to that damned coronavirus that made us experience this show from home, rather than applauding madly after Troy sang his lungs out to this heartwarming song.

The greatest thing about Troy joining the band is perhaps that some of these songs have gotten new (and may I add better) live arrangements. For instance, in “7 Days to the Wolves,” Troy played the mandolin, though the original song had strings during this section. This gives it a bit of an updated NIGHTWISH-feel to it, a little bit folkier. The magical atmosphere of this track was enhanced by the Harry Potter-like floating candles in the venue; it was these nice little details that make this stream so visually really pleasing. The intro to the instrumental part was re-imagined a bit as Floor did some atmospheric vocals, but then it went full-blast into that iconic bridge that is possibly the best part of the song. It’s a bit of a shame that when Holopainen started playing the folky melody line, there was something a bit wrong with the mix and the tones were pushed back. However, altogether the song was still an excellent addition to this tracklist, especially because the band hadn’t played this song for quite some time (the last time was in 2016). Its studio version has Hietala singing very powerful vocal lines; this time, Troy did those parts, while a bit more mellow, he did a great job of interpreting them, never trying to copy Hietala‘s style, although admittedly, the song did feel like it was missing some bite to it.

“Bless the Child” gave a small atmospheric break for the band, before they started playing one of NIGHTWISH‘s biggest hits, “Nemo.” This track has always been one of their most iconic songs and it will always be one of those songs that just needs to be a part of their setlist. After the track, Floor mentioned that she was off to the bar and at last we saw what they were talking about in the interviews – big barrels of beers and wines, crackling fires, and tables covered in beer steins and plates. It would have been a lot of fun for Floor and Troy to play the next track there as it required a more intimate environment, but they stayed put during “How’s the Heart.” This track started off as their acoustic version, which they originally released on YouTube after the album release; later on, the band joined in for the last couple of choruses.

One of the tracks I was looking most forward to see live from the new album was “Shoemaker,” so I was really pleased to see the band had decided to add this to the setlist of the night. It was as good as I had imagined it to be, maybe even better, considering the ending is a chill-inducing climax where Floor does unimaginable things with her voice. Of course, it was during that fine moment my stream decided to lag… the perks of virtual events, am I right? “Last Ride of the Day” soon followed and showed the more catchy side of NIGHTWISH, which is a fun song to insert before the grand finale of the event.

When “Ghost Love Score” started playing, I figured that would be the last song of the evening. From start to finish that song is just one killer of a track and Floor‘s interpretation has always been incredible from the first note to the last. Luckily for fans, this was not the end of the night, as Tuomas soon started playing the first piano notes of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” their longest track to date. While some people may lose their attention span a little bit during this track because it its length, for me, it’s one of my all-time favorite compositions and every time I hear it, I get instant goosebumps. Needless to say, this provided an ending with a lot of oomph to an incredible streaming event.

Now, aside from the visual aspect and the music, there are some things that I perhaps would have maybe wanted to see differently. There was very little to no engagement towards the audience, so it felt a little bit like watching a (really cool) music video. Other than that, the silence in between the songs at times felt a little bit weird, mostly because it took me a little bit out of the atmosphere of the concert and somehow transported me back to a world where we can’t go see shows live because of this damned virus. This included the ending, which had no sound whatsoever, no outro music or credits-roll music… nothing. However, these small things aside, when NIGHTWISH does something, they always make damn sure that they deliver. It was clear that the whole production spent so much time in creating this beautiful virtual world and every detail of it just felt right, including, for instance, the font of the chat (same font that was used on “Human. :||: Nature.”) Altogether, this evening was well worth the wait, the new songs sound incredible live, and if this is just a taste of what’s to come from during the tour, it’s going to be one hell of a ride!

Written by Laureline Tilkin
Photos are stills from the event

Setlist

  1. Noise
  2. Planet Hell
  3. Tribal
  4. Élan
  5. Storytime
  6. She Is My Sin
  7. Harvest
  8. 7 Days to the Wolves
  9. I Want My Tears Back
  10. Bless the Child
  11. Nemo
  12. How’s the Heart
  13. Shoemaker
  14. Last Ride of the Day
  15. Ghost Love Score
  16. The Greatest Show on Earth