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Nightwish – Vehicle Of Spirit album review

Album Review

Finland’s symphonic powerhouse Nightwish mark two decades with anniversary three-disc DVD box set

Over the last two decades, Nightwish have transformed from amateurs tossing around unformed ideas on low-key debut Angels Fall First to a cinematic power metal phenomenon with world-beating ambitions. The frontrunners in metal’s most lavish genre, they brought last year’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful to its apex with an epic, 24-minute paean to evolutionary biology, narrated by controversial scientist Richard Dawkins.

Restraint isn’t really a term in their vernacular. So with that in mind, what could the Finns have up their wizard’s sleeves for this three-disc DVD box set to celebrate their 20-year anniversary?

The first two discs of Vehicle Of Spirit are dedicated to the band’s sold-out show at London’s Wembley Arena in December 2015 (the first Finnish band to ever headline the venue) and their largest ever production at Tampere, Finland’s Ratina Stadion, and to pulling off the challenge of committing to disc the sheer scale, magic and bombastic execution of a Nightwish live spectacle with aplomb. New vocalist Floor Jansen has well and truly hit her stride, every emphatic note and whip of hair a brazen display of ferocious empowerment, while each galloping solo, fantastical, march-to-Rivendell chorus and pyrotechnical explosion is brilliantly shot, hammering home just how unbelievably far this band have come. At two hours per gig, it’s perhaps more than your casual fan needs, but with slightly tweaked setlists for each show, it doesn’t feel like overkill and diehards will delight at the airing of rare cuts While Your Lips Are Still Red and über-dramatic Stargazers, included in the band’s set for the first time since the Tarja era.

After all that, it’s frustrating then that the third disc of ‘extras’ is such a letdown. Nightwish’s 2013 DVD release, Showtime, Storytime, offered genuinely fascinating glimpses into the innards of the band: nail-biting scenes of Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz learning an entire gig’s worth of songs in less than an hour to step in as last-minute replacements for ex-vocalist Anette Olzon and footage of Floor learning songs on the tourbus for her first nervy shows. It would have been far more interesting to see a similar documentary here charting the band’s meteoric journey over the last two decades: the highs, the sackings, the musical advancement. Instead, what we get is 10 additional live clips of tracks recorded at various locations during the band’s world tour, most of which have been featured already on the other discs.

Most disappointing of all is a completely wasted interview with Richard Dawkins backstage at Wembley, which somehow manages to be the world’s most boring conversation with one of the planet’s most interesting people. It’s a real shame; Nightwish are at the very peak of their powers, and over the last two decades they’ve taken the preposterousness of symphonic metal all the way to some of the world’s biggest stages and they’re the most famous thing to come out of Finland since Santa. You can’t help feeling that this was a missed opportunity to tell a far more interesting story.

TROY DONOCKLEY (pipes/guitar)

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO HIGHLIGHT THESE PARTICULAR SHOWS?

“They represent real landmarks in the band’s career – the biggest ever show production in Finland and Wembley Arena. They also show an interesting contrast in that the earlier show in Tampere was at the beginning of the tour and we were very aware of being ‘locked’ into the performance, sticking tightly to the script as it were. And then after so many shows around the world we were a bit more relaxed – musically at least – by the time we blew into Wembley; it’s difficult to relax physically when you’re about to play that venue…”

HOW DID IT FEEL WHEN RICHARD DAWKINS CAME ONSTAGE AT WEMBLEY?

“He was really sweet and a bit dazed by the whole experience. He’d never been anywhere near a world like ours, and was quite nervous, surprisingly. He told us he enjoyed it. You really can’t imagine how it felt for all of us, and for me, as a Brit who grew up with Wembley Arena as a pinnacle and shrine to every great rock band ever, it was just illumination.”

HAS FLOOR’S RECRUITMENT MADE YOU THINK ABOUT WHERE YOU CAN GO MUSICALLY IN FUTURE?

“Floor is a one-off and our sister. She has a rare clarity on where we are as a band at this moment and things seem to be just naturally developing. We are in a nicely balanced situation. But as far as what lies in the future? We don’t know where we are going, but it’s going to be wonderful.”

FOUR NIGHTWISH VIDEO ALBUMS REVISITED

End Of Innocence – SPINEFARM, 2003

Brutally honest, fly-on-the-wall doc-cum-live showcase chronicling Nightwish’s rise, circa Century Child. Includes footage with early bassist Sami Vänskä and an interview with Tuomas’s ex-Nattvindens Gråt bandmate Tapio Wilska.

End Of An Era – NUCLEAR BLAST, 2006

Filmed just hours before Tarja was handed that letter, this is the ultimate souvenir of the soprano’s final show with Nightwish. A beautifully filmed milestone release with footage that reveals growing band tensions.

Made In Hong Kong – NUCLEAR BLAST, 2009

Guarded tour doc charting Anette Olzon’s early days, with an accompanying live album. There’s very little live footage on this filler release, but it does include the lush promos for Amaranth, Bye Bye Beautiful and The Islander.

Showtime, Storytime – NUCLEAR BLAST, 2013

Released after Floor Jansen officially joined, this captures her stunning interpretation of the Imaginaerum show at Wacken Open Air, following Anette’s departure mid-tour. Also includes behind-the-scenes extras.

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