The release of Tarja’s latest (fantastic) solo album – The Shadow Self – last Friday reminded me that I never got around to reviewing a gig of hers that I attended back in June. Please allow me to rectify that!
So, I guess it was just over two months ago now that I went to the debut of the new Rock On Green Festival at the O2 Forum in Camden. Joint headliners were the genre-defying melodic death metal band Amaranthe followed by the aforementioned ex-Nightwish operatic extraordinaire Tarja.
Those of you who have followed my blog for a while now will know that my good friend Beth often accompanies me to these sorts of gigs, and today was no exception! Having stayed over the previous night to maximise time spent with a then-ten-week-old Edgar, we took our time travelling up to London as we didn’t really fancy forcing enthusiasm for those lower down on the bill. Consequently we rather happily missed the local metalcore three-piece, Immension, and showed up mid-way through a rather baffling set by Republic of Rock ‘N’ Roll; an alternative rock band from Paris. At this point the crowd was absolutely threadbare thin, the merchandise stall poorly stocked, and the atmosphere completely dead. I have to say, I did feel a little bit sorry for Republic of Rock ‘N’ Roll, who had an uphill struggle in playing to what was obviously not the right audience for them. That being said, they were pretty dire, and not even a cover of my favourite Aerosmith song ‘Dream On’ could endear me to them.
Next up were Octanic; a six-piece melodic death metal act that had travelled all the way from Australia just to play this one gig… impressive! Equally as impressive was their set, which proved to be a nice surprise after the incongruous dirge that was Republic of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Surprisingly melodic, full of synths, organs and classical licks, Octanic’s particular blend of clean and heavy vocals caught my ear immediately. Their charismatic lead singer Jay Shepherdson seemed so excited to be playing in the UK at last that his enthusiasm was infectious. Within no time at all he had the audience stamping their feet, clapping their hands and singing lines back to him despite the fact that I’m pretty sure hardly any of the crowd had heard of them before. Though they were only on stage for a short time, I thoroughly enjoyed Octanic’s set, and I fully intend to give their debut album, The Mask of Hypocrisy, a listen at some point.
At last, the first headliner of the evening exploded onto the stage amidst a blast of strobe lighting and distorted bass; six-piece Swedish elodeath metallers Amaranthe. Launching straight into single ‘Digital World’, they then began their very own metal dance party, drawing on all three of their studio albums in equal measure for an absolutely stellar setlist on the tail-end of a highly successful Massive Addictive world tour. All three of Amaranthe’s vocalists were on top form, led by an impeccably dressed Elize Ryd whose ability to bound around so effortlessly in high heels, short skirts and boots with no front never ceases to amaze me.
12. The Nexus
14. Drop Dead Cynical
One of the biggest highlights of the Amaranthe show for me was actually the crowd itself. It seemed that the vast majority of the people in attendance were there specifically to see Amaranthe, and Beth and I made friends with those around us, including an older man with a conversation-starting MFVF (Metal Female Voices Fest) hoodie, and a younger man who told us that his future-wife had no choice in the first song at their wedding being ‘Amaranthine’, and promptly burst into tears when the band began to play it. Everyone knew all the words and sang along when Elize pointed the microphone at us, and the atmosphere was so warm and full of really positive energy! In terms of the setlist, my personal favourites included debut single ‘Hunger’, and all three of the songs in the encore; in particular ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ because that song always makes me want to get up and dance! This time, surrounded by what I like to call ‘my people’, I could bounce, bop, sing and growl along as loud and as hard as I wanted without a care in the world. Not even the really bizarre moment when the band’s bassist, Johan Andreassen, came out and started insulting the audience during the unusually long wait for the encore (presumably to give Elize Ryd time to change outfits) could possibly spoil my fun!
Although it was really weird… Johan, what on Earth? Go home, you’re drunk.
This whole gig from start to finish was hugely cathartic, massive addictive fun. One of the most innovative and unique acts on the metal scene, Amaranthe more than proved themselves at the height of their powers and, with the announcement of upcoming album Maximalism due out later this year, they don’t look as though they’re about to slow down any time soon.
So, after that rather full-on, full-length performance by the night’s headliner, it was time for… another headliner! Clammy and hot from the press of the crowd, our pent-up energy exerted, throats hoarse and legs stiff from standing for so long, I was beginning to wonder how on earth an exhausted Beth and I were going to manage to do it all over again.
However, much like the stomach always makes room for dessert, we managed to syphon the energy from somewhere as Tarja Turunen – arguably the most iconic singer in the symphonic metal genre – took to the stage in her trademark swirl of long raven hair, elbow-length gloves and black lace. With a radiant smile to her adoring audience, the ex-Nightwish soprano launched straight into a rousing rendition of her then-latest single and the opening track of The Brightest Void EP, ‘No Bitter End’.
Note: I seem to be having a streak of bad luck when it comes to gigs. Once again I accidentally parked myself next to the nutters and was forced to relocate during Tarja’s set to somewhere with an inferior view just to get away with them. I’m all for a bit of gig enthusiasm, but when someone is elbowing you in the ribs, jumping all over your feet and screaming – actually screaming – in your ear rather than singing along to the words, just to get Tarja’s attention? No, I cannot deal. After the awesomeness that was the Amaranthe crowd, this was really disappointing, and impacted heavily on my enjoyment. Gig etiquette is a so important, and it’s such a shame when people behave so inconsideratly and spoil the experiences of others.
1. No Bitter End
2. Never Enough
3. Demons In You*
5. Supremacy (Muse cover)*
6. Calling From The Wild*
7. Goldfinger (John Barry & Shirley Bassey cover)
8. Victim Of Ritual
9. Die Alive
10. Until My Last Breath
11. Over The Hills And Far Away (Gary Moore cover)
* Live Premiere
Here’s the thing about Tarja: generally speaking, her songs are not very good. She is by no means a natural-born songwriter and her albums tend to contain a lot of filler with the very occasional gem (watch me eat my words when I eventually get around to writing a review for The Shadow Self). Her voice on the other hand… My God, her voice is exquisite; a truly stunning thing to behold live. She is the absolute mistress of musical interpretation, and if I was in any doubt about her performance after a couple of unexceptional opening tracks, my fears were sufficiently allayed when she delivered a truly spectacular cover of Muse’s ‘Supremacy’. Her vocal range was off the scale, her control faultless. As goose-pimples rippled over the flesh of my arms and her voice climbed to the final, almost impossibly high note, I turned to Beth and said simply one word: “Wow.”
“Now that is a difficult song to sing,” Tarja confessed afterwards with a laugh as much to herself as to her audiece. Yeah, I thought to myself. No shit…!
Other set highlights included ‘Victim Of Ritual’ – one of my favourite ever Tarja songs – and the live premiere of ‘Demons In You’; I got very excited when I caught the instantly recognisable screams of Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz on the backing track!
So, despite her setlist being peppered with covers and underwhelming song choices- and’Over The Hills And Far Away’ once again being dragged up from the Nightwish back catalogue – it simply doesn’t matter. Tarja is Tarja; our queen, our metal goddess, our diva… and I will follow her to the ends of the earth.
As always, thank you very much to Beth for accompanying me, I had such a fantastic time!
I haven’t got another gig booked for a while now; not until next year in fact when Epica perform at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 3 February. However, both Delain and Týr have announced London dates for November, so perhaps I will see some of you there?
Be sure to check out all the bands mentioned above’s official websites:
Rock On Green does not have an official website, however you can click the flyer to be taken through to the official Facebook page.
All photos included in this blog taken by me.