Even though the genre’s finest moments have been carved out of the darkness of northern European winter nights, Roma feels like the perfect place to take in a feast of symphonic metal.
While the 30-degree-plus heat might make us want to do little more than get pished in the sun and spin some Van Halen, a few days wandering around the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and other monuments to the city’s ancient glories have filled us with a sense of awe befitting the grandeur of this evening’s bill.
But after hours spent queueing in the blistering sun, sweating through our shorts and T-shirts while the beautiful local goths somehow stay cool in leather trousers and jackets, we’re in need of some refreshment. And Italy’s Temperance are just the band to deliver that.
From the first crushing riff on opener ‘Oblivion’, Temperance do a hell of a job waking up the crowd and setting the tone for the rest of the night. Their sound is big, bold, and full of so many catchy little hooks they should be called Velcro. The huge arrangements and the magnetic dynamism of frontwoman Chiara Tricarico’s voice make them a perfect fit for this bill, but what really sets Temperance apart from other metal bands is their totally fearless embrace of pop influences. The big singalong choruses on the likes of ‘Hero’ and ‘Save Me’ owe more than a little to eighties chart-toppers, and in this sun-soaked environment they’re just perfect. If you’re not jumping and singing along to tunes this bouncy and catchy you probably just need another beer. A new track from their forthcoming album gets its live debut too: ‘Unspoken Words’ gives guitarist Marco Pastorino a chance to really show off his vocal prowess, and the more considered, but still relentlessly fun, approach of this new music is an opportunity to exhibit the exceptional talents of bassist Luca Negro and drummer Giulio Capone too. Our only complaint is that twenty minutes is far too short a set. With songs this fun and such an awesome live show, Temperance will be headlining events like this very soon.
The crowd are therefore suitably warmed up (or cooled-down?) by the time Apocalyptica take the stage. The cello-wielding Finns get a rapturous reception, especially when they launch into a cover of Sepultura’s classic ‘Refuse/ Resist’. The cellos certainly make for an interesting take on the song, but the lack of vocals on stage or from the crowd seems strange to us (although maybe we’re just too used to stealing the mic when Kingpin tear through their own Sepultura cover). The audience remain receptive as the band move into their original material, but the arrival of vocalist Frankie Perez proves underwhelming. He’s a decent enough frontman, but nowhere near the calibre of the other singers on tonight’s bill. However, the last twenty minutes of the set are a return to form. Apocalyptica’s takes on ‘Seek and Destroy’, ‘One’, and ‘Master of Puppets’ go down a storm (we even get some singing along on the latter!), and a thrashy reimagining of some Vivaldi and ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ are testament to their talents as musicians. Apocalyptica are a good, undeniably gimmicky, festival band, but they’d definitely be better with a short n’ sweet covers set.
There’s few things better in life than sitting in the last of the day’s Italian sun, poke of chips in one hand, pint in the other, and watching Epica‘s exquisite backdrop go up. Apart from seeing Epica themselves, of course. The Dutch symphonic metallers are still one of the most essential bands in the genre. Blasting onto the stage with two choice cuts from 2014’s The Quantum Enigma, ‘The Second Stone’ and ‘The Essence of Silence’, their live show exudes an infectious energy which matches the triumphant scale of their music. Simone Simons really is one of the best singers in heavy metal: a striking yet amicable presence with a voice to match. However, despite what their merch table would have you believe, she is not the only thing Epica fans come to see. Everyone on this stage has a gift for showmanship: from guitarist Mark Jansen with his commanding growl, to keyboardist Coen Janssen with his energetic, crowd-stirring antics. The set leans heavily on Quantum Enigma: a heavier Epica disc, but one which feels like it’s been written to be heard live. There’s some earlier stuff there too in the form of set staples ‘Storm The Sorrow’ (arguably still the best showcase of Simone’s vocals), ‘Sancta Terra’ (without Floor Jansen, unfortunately, but still killer), and the awesome, crowd-pleasing ‘Cry For The Moon’ (Epica could headline any venue they wanted just off the back of that “forever and ever” singalong bit). It would have been great to hear some deeper cuts (we can’t wait for the day that ‘Fools Of Damnation’ is back in their set). But what’s more frustrating is that, despite the band’s constant online teasing, we don’t get even a taste of anything from the forthcoming The Holographic Principle. Still, after tonight’s truly epic performance, we’ll definitely be back for more when they tour that record.
There’s probably only one band that could live up to Epica’s performance, and that’s tonight’s headliners. Even before they take the stage, Nightwish prepare us for something truly magnificent with their stage setup. The pyros are put in place, the backdrop replaced with a huge screen, and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley’s platforms: massive fossils, reflecting the Darwinian themes of Endless Forms Most Beautiful: are trundled into position.
Then the band explode into ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’. An apt title, because this show threatens to be overwhelming from the first notes. Bassist Marco Hietala and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen throw themselves around the stage, perfectly timed pyros explode with the music, and frontwoman Floor Jansen cuts a divine figure, absolutely in control of proceedings.
The setlist is suitably triumphant: an absolute treat for fans of this era of Nightwish. Understandably, considering it’s Floor’s first studio album with the band (and that it’s just so good), the set leans heavily on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. It’s when it’s heard live that you really appreciate just how successfully it sums up the band’s diverse, sweeping soundscape. There’s the gentle melodies of first single ‘Élan’, but that’s contrasted by the furious ‘Weak Fantasy’ (truly crushing live, due in no small part to Floor’s monstrous roars). Tracks which don’t necessarily stand out on the disc become highlights here. “Do you feel good?”, Floor asks the crowd around the halfway-mark. “Well after this song you’re gonna feel amazing!” The song is ‘Alpenglow’, which, by building a singalong moment out of the deceptively simple “we were here” chorus, becomes a highlight for all in attendance.
As for the rest of the set, it’s chock full of deep-cuts from the Annette Olzon albums. There’s still plenty for Tarja Turunen fans, with the likes of ‘She Is My Sin’ and ‘Ghost Love Score’ going down as well as ever. But considering it’s now been ten years since Tarja’s departure, it feels right that the Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum material is finally given a chance to shine. ‘7 Days To The Wolves’ and ‘Sahara’ are both epic highlights of an epic set, while the folky ‘I Want My Tears Back’ reminds us that Floor is not the only relatively new, and extremely welcome, addition to the band. Troy cannot be bigged-up enough.
But despite such an incredible setlist, half the time it doesn’t even matter what’s playing. Because it’s so easy to lose yourself in the grandeur of a Nightwish show. The stage is constantly exploding with sparklers, pyros, and fireworks, while captivating films play along with every song. But even without these embellishments, Nightwish would still be a spectacular band on the strength of their showmanship alone. Marco and Emppu are full of energy throughout, Kai Hahto is flawless on the kit, Tuomas, while understated, is still a key presence in his top hat, and Troy is always doing something interesting with his vast arsenal of instruments. But it’s Floor who really steals the show. Strong and imposing, and gentle and approachable, as and when the song requires it. She’s so full of life, and her voice never relents as it’s pushed from one extreme to another. Few personalities could match the scale of Nightwish’s sound, but she somehow does. Floor is a fitting ringmaster for such a spectacle.
‘The Greatest Show On Earth’? You’re damn right.
- Unspoken Words
- Me, Myself, & I
- Mr. White
- Deja Vu
- Reign Of Fear
- Refuse/ Resist (Sepultura cover)
- I’m Not Jesus
- House Of Chains
- Perttu Kivilaakso solo
- Master of Puppets (Metallica cover)
- Inquisition Symphony
- Shadow Maker
- Not Strong Enough
- Seek & Destroy (Metallica cover)
- In The Hall Of The Mountain King
- One (Metallica cover)
- I Don’t Care
- Originem (intro)
- The Second Stone
- The Essence Of Silence
- Storm The Sorrow
- Chemical Insomnia
- Cry For The Moon
- The Obsessive Devotion
- Victims Of Contingency
- Sancta Terra
- Unchain Utopia
- Consign To Oblivion
- Shudder Before The Beautiful
- Yours Is An Empty Hope
- Ever Dream
- My Walden
- Weak Fantasy
- 7 Days To The Wolves
- She Is My Sin
- I Want My Tears Back
- Ghost Love Score
- Last Ride Of The Day
- The Greatest Show On Earth (pretty much in full!)