DVD REVIEW: NIGHTWISH – “Vehicle Of Spirit”
Symphonic metal. Ask any metal fan (or indeed fan of rock) to think of this genre, and then name a band that exemplifies it and you’ll be hard-pushed to find someone who doesn’t mention Nightwish. The Finnish group have been melding the aggression of metal to the glorious, sweeping majesty of the symphony for twenty years now and, despite some vocal changes over the past decade, have remained steadfast at the cutting-edge of the genre.
‘Vehicle Of Spirit’ is the band’s sixth live album/DVD release and the first with Floor Jansen and Troy Donockley as full-time members of the band, with two concerts spread across two discs, comprising of seventeen tracks each and a bonus disc of extras (including an interview with Richard Dawkins whose work and voice featured prominently on the band’s latest album ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’). Automatically, one can assume you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck, with in excess of four hours of footage crammed onto three discs (and all for between £25 and £35). So based on value for money alone, we’re off to a flying start.
Disc One sees the band entertaining around twelve-thousand fans at Wembley Arena, London, and what’s immediately apparent is that the band’s been captured on an inspired night. Both the crowd and the band are energized, buoyant and thriving, with an electric atmosphere as thick and heavy as the band’s brand of symphonic metal. Opening bombastically with “Shudder Before The Beautiful”, Nightwish stake their claim for Wembley emphatically, and the show continues on exploding in a kaleidoscope of colour. “While Your Lips Are Still Red” proves a heart-wrenching, yet welcome inclusion to the night, whilst “The Poet & The Pendulum” fills the room with resplendent wonder, proving Jansen’s prowess in making a song her own. Donockley‘s contributions are plentiful and oh-so welcome amongst the band’s meaty metal material – the inclusion of pipes to play some of the key melodies to fan-favourite “Nemo” work so well it’s a wonder that it was never considered originally.
The evening sees the band on top-form performance-wise, with nary a foot put wrong and the inclusion of Richard Dawkins himself during epic finale “The Greatest Show On Earth” proves inspired. It’s rare to find a live DVD that can draw you in from your living room (bedroom, bathroom, or wherever you happen to be watching), and place you directly in the middle of the show as if you were there, yet the Wembley show of ‘Vehicle Of Spirit’ does just that. This is despite the fluctuating audio quality that befell the online copy under review – whether this was an issue on the side of the hosting site, or a dodgy internet connection is immaterial, because it rather spoiled the experience (though you can be sure the DVD version will be an audiophile’s dream). However, in the moments of clarity, it is apparent that the mix is amongst the best committed to release, with every instrument finely balanced in the mix and as impactful as it needs to be.
Disc Two of ‘Vehicle Of Spirit’ sees the band perform at the Ratina Stadion, Tampere in Finland. A home crowd to four-sixths of the band, the open-air show features rather more of a festival-like feel about it. Once again, the show opens with “Shudder Before The Beautiful”, and features heavy cuts from the group’s latest, though with a few more varied additions (including the moody, dark and downright superb “The Islander”, and the bouncy “Amaranth”). The stage show is ramped up and makes for a eye-capturing spectacle – it’s hard to take your eyes of with so much going on. Maybe that’s why the crowd at this show seem somewhat subdued (at least in terms of volume) – they’re overawed at what’s going on before them. It doesn’t quite draw you in as much as the Wembley show does, but it’s visually superior and makes for a fine representation of Nightwish at their biggest and most opulent. Conversely, Disc Three features a ripping performance of “The Poet & The Pendulum” in a far more intimate venue that reproduces that draw found on the first disc (though, once again, seemed to suffer from fluctuating quality of audio). Interestingly, the content under review isn’t as advertised on the promotional material – there should be further live performances from across the globe of a variety of tracks, yet there’s just the one on offer here. Odd, but otherwise non-detrimental.
Aside from the aforementioned fluctuations in quality, the mix of all three discs (when clear) is sublime and should become the standard to which all live albums are held to. It’s refined, balanced and a pleasure to listen to, especially with the flux in the band’s setlists: from heavy and aggressive, to soft and folk-based. The editing is a plus, as well – both live DVDs and feature DVDs are beginning to suffer from a spasmodic approach, with clips being hacked together left-and-right without allowing room to breathe. Fortunately, those sorts of editors have been kept well away from ‘Vehicle Of Spirit’ as there is plenty of room for shots of each band member (as well as shots of the crowd) to breathe and be viewed. From a musician’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than wanting to watch another musician perform, but having to endure a hacked-up clip.
Mercifully, it’s not the case here and makes the band’s sixth live release a pleasure to behold. Symphonic metal, by-and-large, can be a difficult genre to perfect, be that on-record or in a live setting. Nightwish are, arguably, the genre’s biggest and best proponents, and are rightly lauded for their two decades-worth of splendour. As much as any studio release, a live release has to capture their grandeur in all its glory, so it’s a joy that ‘Vehicle Of Spirit’ does this, not only in the sense of the mix and visuals, but the level of engagement that can be felt. It’s an exciting watch and, whilst there may have been audio issues with the online promo version, you can be sure the DVD version will sound as magnificent as it looks here. A wonderful pair of shows.