Live Photos and Gig Review Credit: Dave Burke (Photographer/Live Gig reporter)
Before I was asked to cover the Nuclear Blast Records triple bill consisting of Delain, Sonata Arctica and headliners Nightwish I was completely unaware of the three “Symphonic Metal” bands and only vaguely aware of this particular metal sub genre.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, “Symphonic Metal” or “Power Metal” grew out of the metal scene of the Netherlands and Scandinavia some time in the mid 1990’s. In addition to traditional metal hallmarks such as the use of double bass drums and heavy distorted guitar riffs, it’s characterized by the prominent use of keyboards and synthesizers, operatic vocals and lyrics often delving into social commentary by use of stories of myth and fantasy. There is a pronounced classical music influence and a grand theatrical feel, that to my ears is decidedly European. Unlike most metal genres, which tend to be male dominated , “Symphonic Metal” bands are often fronted by powerful female vocalist.
When set up to use it’s main stage, entire dance floor and upper level balconies, Milwaukee’s Eagles Ballroom holds approximately 4000, however for this triple bill the stage was set up at the rooms midpoint, only utilizing about half of that space. In this configuration the show was a near sell out, filled with almost 2000 metal heads ranging from teens, some there with their parents to the middle aged.
Delain took the stage a bit earlier than their advertised 8:00 pm time slot, so unfortunately I missed part of their set and the opportunity to photograph them up close and personal. As I made my way to the balcony to get a few shots of the stage it was impressive to see the early turn out. Typically opening bands end up playing to a half empty house to a mostly disinterested crowd. That was definitely not the case Saturday night as Delain front women Charlotte Wessels warmed up the already enthusiastic crowd. Clad in black leather pants, motorcycle boots a a white fringed leather jacket that would have made Axl Rose proud the classically trained vocalist delivered soaring vocal melodies as she head banged with diminutive guitarist Merel Bechtold at stage left. The ten song set consisted primarily of material from the band’s recent releases, 2012’s “We Are The Others” & 2014’s “The Human Contradiction” and left the crowd shouting for more.
Finland’s Sonata Arctica had no troubles keeping the momentum going as they kicked off their set with “The Wolves Die Young” from the 2014 release “Pariah’s Child”, an up beat blend of driving double bass and ascending pop hooks, that could have been pulled straight from a 1980’s movie montage. Vocalist Tony Kakko was all smiles as he interacted with the fans, at one point leading the crowd in a chant telling him to “quit fucking talking” after a lengthy monologue voicing his appreciation for all the support the band has received over the last 20 years.
In the seven song set the band alternated between breakneck pace of “The 8th Commandment” from 1999’s “Ecliptica” to the full on power ballad, “Last Drop Falls” from the bands 2001 sophomore effort “Silence”. Again the packed house hung on every note, head banging, jumping up and down and singing along withe every once of energy they could muster.
German composer Hans Zimmer’s “Roll Tide” pounded through the P.A. as the members of Nightwish took the darkened stage. The band’s appearance brought roars of approval from the crowd as all were suddenly blinded by pulsing strobe lights that revealed front women Floor Jansen at center stage, arms outstretched to the screaming fans, her brunette mane being blown wildly by the fan at her feet. Flanked by guitarist Emppu Vuorinen at her left and bassist Marco Hietala and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen at her right, the striking six foot Jansen began to prowl the stage pumping her fist in the air leading the crowd in chants of “hey hey hey”. The sixteen song set that followed heavily favored the 2015 release “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”, the first to feature Jansen as vocalist and multi instrumentalist Troy Donockley as a full time member. As enthusiastic as the crowd was for the previous two bands, they still had plenty in the tank as they head banged along with Jansen, exchanged smiles & locked eyes with Vuorinen as he criss crossed the stage and just generally went out of their minds as the band’s high energy performance spurred them on.
For my own personal taste the keyboard heavy style of this breed of metal may not be my go to sound, but it was more than a little refreshing to go to a metal show and hear not only one but three incredible vocalist instead of the typical growling and screaming that seems to be the standard of modern metal. Not only the vocals but the music itself was much more uplifting and positive than the typical angst filled metal that is the current norm.
If you’re familiar with any of these three bands or just a fan of the epic grandeur of this style , I can’t image walking away disappointed. Catch this bill throughout the U.S. until the end of March.