Tag Archives: Tarja

Tarja – Islington O2 Academy

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Finland’s Ice Queen of Metal came to Islington Academy for the London date of her European tour. On previous tours the former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen had played the larger Shepherds Bush empire; this time around it was the smaller O2 Academy. Nevertheless the venue was completely rammed, the busiest I’ve ever seen it, so much so that the bar ran out of beer.

And it was the first time I’ve ever seen a nun in a metal crowd.

The support was French four-piece Elyose, who played an entertaining set, more straight goth-tinged rock’n'roll than symphonic theatrics, despite their use of programmed keyboard parts rather than employing a flesh-and-blood keyboard player.

Tarja fronted a six-piece band including one-time member Apocalyptica member Max Lilja on cello alongside the traditional guitars, drums and keyboards. Her sometimes bombastic albums lack the emotional depth of Nightwish’s recent work, but by God she can rock out live, with a dramatic stage presence. Even in an age where female-fronted acts are increasingly common, Tarja’s crystalline soprano voice is quite unlike anyone else in the metal scene. It was helped by an excellent sound that gave Tarja’s voice prominence in the mix, and even sounded great from the photo pit.

The set was drawn from across Tarja’s three solo albums with the odd Nightwish number thrown in for good measure. There is something inherently ridiculous about the melodrama of songs like “Anteroom of Death” and “Victim of Ritual” with their classical motifs and vocal gymnastics, but Tarja’s on-stage charisma makes them work, and neo-classical epics such as “Mystique Voyage” and “Medusa” came over well live. The more conventional hard rock of “Never Enough” turned into an extended jam featuring a shredding cello solo. Indeed, aside from Tarja herself, Max Lilja was the star of the band, his cello playing forming an integral part of the music, often playing lines played by other instruments on record, demonstrating just how versatile an instrument a cello can be.

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The encores included the Nightwish oldie “Wish I Had An Angel”, with guitarist Alex Scholpp handling the male vocal part; he’s no Marco Hietala, but it worked well enough. Such was the enthusiasm of the crowd the band came back for a final encore of Gary Moore’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”, a song that frequently featured in Nightwish’s live sets, and older than many of the audience.

Almost a decade after being sacked from Nightwish, Tarja is a dynamic live act with a remarkable and unique voice, and on the strength of performances like this doesn’t only reproduce her records live but exceeds them. And the world of metal definitely needs more cellos.

The review first appeared in Trebuchet Magazine.

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Tarja – Colours in the Dark

Colours in the Dark is the third solo album from Finnish metal diva Tarja Turunen, following on from 2010′s “What Lies Beneath. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Nightwish dramatically sacked their lead singer way back in 2005. Her old band have re-invented themselves while Tarja herself bounced back strongly and quickly found her voice as a solo artist.

The album begins as it means to go on, starting with an excerpt from Ravel’s Bolero leading into powerchord riffs and falsetto vocals that come over as a heavy metal Lena Lovich. Despite a little less use of choirs and orchestras, it’s still perhaps her strongest and most musically ambitious album to date.

The album takes in metal and pop with a heavy dose of progressive rock alongside some big sweeping ballads that wouldn’t sound out of place in a West End musical but for the metal guitars. There are a couple of very commercial numbers with huge pop choruses; indeed, “Never Enough” is effectively Abba with powerchords up to the distorted white noise of the outtro.

Classical motifs reappear in the epic “Lucid Dreamer”, containing an eerie atonal instrumental section that eventually gives way to a theme from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” suite; for once, it’s something other than “Hall of the Mountain King”. The snatch of John Barry’s James Bond theme at one point in “Deliverance” makes you wonder if Tarja is angling to sing a Bond theme. If she did she’s be the most powerful voice since Shirley Bassey sang “Goldfinger”. The album ends with the epic “Medusa” with its evocative flute line. Much of the album demonstrates how symphonic metal and progressive rock have always been close cousins, with the combination of big guitars and complex classically-derived arrangements.

It’s all completely over the top, but then it’s a Tarja record, and you wouldn’t really expect anything else; it would be like expecting Meatloaf to make a lo-fi Americana album. As the ice-queen of symphonic metal, she doesn’t put much in the way of soul-baring emotion on this record, but like the bombastic arrangements, it’s what Tarja does.

If you prefer a record with a lot of emotional depth, then perhaps this record is not for you, but if you have room for over-the-top melodrama that isn’t afraid to verge on the cheesy, then there is a lot to like about this album.

(This review also appears in Trebuchet Magazine)

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Top Ten Albums of 2010

It’s that time of the year again. 2010 doesn’t seem to have been quite as strong a year as 2009, when I did a top 15 – this year I struggled to name ten. On the other hand, my top four are absolutely superb. A couple of 2010 releases are missing (most notably the excellent Satellite by Panic Room) because I included the pre-release editions in my 2009 list, and it doesn’t seem right to list them twice.

10: Tarja – What Lies Beneath

The second solo album from the former Nightwish lead singer has a massive production including orchestras and kitchen sinks as well as metal guitars, but never quite comes alive. There are some good songs in the mix of big rock numbers and power-ballads, but Tarja’s soprano vocals, while technically superb throughout, lack emotion too much of the time.

9: Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels

More Dungeons and Dragons operatic pomp-metal from the Italian quintet, again featuring narration from Sir Christopher Lee and a corny plot featuring a Dark Lord called “Necron”. All good fun in a cheesy sort of way, even if it doesn’t really break any new ground for the band. Twenty-sided dice are not included.

8: New Dance Orchestra – Electronica

An unexpectedly good album from Geoff Downes (the instrumental half of The Buggles) with the superb Anne-Marie Helder on vocals. Billed as “dance-pop”, it’s more 80s pop than Ibiza-style dance anthems, a great collection of well-crafted songs. This one’s a pre-order, currently available direct from the band, but won’t have a retail release until the new year.

7: Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here

The former doom-metallers return after a lengthy absence and drop just about all traces of metal from their sound in favour of atmospheric soundscapes. It’s a musical journey that works far far better as one continuous listen than as a collection of individual songs.

6: The Reasoning – Adverse Camber

The Cardiff band’s third album continues in a similar prog-metal vein as 2008′s “Dark Angel”, albeit with Rachel Cohen handling the majority of the lead vocals. A solid piece of work with some great songs, even if it doesn’t (for me at least) quite reach the heights of their first two albums.

5: Pure Reason Revolution – Hammer and Anvil

PRR describe their third album as “Disco-prog”, meaning they’ve put electronic dance, prog and metal into a blender. At times atmospheric, at times sounding like The Prodigy at their most mental, it puts the progressive back into prog.

4: Therion – Sitra Ahra

Not quite as bonkers as their last album “Gothic Kabballah”, this one is the slightly more accessible side of Therion’s choral metal. It’s still filled with complex multi-part vocal arrangements using multiple classically-trained singers, which when combined with twin lead guitars makes for a very rich sound indeed.

3: Black Country Communion

The combination of Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian is in danger of giving supergroups a good name with this album of classic 70s-style hard rock. Hughes, despite his age is on fine form vocally, Bonamassa shows he can do hard rock as well as blues, and Jason Bonham is in the same league as his famous father. Sherinian really only has a supporting role given that cast, but still delivers some great Hammond playing. The best album Led Zeppelin never recorded in the 70s? Maybe.

2: Karnataka – The Gathering Light

Five years in the making, the second incarnation of Karnataka finally deliver an album of old-school symphonic prog on a truly epic scale. Features heartfelt female vocals from the now-departed Lisa Fury and some fantastic guitar playing from Enrico Pinna, as well as guest appearances from Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes, and Hugh McDowell, formerly of ELO, on cello.

1: Mostly Autumn – Go Well Diamond Heart

OK, so you all know I’m a huge fan of this band. But this is the first time since I’ve been blogging that they’ve come up with my album of the year. It’s an immensely varied album containing atmospheric celtic moments, belting hard rockers, shimmering four-minute pop songs, and soaring ballads. They’ve managed to take the spirit of 70s classic rock and made it sound relevant for the 21st century with great songwriting, singing and musicianship. And they’ve done it straight after the departure of a much-loved lead singer too.

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