Live Review: Tarja (Rock City, Nottingham)

Photo: Darren Reynolds

The reason that Tarja Turunen has remained a staple in the metal genre is her utter professionalism. I realise this as I stand outside her tourbus on a chilly February evening in Nottingham desperate to have my ‘Once’ booklet signed. She won’t – she can’t – sacrifice her voice for anyone and, though she sent a member of the crew to fetch things to be signed for fans, she couldn’t risk her voice by hanging out in the cold. The adoring fans are more than willing to accept it though – it’s not just anybody and it’s not just any voice – Tarja has the operatic style that characterised an entire genre. Anneke and Liv preceded may have preceded her but it was Tarja that brought a true, powerful and unashamed soprano style to the table. The woman has never toned down her over over-dramatic tendencies – in fact, it’s all part of her charm.

Hours before, and another reason you can’t begrudge Tarja for not venturing out of her bus, she gave a full-throttle run through of highlights from her three records. After the Nightwish debacle in 2007 (‘it was a difficult year for me’ she confesses before a touching take on her response to the drama –  ‘I Walk Alone’), many thought Tarja would leave the metal in her past and concentrate on the successful crossover classical career she had begun before her dismissal. So, watching her perform tonight, seven years later and packing quite a punch, it’s interesting to see that her material has more of a reliance on guitars than her former bands later stuff. ‘Anteroom of Death’ brings an an antithesis that sits at the core a lot of her best material – a haunting, tender verse and a vicious scathing chorus. Encore track and recent single ‘Victim Of Ritual’ applies a similar tactic with it’s military drumming breaking into a hook that is all leading up to her rather impressive ability to roll her R’s with ease. Whilst her debut only gets a few nods, it’s heaviest track ‘Ciaran’s Well’ is lifted as if to acknowledge those that never thought she’d have much force on her own.

Photo: Darren Reynolds

It isn’t all a chaotic attempt at being metal though – the ballads are just as overly-emotional as Tarja’s facial expressions. Take ‘Mystique Voyage’ for example – the title itself and the did-nobody-question-that lyric ‘An inner trip to… lonesomeness and dislike’ should probably not get an airing over plenty of other worthy ballads that are arguably easier to digest – but I have to stand corrected as it’s sweeping refrain flits past. It has a gorgeous Enya vibe when it reaches it’s peak and seeing the vocalist herself deliver it with minimal backing swelling into a crescendo, the song really picks up and proves that, despite it’s flaws, has a lot of plus points too. The only other time the tempo drops in the fifteen song set is the rousing ‘Sing For Me’ that relies on choral backdrops to hoist it to the emotional heights of it’s lyrics – Tarja never once feels disingenuous – not during the passionate performance, nor during her warm receiving of the vast amount of love the crowd shows her. The venue might not be heaving, but the sound of the audience’s response is unyielding, only spurred on by the disbelieving shake-of-the-head that personifies the soprano’s gratitude and disbelief. ‘I love you all so very much’ she utters in her broad Finnish accent and it really feels like an honest omission.

As a whole, the setlist is expertly curated. We can all niggle that a few songs should have been performed, but hammering out ‘In For A Kill’, ‘500 Letters’ and ‘Dark Star’ to kick off the proceedings and later teaming Nightwish classic ‘Wish I Had An Angel’ with her signature closer ‘Until My Last Breath’ really keeps the energy up and you start to think that it’s a good job Turunen stuck with the metal stuff. Her albums have been patchy, to say the least, but merging together her best bits, the show tonight really shows a woman at the top of her game. Whether she reaches the dizzying heights of Nightwish’s overwhelming success is unlikely, but as a soprano from Finland that has grown into the genre almost by accident, it’s by a miraculous set of events that have brought us one of the most lauded and iconic metal vocalists of our time.

Photos: Darren Reynolds
Words: Simon McMurdo


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