Perhaps it was a sign of things to come, or perhaps they brought it with them, but the rain fell heavily as the line snaked around the 7 Flags Event Center in Clive, Iowa, as hundreds of metal fans from around the country filed in to hear some of the best symphonic metal on the scene today. The room was filled to capacity, which only helped to amplify the energy that was to come.
Dutch rockers, Delain, helped to kick things off just before 8:00 PM. Having done three tours in North America, in as many years, Delain has built quite the following, and the number of Delain shirts visible in the crowd could not have been lost on the band. Having released The Human Contradiction last April, Delain had no new material to promote, but played a nice assortment of favorites from their catalog.
Opening their set with Mother Machine, and Get the Devil Out of Me from their third album, We are the Others, they were quickly able to get the crowd energized with heavy guitars, fast rhythms, and soaring vocals. Having seen Delain several times, now, I’m never failed to be impressed at how accurate they’re able to recreate the sound of the album, whether it be a tricky guitar solo, or a high note, Delain is able to deliver what you’d expect from their CDs.
Unfortunately, being one of a few acts on the bill, Delain was only able to play seven songs, closing with what has become their anthem, We are the Others, a song inspired by, and dedicated to the memory of Sophie Lancaster. The song is a rallying cry for all outsiders.
Next up was Swedish military rockers, Sabaton. Singer Joakim Brodén dressed now in an armored vest, and camouflage pants; quite the change from earlier, when he was seen around the venue playing with an RC Mario Go Kart. If anything comes to mind when one talks about Sabaton, it is power; their music is powerful, and they carry a powerful presence on-stage, while energizing the crowd.
Sabaton jumped in, head first, with Ghost Division, from their fourth album, The Art of War. A song about German field marshal, Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel. Sabaton continued their educating of WWII, with To Hell and Back, telling the story of Audie Murphy. Schools really should look at integrating Sabaton into the history curriculum.
Later, Joakim would pick up a guitar himself, and start to play the intros to Smoke on the Water, and Thunderstruck, before the band launched into Resist & Bite. After, the band explained that an album of theirs, Carolus Rex, was released in both English, and Swedish, and asked if we’d mind if performed the next song in Swedish; maybe it was Midwest hospitality, or maybe nobody wanted to say anything to a group of paramilitary Swedes, without objection, Sabaton launched into Gott mit uns, each member taking lead vocals on a verse.
Sadly, Sabaton, too, had to cut their set short but before leading into their finale, Joakim brought a 10-year-old from the audience, up on the stage to join them for the last song. Joakim gave the child the sunglasses he had been wearing throughout the show, ensuring a memory that will last forever, and hopefully making a life-long fan.
Soon, it was time for the headliners of the evening, Nightwish, to take the stage. Having gone through a couple of line-up changes over the years, and with a newly released album on the shelves, there was much talk at the show both about Floor, and about Endless Forms most Beautiful. The lights went out, and Professor Richard Dawkin’s came onto the speakers, “The deepest solace lies in understanding, this ancient unseen stream, a shudder before the beautiful.” and the unmistakable orchestral sound of Nightwish thundered through the auditorium, they were there to rock.
The first song of their set, Shudder Before the Beautiful, from their latest album, was met with minimal front lighting, and heavy strobes. Appropriately, the audio cut out during the first song, leaving only drums, and bass, a very confused band played on, while staring at the off-stage mix board. This didn’t stop the crowd from singing along anyway.
The remainder of their set consisted, naturally, of a mix of new and old material; since Endless Forms Most Beautiful is the first album Floor Jansen recorded on with Nightwish, she had to work to make the other material her own, and she did so phenomenally. Songs like I Want My Tears Back and Last Ride of the Day were heavier, and fuller, thanks to the harder edge put on them by Floor Jansen.
Also new to the band, or officially now a member of the band, Troy Donockley, the Uilleann pipe player, who can be heard on several tracks on the new album, and, perhaps most famously, The Islander. When Marco Hietala sits center stage with his guitar, it’s pretty evident to any Nightwish fan what is about to happen. Marco launched into The Islander, solo, without any support from the rest of the band until after the second chorus. I’m not sure how I feel about this arrangement, but it does make it seem a little more haunting.
With a set that featured new material from Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Imaginaerum, Once, Oceanborn, Dark Passion Play, and Wishmaster, there was music for all manner of Nightwish fans. When the evening drew to a close, Marco thought aloud, “I think it’s time for some nice sleep.” While Floor countered, “I was actually thinking of a fine, single-malt whiskey.” Which could only mean, it was time for the Last Ride of the Day.
While most forms of art, and especially music, try to leave its audience with something, I think that the narrative given by Richard Dawkins, and re-recorded for Endless Forms Most Beautiful perfectly imparts the message the band wished to get across.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?
Seeing any one of these bands perform alone will leave you inspired, perhaps more educated, or make you think; above all else, you will certainly be deeply satisfied.