Somehow, I got my wires crossed on this show and thought Amorphis was opening here instead of a month later with Samael. Hence, I came out when I might have otherwise given this one a pass.
I got in a little early, so while there was a huge lineup -- comparable to the Pelican/Thrice show or the first night of Metalfest -- I was easily able to get parking in the normal lot. This was made possible by the demographics of the show; a lot of kids and one-band fans, who either got dropped off or don't go to shows and hence don't know the good parking areas and ended up in one of the neighboring garages. The negative of the demographics was that I was stuck in line for almost an hour with these people, and while I didn't have my knife on me, I unfortunately didn't have any beer either, and wasn't in a country where drinking on the sidewalk alleviates rather than increases hassle anyway. Somehow I made it all the way up to the door without anyone dying, and got inside.
As usual on shows of this type, the bar was mostly empty and the merch stand plugged. Fortunately, after discovering that Sonata Arctica, rather than Amorphis, was opening, I had zero need to do merch, so I stood around and drank a couple beers before the bands started.
Sonata Arctica [5/7]
Amazingly, the band was fairly on, and their sound wasn't terrible despite the board, for some reason, burying the guitar and turning their first song and a half into an effective duet between bass and keytar. (Yes, keytar. One suspects that they know what fans of heavier brands of metal think of them -- seriously, there's only about as many people in Finland as in greater Boston -- and are deliberately twisting their tails.) The guitar, when you could hear it, was in tune throughout, a major first for this band that calls into question exactly what the hell was wrong with their guitar techs in 2005. If they played as good a set as this at Wacken this year, I didn't entirely notice it; what it felt like here was that Stratovarius should be knashing their teeth in frustration, as they were 10 years too early with this Finnish-ultra-melodic power metal to gain mainstream American recognition -- and Edguy should be pissed off that they stole the chords and half the lyrics from "Painting On The Wall" and turned it into a lame power ballad. They closed with "The Cage", but didn't do "Wolf & Raven", and on the whole there was not a whole ton of speed on the program. This was about the best set that I've ever seen from this band, but what this good performance showed was not only the band's abilities, but the limits of their material, in terms of not only metalness but total quality. On tour with Gamma Ray or Stratovarius, they might not play quite this set, but it's difficult to argue that this isn't where they feel themselves most comfortable. This was the most metal set of the night, but with only two bands, and these two bands, that isn't saying a whole hell of a lot.
Germany is a little weird, and Germans have weird tastes. This gets brought up because German musical tastes, as an important factor in Europe's largest market for metal, are a main reason in why Nightwish has come to prominence, and gets to play shows like this with people thinking they are mostly a metal band. There are still metal elements in their sound, but it's difficult to argue that stuff like "Bye Bye Beautiful" (the opener here) and "Wish I Had An Angel" (the obligato closer, even still) is more than a hair away from Schlaeger, the weird Germanic folk-pop-disco genre that translates exactly nowhere that was not part of the Holy Roman Empire. A lot of their material fits into this bucket to a greater or lesser degree as well, and the change in singers has only exacerbated this trend; Anette is a better singer than Tarja, but much more of a rock singer, and doesn't have her predecessor's operatic top-end range. The expectation, therefore, is that Nightwish will in the future move more mainstreamward, and introduce their American audience to what they haven't really been missing from female-fronted Eurock bands like Juli and Silbermond. The content of the set was much the same as in Germany, but longer with more emphasis on the new material rather than the old; it would ahve been awesome to hear them do "Deep Silence Complete" or, preferably, "Sacrament of Wilderness", but this is probably never going to happen. The execution was very good, but the content was only debatably more metal than the likes of Autumn Above or, for national audiences (admittedly ones with weird tastes), The Soil Bleeds Black. Six of one, half a dozen of the other at this show; not ultimately satisfying, but the music was at least uniformly entertaining.
Also, the show got out early, in order to make sure the audience got home by their bedtimes (ripping on the young never goes out of style), so I was able to blast along the highway and get back home shortly after midnight. They were passing out flyers for Rock & Shock on the way out, but I didn't pick one up; I've already got the dates in my show calendar, and the atmosphere is going to be much like this gig, except with fewer children and more juggalos. Not sure which is preferable, or if I'll make it to Zircon tonight, but Summoning Hate on Thursday is a cert, and then I've got a half-day on Friday to make sure I'm on site and pumped up when doors open for CARCASS!! on Friday.