Vehicle Of Spirit - NIGHTWISH

Although he'd never publicly admit to it, main NIGHTWISH man and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen probably had more than his fair share of sleepless nights when Anette Olzon was fronting the band. Dismissed by NIGHTWISH's devoted fan base almost immediately, Olzon's routine health issues, inability to handle Tarja Turunen's material, and questionable stage presence (see YouTube commenters railing ad nauseum against her hopping and skipping) was simply too much to overcome. So, when Dutch singer Floor Jansen stepped in for Olzon during the band's late 2012 North American tour, NIGHTWISH quickly returned to its former grandiose self, culminating in the victory lap that is the 3-disc "Vehicle Of Spirit" live DVD set.

Professionally filmed at the band's July 31, 2015 date in Tampere, Finland, and its sold-out December 19, 2015 gig at London's Wembley Arena, "Vehicle Of Spirit" catches NIGHTWISH at its unarguable peak. Jansen's stage presence and command of all eras of the band's material is perhaps the biggest reason for NIGHTWISH's resurgent popularity. Jansen is a towering force, vertically challenged guitarist Emppu Vuorinen is no match, prone to full bouts of headbanging, but also more than capable of displaying the sensitive feminine angle needed to convey Holopainen's ballads. Once tasked with in-between song banter when Olzon was entrenched as frontwoman, bassist Marco Hietala appears more than willing to play second fiddle to Jansen, while fill-in drummer Kai Hahto (SWALLOW THE SUN, WINTERSUN) dutifully handles Jukka Nevalainen's parts, who is still on the sidelines due to issues related to insomnia.

Disc 1 ("The Wembley Show") finds the band relying heavily on songs from 2015's "Endless Forms Most Beautiful". The pomp and symphonic sprawl of "Shudder Before the Beautiful", "Yours Is an Empty Hope" and the excellent "My Walden" translate well in the cavernous setting of a large arena. Jansen handles the Turunen-era "Ever Dream" and "Nemo" with sublime grace, while beefing up Olzon's "The Poet And The Pendulum". Resident uilleann pipes and tin whistle gent Troy Donockley turns "I Want My Tears Back" into metal "Riverdance", leading into the rarely played "Stargazers" and impassioned "Ghost Love Score". The climatic "Last Ride Of The Day" and somewhat bloated "The Greatest Show on Earth" close out the show, the latter warranting an appearance from British professor Richard Dawkins, who joined the band onstage to give a reading.

Disc 2 ("The Tampere Show") was filmed on an overcast, gray day, fitting for the subdued Finnish crowd. A catwalk is made available for Jansen, although she often prefers to hang back with the rest of the band. It's used on the Hietala-sung "The Islander", though. The core of the Tampere show — like the Wembley show — remains "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" material, although the inclusion of "Stargazers" sends the crowd into a tizzy; same for "Sleeping Sun". The decision to play "She Is My Sin" and "Dark Chest of Wonders" negates the airing of "Amaranth", which remains a syrupy mess, regardless of singer.

"Vehicle Of Spirit" boasts plenty of bonus footage on its third disc, including a rendition of "Last Ride Of The Day" in Rio with SONATA ARCTICA scarf-man Tony Kakko and an interview with Dawkins at the band's Wembley show. With 2017 determined to be a year in which NIGHTWISH takes a break (Jansen is also due to give birth to her first child), "Vehicle Of Spirit" puts a perfunctory bow on the "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" album cycle. It also begs to wonder: Has NIGHTWISH reached its apex? Or, is this the beginning of a long stint atop the global metal mountain? Check back in three or four years…

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