End of an Era, the recording of Tarja Turunenâ€™s final night as Nightwishâ€™s singer has always been my favourite live DVD. Maybe itâ€™s the powerful performances from four musicians who arenâ€™t sure if theyâ€™ll get to play together again, maybe itâ€™s the way that they are visibly awkward around their one oblivious bandmate, maybe itâ€™s because that at the centre of all this drama Tarja Turunen was still symphonic metalâ€™s finest voice. It’s possible that the title of Tarjaâ€™s new live album Act 1 is a response to End Of An Era, announcing loudly that Tarjaâ€™s stint in Nightwish was just a prologue to her career as a solo artist, all of which is covered in the two hour set that was recorded. While Act 1 is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray formats Iâ€™ve been listening to the CD version, so Iâ€™m only able to review the music. Youâ€™ll have to find out yourself how Tarjaâ€™s wardrobe looks in 1080p, but thereâ€™s already a snippet that has been officially released on Youtube.
If you only know of her by association with her old band then youâ€™ll find that Tarjaâ€™s material is surprisingly different from Nightwish. While they were all about having an entire orchestra and a million layers of synths screaming at you at once, this is a much more low key affair. In some ways this works in Tarjaâ€™s favour as it gives her new band an identity of its own, rather than it just appearing to be a continuation of what came before. However, it is pretty clear that no one involved in the project is quite as proficient at writing as Nightwish mastermind Tuomas Holopainen. The only original song that really approaches the majesty of Once (Tarjaâ€™s last album with Nightwish) is the fantastic â€˜Into The Sunâ€™, but there are still some formidable songs like â€˜Tired Of Being Aloneâ€™ and â€˜Dark Starâ€™. The stripped down nature of her material is most apparent when the inevitable â€˜Nemoâ€™ cover pops up; it translates much better to the live arena and is one of the peaks of the album.
As far as the live performance goes, everything is precise and carefully choreographed. In the process of being mixed, Act 1 has lost a bit of the fire and passion for performance that I remember seeing when the band performed in London a while ago. The instrumentalists get a bit more prominence than they do on the albums, and this perks up the songs that donâ€™t have the power to be really impressive live â€“ â€˜Lost Northern Starâ€™ in particular really gets a shot in the arm when compared with the original version.
Tarja manages to work in a surprising number of covers. Staples from her time in Nightwish â€˜Over The Hills And Far Awayâ€™, â€˜Where Were You Last Nightâ€™ and â€˜Phantom Of The Operaâ€™ all turn out pretty well, although whoever is singing the Phantomâ€™s part really doesnâ€™t have the voice to do it justice. The version of Whitesnakeâ€™s â€˜Still Of The Nightâ€™ isnâ€™t quite as impressive, Tarjaâ€™s voice may be fantastic, but it is just about as far from hair metal as you can get.
In short, Act 1 is a fine reproduction of a great concert. It definitely shows that Tarja is a force all of her own in the symphonic metal scene, unwilling to rest on her laurels. It doesnâ€™t have the complex storm of emotion that has made End Of An Era stick in my mind, but it does promise a future for an excellent band. In my opinion, that is just as good.
Header photograph: Paul Harries