Fervor and Delight for Nightwish Metal Band Concert at Byblos International Festival

Nélida Nassar  07.6.2013

Every year for the past decade, a remarkable music festival has taken place by the in the historic quarter – in front of the 12th century Crusade castle – of Lebanon’s oldest inhabited city, Byblos. Floating on the coastline an hour’s drive from the capital, Beirut, Byblos (Jbeil) the earliest Phoenician city welcomes a roster of international musicians for one month each summer.

The 2013 festival targets Lebanon’s younger generation – sixteen to thirty – and offers a variety of contemporary musical genres. Among them is heavy metal, generally ignored by most of the media, despite the existence of groups who fill stadiums and whose careers span decades, such as Nightwish, the Finnish group born around a camp fire in 1996
and performing for the first time in Lebanon. One wonders why metal has never
gone mainstream.

Heavy Metal is the last really rebellious spirit remaining on the music scene. There is that stigma about metal, that’s it’s dumb, Neanderthal – but that is just nonsense. Some of the smartest people are metal fans. People can talk about punk all they want, but after new wave, metal is the voice of the disenfranchised and of the need that many people feel to become “unhinged.” That’s why it appeals to so many people when they are younger, and why it continues to do so when those people, at 40, don’t want to grow up. The striking thing about metal fans is that they’re all so maladjusted, and in many different ways. They’re individualistic, opinionated, and express their personalities in exaggerated ways. Sometimes they really turn each other off.  A little bit of a metal fan goes long way.

The crowd of 4,000 plus at the Byblos Festival was obviously filled with enthusiastic metal fans, particularly of Nightwish, which started as an acoustic project before transforming itself into a metal act. The group has managed to retain an air of insubordination, while still selling millions of records, responding, it seems, to a need to raise the bar that one does not see that in any other genre. If you’re a teenager, this music appeals to you – it expresses how pissed off you are – but it also provides a kind of fraternity to which you can belong. You’re not going to be a loner if you’re into metal – you’ve got this global fraternity.

Nightwish’s music is very intricate and layered, so that one needs to be quite savvy to get into it. It also exudes a tribal spirit as well displaying Celtic elements. Moreover, it betrays some classical music influence, especially noticeable since the group’s fourth studio album, Century Child, released in 2002, when Tuomas Holopainen (the group’s lyricist, composer, and producer) began collaborating with symphony orchestras from Finland and the United Kingdom. This constituted a change in the band’s music and Holopainen’s style of composition, and also allowed for more freedom and the use of additional instruments. However, orchestral elements per se did not appear in their music until their studio album release of December 2007.

The band played various instruments typical of rock and metal (electric guitar, synthesizer, keyboard, bass, and drum), as well as those found in more folk metal music, such as clarinet, flute and bagpipes. Holopainen, the group’s keyboardist and songwriter, used a Kong N364 music workstation to generate sounds familiar from symphonic, gothic, power metal, and black bands. Erno Vuorinen, the band’s guitarist, supported the keyboard and orchestral parts. He is also a creative force in Nightwish, having co-written songs with Holopainen on every album except for Angels Falls. His performance fluctuates from alternate picking, tapping, sliding, legato, and minor to extreme whammy bar use. Nevalainen, the drummer, wearing his trademark bandana, showed off his drumming style. Marko Hietala played a Warwick bass guitar and sang with his distinctive raucous voice.

The set was in the medieval Gothic style that has contributed to the success of the group since the early 2000s. Strong and colorful visual elements, white and grey smoke, neon lights, black leather, and elaborate costumes completed the staging.

Nightwish played several lyrics from their gold and platinum albums, which were inspired by film music and fantasy novels. Among them was While Your Lips Are Still Red, performed by Holopainen, Hietala and Nevalainen. It is the first theme song Holopainen with fellow Nightwish member Marco Hietala collaborated and wrote in April 2007 for the Finnish film Lieksa!. Wish I Had an Angel and Amaranth have also been included in film soundtracks. Nemo’s theme is being lost, not knowing where to go or what to do, yet desperate to experience everything in life; it was the band’s first single album to top the charts. She is my Sin, about sexual desire and lust, along with several selections from their latest release, Imaginaerum – I Want my Tears Back, Slow, Love, Slow and The Crow, The Owl and The Dove – brought thunderous cheers from the audience. There were some technical difficulties, making it hard to decipher the lyrics, and the sound volume was too low, but this did not put a damper on the concert.

The lovely thing about metal fans is that they are incredibly loyal, and Nightwish was well served at Byblos International Festival. In every other musical genre – hip-hop, pop, alt-rock – things move very quickly: artists produce one or two albums and then they vanish. In metal, bands are allowed to develop and evolve. A metal band might be headlining for the first time even though they’re on their seventh album, something which wouldn’t happen in any other genre.

Also appealing is that fact that it didn’t matter to the fans that there was a new lead singer, a female with soaring operatic vocals – a Nightwish trademark, previously embodied in the group’s first two female singers, Tarja Turunen, an operatic powerhouse, and then Anette Olzon with her emblematic voice, both of whom have left the band. Dutch singer Floor Jansen has stepped in and successfully replaced them. Metal is the one genre of where bands can undergo major lineup changes that would completely kill a mainstream rock band. Jansen, smiling constantly, was very generous in her diverse vocal rendition, her performance and her many spectacular circular head swings, twirling her long dark hair. She also praised Lebanon’s beauty, its gourmet cuisine, and the warmth of its people.

Metal is always rebellious and oppositional, but it has seldom tended to be political. However, in the last 10 years Nightwish has been able to cross that line, becoming more political because its fans have. The Kinslayer, some lyrics on the Wishmaster album, and in Memory of the Redeemers all have a definite political dimension, no doubt because they were composed following the Columbine High School massacre of April 20, 1999. Political engagement has become overt, as metal bands in general are now acknowledging that there is a bigger world out , with more important things going on than just Satan and sex.

In the late 1990s, Nightwish was the epitome of young, lower-middle-class taste. Metal music remains an outlet for those who feel unhinged and who want to belong to a caste of their own. One wonders if their fans at Byblos International Festival were just pure metal band lovers, unaware of the group’s political and defiant message. Or were they, perhaps, young Lebanese from the lower-middle class, that unloved and unlovely demographic, blessed with neither the middle class’s status nor the working class’s veneer of authenticity? Are metal music’s rage and anger the same emotions they feel – emotions that are fueling their desire to bring political changes to their country?

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