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Album Reviews : Tarja – Act II

By on July 23, 2018

Symphonic metal queen Tarja Turunen returns with Act II, her third live album following up 2012’s Act I. With such an experienced artist it’s no surprise that things are well produced, and Act II delivers on all expectations. While the DVD package covers two concerts – an intimate concert ‘Metropolis Alive’ that was recorded shortly before the release of The Shadow Self (2016) and a concert recorded toward the end of 2016 in Milan, Italy. The CD package only covers the Milan concert, but with 20 tracks (including 2 medleys) there is no lack of good music.

Opening track ‘No Bitter End’ sets the stage for the whole album; as expected, the live performance is executed well. Production is crisp and clear, the band provide an excellent and energetic performance, and Turunen’s vocals are front and centre and impressively engaging. ‘Demons In You’ has a nice, energetic feel, with a jazzy opening that sounds improvised and works well live, with similar great moments of energy found with ‘Shameless’ and ‘Innocence’ (especially with the fantastic Greig-esque piano intro to the latter track). While these moments with the main band are great to hear, Turunen is clearly the main event, and there are plenty of moments that showcase her phenomenal vocal range. ‘Calling from the Wild’ begins with a calm, dark feel that showcases both her Nightwish-style staccato ‘ah’ vocals as well as her very effective low vocal range and beautiful dark vocal timbre. The vocals hold up across the entire concert, with ‘Die Alive’ toward the end showcasing a great deal of fun and flair in the vocal performance, which is especially impressive at the end of such a lengthy concert. The majority of the setlist shows a great sense of contrast, and structure, balancing the upbeat energetic songs well with the slower, calm songs that create a fluid sense of ebb and flow. The only weaker part of the whole package is the latter quarter of the set where a string of slower songs and ballads from ‘Victim of Ritual’ to the somewhat ironically named ‘Too Many’ that lose the overall momentum. While the performances are well done and the final three songs recover this somewhat, it’s an unfortunate element that could be fixed by adjusting the song order to maintain the momentum and is somewhat puzzling given how well this is managed at the beginning of the concert.

The two covers and two medleys on the album are the other significant high points on the album. The cover of Muse’s ‘Supremacy’ is bombastic and the band establishes a great groove to support some fantastic vocal lines that are very impressive when played live. Likewise, the cover of ‘Goldfinger’ works very well in the symphonic metal style and Tarja’s vocal style is particularly suited to this song. What’s impressive with both of these tracks is Turunen’s ability to imbue these covers with her own sense of identity, transforming them into songs of her own rather than simple covers. The two medleys are equally excellent. The Nightwish medley – consisting of ‘Tutankhamen’, ‘Ever Dream’, ‘The Riddler’ and ‘Slaying the Dreamer’ – has a great deal of energy to it, and there’s a certain magic to hearing classic Nightwish songs performed with Tarja’s vocals again. It’s always good to hear when live performances deviate somewhat from the recording, and the liberties taken with the vocal parts in the medley are refreshing, paired with some new instrumental combinations (such as including part of ‘The Riddler’ in between intro and verse of ‘Ever Dream’) that arrange the best bits of their respective songs into an effective composition. The second medley is entirely acoustic and consists of ‘Until Silence’, ‘The Reign’, ‘Mystique Voyage’, ‘House of Wax’ and ‘I Walk Alone’. This medley piqued my interest, given that Turunen’s powerful vocals were reportedly a key part of Nightwish becoming a metal band rather than an acoustic folk band. The medley works really well, melding the band and the vocals well and everyone involved is clearly enjoying it. There’s some great musicianship on show from the band, establishing a great groove across a range of genres from folk-rock to classical to jazz (and some especially great piano work).

All elements of the concert are strong, from the recording to the band, to the song choice and the central vocals. A wide range of styles is on show, with the main aspect of symphonic metal never far while still allowing Tarja to demonstrate her impressive range both vocally and stylistically. This is an excellent live release and great performance that any fan of Tarja or symphonic metal will be sure to enjoy.

Band: Tarja
Album: Act II
Year: 2018
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Label: earMUSIC
Origin: Finland

About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.