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Nightwish - End of an Era

Nightwish - CD/DVD Review
End of an Era

"Dear Tarja…"

Those were the two words that brought shock and disbelief to all Nightwish fans around the world when on October 22nd, 2005, an open letter from Tuomas Holopainen was publicly posted on the band’s website, announcing the firing of the band’s lead vocalist, Tarja Turunen.

Language: English/Finnish (with English subtitles)
Features: Live concert, tour documentary and photo gallery
Audio/video features: Letterbox; 5.1 audio, stereo surround sound 

 DVD format: PAL
105 Minutes - Concert DVD
55 Minutes - Documentary
103 Minutes - CD Audio


For months beforehand, rumors of the band’s ever-increasing distance between each other were abound, but even the most cynical fans who claimed to see it coming were still surprised that Holopainen actually "had the guts" to go through with giving the boot to a vocalist that without a doubt was unique, and to many fans, practically irreplaceable.

The night before the open letter was posted, the band performed the final show of their successful Once tour, playing in their home country of Finland, to a crowd in Helsinki of which the tickets sold out in less than an hour when they were sold several months before. This show was to be filmed for DVD release, and after the publication of the open letter, it would become a bittersweet commemoration to the career of a band who started out nearly a decade ago as a mere "acoustic mood music" project, and ended up as international superstars.

In the months between the surprising news, and the release of the DVD, the world of Nightwish became less a fantasy and more of a soap opera, as various statements from each party would make accusing statements about the other. Tarja’s husband/manager, Marcelo Cabuli---who was claimed by the bandmembers to be a major bone of contention between she and the rest of them---would even feel compelled to answer fans in an "open letter" of his own by answering e-mails from the many fans around the world wanting to know "what really happened" between the Nightwish members and Tarja. On the Nightwish side of the fence, Tuomas announced that the band would carry on and hold auditions for a new singer. It seemed that by the time the DVD finally arrived on store shelves, that the angry words between the feuding parties would almost ruin the final moments of the band’s togetherness that fans were now eager to have as a keepsake of happier times that already seemed so distant a memory.

The release of End of an Era came in early June, and while most American fans are still waiting for an NTSC version (compatible with most American DVD players), I was lucky enough to own not one, but two all-region DVD players, so when my copy arrived from Finland several days later, I could not wait to watch the final concert of the band with Tarja Turunen.

The DVD menu opens up with a gray sky with ominous dark red clouds, a cross floating in the sky that floats down, reading "end of an era" across it. The cross zooms in and then we see scenery of dead trees, crosses in a cemetery, and a skull that turns into an eye, reminiscent of the "Nemo" video. All the while this panorama is being shown to us while the opening notes of "Ghost Love Score" plays in the background.

Once the menu shows your choices and you make your selection, a fade-out occurs, then fades back in to the Nightwish logo, the "end of an era" cross, and the music to "Planet Hell".

Part One (the concert footage)

A wide shot of the audience and stage opens up the show, and the intro music can be heard. The band proceeds to kick into "Dark Chest of Wonders", complete with fireworks and flashing lights. Tarja hits the stage a moment later in a long yellow coat and black pants, waving and smiling to the crowd. Quick zooming camera work matches the frenetic pace of the song, the crowd pumping their fists in the air. Pyrotechnics fittingly end this song with a bang, and the energetic feel continues into "Planet Hell". On the surface, this appears to be no different than any other Nightwish show. But we’re just getting started.

The first indication that this is indeed a show different from the rest is after the first verse of "Ever Dream", where there is a short break in the music. The camera pans to Tuomas, who covers his face with his eyes, as if dreading the heartbreak that is to come. This moment of silence only adds to the poignancy.

The intensity returns on the next few songs, "The Kinslayer", "The Phantom of the Opera"---where Tarja belts out some bone-chilling high notes---and "The Siren", which sounds amazing live. During this song, Tarja makes her first of several outfit changes, looking subdued dressed all in black.

The mood winds down again for the fan favorite, "Sleeping Sun". Tarja appears on a raised part of the stage in a gorgeous off-the-shoulder white dress. The audience is aglow with lighter flame while the big screens show snow falling from a cloudy sky. This is one of the most touching moments on the DVD. Emppu is on the other half of the raised stage, playing his moving solo. There is also a funny moment within all this, when you notice that a strand of hair is stuck in the corner of Tarja’s mouth. So if you can resist the urge to want to brush it back each time you see it, it’s really a small annoyance and rather humorous. Each time Tarja sings the "I wish for this nighttime to last for a lifetime" line, you almost feel the same way, wishing the night could go on and what would happen afterwards would never have to occur.

Tarja exits the stage for her break while the guys start in on the Pink Floyd cover, "High Hopes". Marco’s voice is anguished as he sings the chorus about remembrance. I am not a Floyd fan at all, so anyone who can get me to listen to their songs in any capacity, must be doing a good job at covering it!

The show’s energy steps up again as the opening notes of "Bless the Child" herald in Tarja’s return to the stage. She comes back amidst an explosion of fireworks, wearing a black dress with yellow ruffles.

At this point of the show, during "Bless the Child", "Wishmaster", and "Slaying the Dreamer", Tarja seems a little more uninhibited on stage, doing little dances during these songs. In fact, during "Wishmaster", she does a cute strut-like dance that fits the upbeat tempo quite well. We may as well call it what it is---she’s shaking her ass to the groove, and appears to be having a good time doing it! During this part of the show, she is also headbanging a little more, dancing around the stage, just really letting loose. During "Slaying the Dreamer", graphics of a raging inferno are imposed around the bandmembers, as if to affirm the fiery intensity of this heavy tune. The band works the crowd into a frenzy as Marco’s angry vocals and Tarja’s impassioned voice carry the song to its end. The quick zoom camera work really punctuates the crazed mood of the song.

This time it is the band that leaves the stage, and Tarja is left alone onstage to sing the beautiful "Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan". The English translation of this title is "death makes an artist", and as you see Tarja standing there alone with nothing but somber black-and-white photos of each bandmember in the background, it only makes the message that much more impactful. A friend of mine who actually attended this show told me that this part of the show felt to her like she was watching a memorial, "as if they all had died". Seeing this for myself, I’m inclined to agree, and to say that this is the most moving part of the concert footage.

The somber mood continues for a little while longer when the band reappears onstage, and the opening notes of "Nemo" begin. Tarja makes another costume change, this time appearing in her long red coat that she wore in the "Nemo" video.

The show reaches its undoubted climax when Jukka’s pounding drum signals the Once favorite, "Ghost Love Score". For those of us who were not lucky enough to see the part of the tour where this song was included, it is every bit as fantastic as we imagine it to be. This is only punctuated when towards the end of the song, a burst of confetti covers Hartwall Arena from every direction. Neither the band nor the audience hold back in their enthusiasm as the chorus is repeated at the end, faster each time as it spirals into a frenzied end.

The entire band walks offstage, and we are left with the sound of flutes and the lone figure of a Native American man dressed in full tribal regalia. He chants in his native tongue, and the crowd claps along with him to his song, "Stone People". For a moment it almost feels as if we are at another concert altogether. Who is he? He is John Two-Hawks, and for the moment he is the sixth member of Nightwish as he readies the crowd for "Creek Mary’s Blood", never performed live until this night. His mystical flutes and comforting chants bring back the rest of the band, where they show just how this Lakota flutist and this Finnish metal band sound so right together. Tarja makes her final costume change of the night, in another lovely white dress, and she and Two-Hawks, dressed in his native apparel, take the stage together while Marco and Emppu stand on either side of the raised part of the stage. The audience is almost transfixed as Two-Hawks delivers his moving Lakota-language poem at the end of the song.

The upbeat opening drumbeats to the Gary Moore cover "Over the Hills and Far Away" take the show to its final lively point. Tarja goes back to making the most of her strut dance, pacing back and forth across the stage. This upbeat mood continues into the last song, "Wish I Had an Angel", complete with fireworks. The band looks like they are all having a great time, as Tarja pours some booze down Emppu’s throat. The audience is giving it all they’ve got one last time as well, waving their arms enthusiastically as the show reaches its end in a final burst of fireworks.

After Marco’s final scream and a flurry of pyro, the outro music plays in the background as the band basks in the applause of a satisfied audience. Each bandmember wears a different look. Tarja is smiling widely, Marco stands still, agape for a moment, Tuomas’ eyes are closed, almost as if he is exhausted. As the band approaches the stage together to throw out picks and towels to the crowd, you see them each look a little emotional. Two-Hawks comes back to take the final bow with the band, and the camera pans across each individual. Jukka looks as if he’s holding back tears, and Emppu appears to be holding back his emotion as well. Tuomas has a look on his face like the world has just come to an end. Everyone is wearing a bittersweet look, obviously because it is the end of the tour, but also as we’ve come to know, because of so much more.

The band leaves the stage, each going their separate ways. All that is left is the chanting crowd, and the big screen showing the Once cover and the verse from "Dark Chest of Wonders", "Once I had a dream, and this is it". The camera focuses on the "…and this is it", and fades out in a blur on this verse.

Overall opinion (of the concert footage): Obviously, for any Nightwish fan, this DVD is a must-have. For those fans who were relatively new to Nightwish, this DVD is a bittersweet indicator of all they have missed. As for the quality of the DVD itself, there were a few slow-mo shots that added to the atmosphere somewhat, but there are a few parts during the footage where the slow-mo is done during a vocal part, so it almost looks like a kung-fu movie when Tarja’s lips are moving slower than the vocal allows. The quick-zoom feature was almost used a bit too much, though. There were some times when it was used during parts of songs that really added emphasis to the power of those songs, but other times where it just didn’t seem necessary. Another feature I really didn’t like was when the camera would pan out to the audience. They seemed to focus on the same group of people throughout the show. There was one girl who kept bursting into tears at the beginning of every song. The first time or two of seeing this, it was touching, but after a while, it became annoying. With as many cameras as there were working on this DVD, you would think that they would take some shots of other parts of the audience, to see the varying emotional reactions to Nightwish’s music. However, these are minor annoyances and can be easily overlooked in the entire view of the DVD as a whole. Some highlights of the show for me, were the live performances of "The Siren" and "Ghost Love Score". These songs sound fantastic live, and for me, those two songs alone were worth the price of the DVD. If you are new to Nightwish or are contemplating which of their DVDs to buy, I would recommend this the most of the three DVDs. It showcases the magic that made Nightwish great, and in spite of all that has happened since then, this stands as a testament to what they were when they were together, and how their music has touched so many people. That will last much longer than the war of words or whatever other scandal or bad behavior occurs between the Nightwish members and Tarja Turunen.

Part Two (the tour documentary)

The next part of the DVD is a tour documentary called A Day Before Tomorrow. This follows the band during their final two weeks of the Once tour. We see the bandmembers checking into hotels and giving interviews. Throughout the film, various bandmembers are asked particular questions about their tour experiences, of which the answers flash across the screen. Emppu recalls a scary moment of how he felt having to perform shortly after learning of Dimebag Darrell’s brutal onstage murder. Meanwhile, we see Tuomas answering reporters’ questions about the tour and their future plans. One even asks about Tarja’s solo album. He answers the questions succinctly, saying that while Tarja works on her album, he will be writing songs for the next album and the other bandmembers will be working on side-projects of their own. So far, we see no indication that this is a band on the verge of firing their lead singer.

As the film goes on, we see a brief interview with Tarja, during which some fans track her down and ask she and her husband Marcelo for autographs. Mr. Cabuli insists on not signing because he is not in the band, but the girls are persistent. (We never do find out whether he signs or not.) Tarja makes a sideways comment, wondering how her interview has suddenly turned into a meet-and-greet. The interview part is probably the most we see of Tarja throughout the film; the rest of the time, her husband is in tow, holding her purse or escorting her from one place to another.

After the Tarja autograph incident, from there we see how the rest of the band deals with constantly being hounded by fans. We hear a lot of screaming and see a lot of faceless bodies. One fan displays her devotion to her favorite band by showing off her "Nightwish" tattoo. But the bandmembers are always patient and willing to stop and take pictures or sign CD sleeves.

There is not much interaction between Tarja and the rest of the band, even when they are in the same room together. There are a couple of small incidents, like Emppu giving her a neck rub, or she and Marco laughing together, but they are "blink and you miss it" moments.

There is a funny moment where the camera catches Tarja warming up her voice, and she sings at the cameraman to "go away". We also see her ironing her clothes---proof of the claim that she is not a diva---she really does iron her own clothes! Another funny moment is when Tarja recalls an embarrassing tour memory involving her costume changes and not being able to get back onstage in time. It is incidents like these where one really can’t understand how or why Tarja has gained a reputation as a "diva", but as the footage progresses, we see this behavior not on camera by anything she does, but on camera by way of how the band reacts to particular behavior that is not captured on film.

One example of this, is after one of the concerts, the tired bandmembers make a comment about how Tarja didn’t bother waiting around for them before running off to her hotel room. Jukka makes a snide comment about how she and her husband are "such sympathetic people".

Of all the bandmembers, Jukka’s bitterness towards the now-fired bandmember is the most prominent. He makes several comments showing his feelings. One of them is when he is talking to the bandmembers about a spam e-mail he received about how South America is a great vacation destination, and he responds with a "yeah, right!" This is funny not only because the band has just returned from South America, but also because we all know by now that Tarja’s husband is from South America, and this was likely more a jab at him, though we don’t really know. It is funny in an underlying way. Another comment he makes is when they are driving in Mexico and they see an ad for someone/something called "Marcelo", and he says, "look, another advertisement!" Again, another comment that can be taken one way or the other.

Then, when it is Jukka’s turn to name his tour experience memories, he recalls things about the tour that he didn’t like, and the first thing he names is having to cancel the second leg of the United States tour. The comment he makes is along the lines of how much he hated having to do it, and "I’ll never forget that!". Later on when he lists things that he would like to see happen on the next tour, he says that he hopes that no one will have to cancel a show unless they are seriously ill. Obviously it is a comment that one has to read between the lines, as it has become common knowledge that it was likely because of Tarja’s refusal of playing small venues in America that the band did not return for the much-anticipated extended tour that was promised to fans in spring, and then fall, of 2005.

We see more indication of the aloofness between the Nightwish guys and the Cabulis when the band’s last plane finally lands in Helsinki, and the couple takes off without so much as a goodbye. From here on out is all footage of rehearsals of the final show. John Two-Hawks arrives to rehearse, but Tarja is not present. The rest of the film is predominantly rehearsal stuff, following the band all the way up to the moments backstage before the show. We see the bandmembers’ family members show up, getting makeup done, and again, Tarja is nowhere to be seen. The last thing we see is a sign outside the door reading "Nightwish band".

An instrumental version of "Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan" plays during the credits, which are unique in their own right. Instead of names and roles in which people contributed to the film, we see a list of every single show Nightwish has ever played in their 9-year career. After the long list rolls by, each bandmember has a "final message" for their fans, thanking them for all the love and support. These touching credits only make it all the more known that this is indeed…the End of an Era.

Overall opinion (of the tour documentary): Unless you are a hardcore Nightwish fan, you will probably find most of the tour footage rather repetitive and uninteresting. Most of it is the band going to and from shows, giving interviews and being asked the same questions several times. There are moments when the Nightwish guys are clowning around, as they are known to do. There is a funny moment where Marco is wearing a plant on his head and singing the Finnish national anthem. But it is not all fun and games, during parts when the camera catches Tuomas alone, he seems to always be wearing a somber or pensive look. The parts where Tarja is involved, you can somewhat feel a distance between she and the other guys. There is not much talking between them, and most of the time when she is shown, she is either alone or with her husband. She is not part of the camaraderie or any other type of group activity. In fact, when the band is asked to list their favorite tour memories, all of the bandmembers unanimously list one of their favorite memories as the time they spent together on off-days in Italy and Australia. That is, everyone but Tarja. It feels as if you are watching two different documentaries: one with the band and one with Tarja. My favorite part of the DVD, obviously, is when Jukka addresses having to cancel the U.S. tour. Since the band never gave an official statement or reason as to why the tours were cancelled, it was good to see at least one bandmember acknowledge this fact and in not so many words, tell the American fans their regret at not having come back as they had planned (and I guess, if you want to take it this way, apologize for it). If you are one of those people who were let down by the tour being cancelled, this DVD is worth the money for this statement alone. Not to mention that within the tour date credits, the small number of U.S. shows that were played is proudly displayed among all the others. So if you were lucky enough to see the few shows that Nightwish played in the U.S. (as I was), you are not forgotten and your memories are there in the credits for all to see. I wanted to stand up and cheer when I saw the Anaheim show (the one I attended) in the credits! Other than that, all in all, this is an interesting documentary. If anything, it chronicles not only a band tired and exhausted after a nearly two-year-long tour, but it also sadly chronicles the end of a band chemistry that once started with such promise and friendship, and all that is left is to wonder how it got this way. When watching the three DVDs in succession (From Wishes to Eternity, End of Innocence, and End of an Era), you see the lessening of Tarja’s interaction and activity within the band, but it doesn’t make this any less sad when seeing it in its final result. A Day Before Tomorrow is a fitting title for the documentary, for it tells how things were before the ominous day when the other shoe dropped and it was announced to the world that Tarja was no longer part of Nightwish. After watching this, and the concert footage, it is most appropriate that End of an Era is the title of this DVD.