Review: Tarja – The Garage, Glasgow

Given that Finnish Queen of Metal Tarja last played in Scotland as a member of Nightwish – the band that she departed in 2005 – it’s fair to say that her long-awaited (and delayed by you-know-what) appearance in Glasgow was a tad overdue. Named after 2019’s studio album ‘In The Raw’, ‘The Raw Tour 2023’ finds the soprano playing four quickfire UK shows before heading to Europe for another twenty shows spread over February and March. For now, it’s tour opening night, and an adventure eighteen-plus years in the making is finally about to unfold.

Colchester-based five-piece Beneath The Embers play a thrashy, throaty brand of metalcore, and given the symphonic metal nature of both the headliner and tour special guests Temperance, they seem an odd choice as opening act. After hammering the audience with a sense of ferocity that perhaps no one was expecting, the band are met with a deadly silence as those awaiting the arrival of Tarja don’t quite know what to make of the band. And here is where Beneath The Embers earn their stripes, for while many bands faced with such a predicament might have tucked tails and run for the hills, the quintet grabs the audience by the lapels and give them a solid seeing to. Vocalist Lewis Rowland is on a mission to convert the audience to the dark side, and as any good frontman should, does not stop working the crowd, even going as far as getting the crowd crouching down ready to jump up on his command. By the time that ‘Set Me Free’ airs (think Di’Anno-era Maiden but with growls), more and more of the crowd are responding to the energy of Beneath The Embers and judging by the reception that grows with each passing song, victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat. Put these guys on opening for an act like Bullet For My Valentine, or even Parkway Drive and they will slay all before them. Credit where credit is due, Beneath The Embers had to work hard but every round of applause and approval was richly deserved.

Temperance, Tarja

It’s all change for Italian symphonic metallers Temperance on this lengthy run made up of Tarja support slots and headline shows of their own. Led by three vocalists of differing styles, Temperance has had to ring in some changes due to a variety of issues; vocalist Michele Guaitoli (Meek) has just got his land legs back after appearing on the bucket list 70000 Tons of Metal Cruise with his other band Visions of Atlantis and is now gearing up for a North American tour with VoA, hence Gabrielle Gozzi of Eternal Idol is stepping in. And in a surprising move, vocalist Alessia Scolletti and drummer Alfonso announced a few weeks back that they would be leaving the band. Rather than cancel the tour, the band quickly drafted in Lina Victoria (Sleeping Romance) and Marco Sacchetto (COEVO) on vocals and drums respectively. All of which means a totally different line-up to when Temperance last played the UK six months ago on the ‘International Women of Rock Ignite the Stars Tour’, and if you weren’t aware of all this, you would swear that the five musicians gathered onstage (rounded out by vocalist/guitarist Marco Pastorino and bassist Luca Negro) had been playing together for years rather than weeks.

With the James Bond theme music acting as an intro, the fledgling line-up of Temperance takes to the stage and launches into the galloping ‘Pure Life Unfolds’ from 2021’s ‘Diamanti’ album. Lina is last on the stage and immediately breaks into some impressive windmilling as the power metal element of Temperance is given free rein (as it does on the blistering ‘Breaking The Rules of Heavy Metal’). Pastorino’s high vocals are majestical, and Sacchetto’s kick drum work is pounding away at the chests of everyone in the front few rows. Given the turmoil of recent events, Temperance pull an impressive set out of the bag, and anyone thinking that the loss of two band members at such short notice would have a negative effect must have been purring with delight witnessing the two new vocalists slotting in seamlessly. The poppier, more-symphonic ‘I Am The Fire’, along with a stunning version of ‘Diamanti’ (complete with choruses sung in Italian) and the driving drums of ‘Of Jupiter And Moons’ are particular highlights in a set that thrilled from start to finish.

There is nothing quite like the opening night of a new tour. Social media being social media, setlist spoilers, and grainy YouTube footage can often ruin the surprise of what was played, the stage production, and even what the performer was wearing. But tonight, nothing like that at all. Everyone was witnessing what unfolded on the stage for the first time. Sure you could point out that the ‘Raw Tour 2022’ that covered Eastern Europe, the European Summer festival season, and shows in South America featured the same setlist, but you would need to scroll through several pages on Setlist FM of Tarja’s traditional Christmas tour in December to find out what she played last year.

As you would expect, material from ‘In The Raw’ is well represented, and once the lights rise and the incredibly talented band is in place, Tarja walks on to a rousing reception, and straight into ‘Serene’. Instantly her vocal range is there for all to behold and Tarja newbies can’t help but watch open-mouthed as she makes it look effortless. Making eye contact with everyone that she is able to, Tarja is constantly waving to and pointing out long-time fans in the crowd – several having traveled from overseas – “So many friends!”, and when the song ends she stands back beaming from ear-to-ear as the crowd shows its appreciation. With his guitar slung low, Alex Scholpp (of Sinner fame) is a joy to watch as he launches into a short solo during the opener, and this continues when he combines with bassist extraordinaire Doug Wimbish (Living Colour) on the jazzy intro of ‘Demons In You’ which soon bursts to life with an explosion of music and headbanging from Tarja once the piercing strobes kick in. Highlighting her heavier side (as she also does many times during the set), Tarja is a blur of hair as she whips the crowd up, and flashes devil horns constantly – all whilst wearing the biggest smile seen for some time now.

Wimbish is of course a highly-experienced player and makes it look easy on stage, laying down one killer groove after another, and waltzing with Tarja during ‘My Little Phoenix’ just before the Zeppelin-like breakdown kicks in (Zeppelin with added cello that is, courtesy of Max Lilja). The band is constantly given their chance to shine and keyboard player Christian Kretschmar impresses during the atmospheric ‘Anteroom of Death’ with what sounds like a harpsichord effect through his keys, and it comes as no surprise that each one of this most-excellent band (rounded out by powerhouse Alex Holzwarth on drums) is given their moment in the spotlight during ‘Goodbye Stranger’.

Once the short solos fade out, Tarja is back onstage after a quick change, and leads the band through a stunning version of ‘Silent Masquerade’. Midway through the song she glances to her right just as Scholpp breaks out the metal riffs and as soon as they kick in, Tarja unleashes a blitzkrieg of energy with high kicks, headbanging, spinning. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She is having a ball, and this continues on an energetic run-through of the Nightwish gem ‘Wishmaster’ which has copious amounts of devil horns being flashed from Tarja and the crowd alike. ‘The Golden Chamber (Loputon Yö) / You and I’ has Tarja sitting at a small keyboard placed at the front of the stage for a stunning solo acoustic interlude that serves as the calm before the storm, for as soon as the band return to the stage it is for a thirty-minute sequence that takes the roof off. ‘Undertaker’, followed by ‘Tears In Rain’ (the intro still brings a hint of Bowie’s ‘Lets Dance’ to the party), ‘Victim of Ritual’ which has that killer Bolero tempo, and in another parallel universe is the best James Bond theme song…ever. And that’s all before the encore that features a heartwarming speech from Tarja about it being sixteen years since she started on her own and took her “…baby steps as an artist…with this song, and you were there at that time already, and you are still here…”, and it, of course, can only be ‘I Walk Alone’. Ending on the bouncy ‘Until My Last Breath’, neither Tarja nor the crowd wants to leave, and even after the band has already exited, Tarja is still onstage smiling away and giddy with delight. Check out her post on Insta where she is captured perfectly as she leaves the stage.

Suffice to say that tonight’s show will live on for a long time in the memories of all those in attendance…eighteen-plus years and worth every minute of that wait. Surely it can’t be as long a wait for a return?

Catch Tarja on tour throughout February and March, all dates can be found here.

Review – Dave

Live images – Dave Jamieson

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