TARJA – Act II (2018)

BLACK ACES - Shot In The Dark [European CD version +3] (2016) full

Symphonic metal queen TARJA Turunen returns with “Act II“, her new 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 covers the Milan concert, but complete, with 20 tracks (including 2 medleys) and a true representation of Tarja’s career.

Opening track ‘No Bitter End’ sets the stage for the whole album; as expected, the live performance is executed to perfection. 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 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 007’s ‘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).

TARJA - Act II (2018) back

All elements of the concert are strong, from the recording quality 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 (which at places sounds with studio quality) and great performance that any fan of Tarja or symphonic metal will be sure to enjoy, and serves as perfect introduction for anyone who never listened to Tarja’s music.
Strongly Recommended

01 – No Bitter End (Live)
02 – 500 Letters (Live)
03 – Eagle Eye (Live)
04 – Demons in You (Live)
05 – Lucid Dreamer (Live)
06 – Shameless (Live)
07 – The Living End (Live)
08 – Calling from the Wild (Live)
09 – Supremacy (Live)
10 – Tutankhamen / Ever Dream / The Riddler / Slaying the Dreamer (Live)

01 – Goldfinger (Live)
02 – Deliverance (Live)
03 – Until Silence / The Reign / Mystique Voyage /House of Wax / I Walk Alone (Acoustic Live)
04 – Love to Hate (Live)
05 – Victim of Ritual (Live)
06 – Undertaker (Live)
07 – Too Many (Live)
08 – Innocence (Live)
09 – Die Alive (Live)
10 – Until My Last Breath (Live)


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