Whilst covering the Bloodstock Festival last August, a massive festival dedicated to the followers of all things Metal, displayed on two large screens either side of the main stage were up and coming acts visiting the UK and potentially appearing at this year’s Bloodstock. One such band that kept appearing were Epica. Having never seen the band before it was good to see that they would be opening the UK leg of their short European tour at my favourite venue, ROCK CITY in Nottingham. This Dutch symphonic metal band last played Nottingham in December 2012 when they brought their show to the Rescue Rooms, Rock City’s little sibling next door. Since then they have only scheduled a handful of shows in the UK. Appearing alongside other bands such as Dragonforce, ScarSymmetry and last year on a single date in Shepherds Bush, Powerwolf and Beyond the Black.
Tonight, we have a three-band line up all fronted by powerful females. Oceans of Slumber are a Doom Metal band from Texas fronted by braided Cammie Gilbert, Myrkur (Icelandic for Darkness) are a Danish folk metal band fronted by singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, oh, and actress, Amalie Bruun; a strange addition to the line-up, but interesting in that she performs her whole set in her native tongue. Which leaves tonight’s headliners Epica.
OCEANS OF SLUMBER
This is a completely new band to me. Sadly, they are 20 minutes late hitting the stage so will ithave an impact on their already short set? No, it means the whole night has shifted in time as this would mean they only have a ten-minute slot. Rock City has a very strict curfew, as when the bands have finished they reopen as a student nightclub.
The band pour onto the stage amidst cheers from the gathered fans. They hit the crowd with their brand of melancholy vocals backed by dropped tuned guitar riffs, slow and melodic, Cammie Gilberts voice is a joy as she can hold a note. The guitars drive the set alongside a powerful melodic bass thunder, seeming unreally slow at times in their delivery as they get their point across. This is metal dripping with pain and shattered dreams. Showcasing tracks from their new album Banished Heart. Sadly, no set list has been forth coming or available on the night. I can only say that from a musical point of view they delivered and delivered it well, I overheard one guy at the bar saying it makes him want to slit his throat it was that full of darkness and gloom, he went on to say he thought they were brilliant. I’m not sure that’s the effect they are trying to convey but it proves that they can reach people.
Another new band to me and a curve ball for the night.
With a very dark set and a microphone stand adorned with twigs, apparently tagged ‘Yggdrasil.’ In Norse mythology Yggdrasil is an immense Ash tree. The Tree of Life. considered the centre of the universe and therefore very holy and powerful.
Amalie fronts the stage, blonde hair hanging lank down the side of her face as she stares around the room, her face painted with a single thick black stripe. A throwback to religious Scandinavian rituals from darker times perhaps? Holding onto the mic stand she treats us to a mystical set that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of the History Channel’s Vikings series. The haunting choral sounds coming from behind the mic stand enchant you about women of Norse Mythology, Freyja, of seductive Norwegian forest creatures (Huldra), all beautiful but with a deadly side. The female of the species is more deadlier than the male springs to mind.
Myrkur is Amalie’s project as she writes and composes and plays all the instruments herself. It’s to no surprise then that the forest folk in her band play with hoods in place and backs to crowd for the most part of the set. This is in keeping with the anonymous start to Myrkur’s first outings. Along with block lighting, red and green feature heavily along with woodland smoke. A solitary Danish Flag, draped over the kick drum adds a bit off brightness to another wise dark set.
An interesting set of dark, folk metal full of Scandinavian roots, mystical undertones and intrigue. Fitting? maybe; boring? definitely not!
This Danish Symphonic Metal band come racing into the Rock City station after a brief tour of South America.
Hitting the stage amidst bright lights and a tape of their very own instrumental epic, Eidola.
The band come on stage with big smiles, Simone Simons, red hair flowing looks amazing, dressed in black, looking like she practices what she preaches in her Smoonstyle, lifestyle blog of fashion and makeup. Check it out!
With the trade make genre double bass kicking in of Ariën Van Weesenbeek the band smash into Edge of the Blade with its catchy keyboard jingle intro and riffing guitars of Delahaye and founder Mark Jansen, stood either side of Simons on risers they smile at the crowd constantly, Jansen’s growls his lyric in harmony with Simons excellent mezzo-soprano.
Hair smashing all over the place bass player Rob Van De Loo stands strong, white thunderbird styled bass rocking the very dark corners of your mind.
Sensorium follows, its keyboard driven orchestral intro drops into a drum and guitar riff that touches on Rush’s Tom Sawyer momentarily, and then it passes as we again have the combined harmonised riffing of Jansen and Delahaye punch the song forward as Simons beautiful voice drips like sweet honey over the harshness to the point that Jansen brings it back on track with his timely growled lyric. Light versus dark, good versus evil maybe.
Coen Janssen on his keyboard is busy with the synth orchestrations and racing back and forth on his riser. His keyboard completely mobile as he dances around, high above the stage. Will he run into Van Weesenbeek on the drum kit?
Fight Your Dreams and Storm the Sorrow follow, the later sees Jansen opening the growling, ‘Something is wrong I can’t get it around my head,’ this heavy dark song see’s Simon’s superb voice cutting through, ‘it’s just a dreary memory stuck in your mind’ she sings.
Janssen, not to be out done has donned a huge bent keyboard and is now parading along the frontline like he owns it, darting along the stage, this strange protuberance emanating from his groin slams out a huge orchestral sound, filling what little aural space is left inside your head.
Victims of Contingency starts with a violin intro quickly overloaded by Van Weesenbeek’s staccato double bass kick drum. Jansen yet again growls his lyric about regret and hatred a perfect counterpoint to Simons heavenly sounding soprano as she again lifts the song to a different place. Choral vocals bursting through moments before Simons screams lets go and the band drop into a head down head banging session, Simons’ red hair flailing around as she helicopter whips her head and then they’re straight back on it as the song finishes.
Cry for The Moon starts with its very distinct staccato drum beat reminiscent of Holst’s Mars intro. Simon’s voice riffing over the top before a choral burst hits the crowd and Simons is back, her soprano taking this dark song onward. This slow starter features violins as it slowly builds into an anthem and Jansen growls like a possessed demon cut short by Simons knife sharp vocal, and then the choral voices are back singing of fairy tales.
Once Upon a Nightmare sees the end of the set. This beautiful song starts as a solo by Simons, Coen Janssen accompanies on keys as she fills the venue with her golden voice. Drums and guitar eventually join in as we reach the nightmare, never dropping into a head banging fest,’ Simons controls the crowd as they shine their phones, the modern-day lighter, in appreciation of this ballad-esque finish to the set.
A brief reprise and we have Janssen back on with his bent keyboard riffing out the Jaws theme as the rest of the band join him on stage. Sancta Terra now follows from the divine conspiracy. This somewhat mellow tune gives way to Beyond the Matrix, but not before Simons explains that due to Rock City’s curfew rules the last song of the entire set Consign to Oblivion, a 10-minute epic, is dropped….and then she’s back on it, ‘shine through the sky beyond the matrix’ choral vocal blasts out as we’re told to open our mind. Simons reminds us to be who we are as her vocal cuts through this orchestral anthem. Jansen does his best to thwart the goodness that Simons is spreading with growls galore, next follows what’s perhaps the highlight for me as Delahaye, stood astride a riser, knocks out a guitar solo full of speed, technique and melody. Sounding like a guitarist from a big hair 80’s Scandinavian rock band, his fingers fly’s over the neck of his Les Paul. Awesome!
So, the night’s finished, Rock City has been well and truly metalled. This Dutch Metal band have moved up from the diminutive Rescue Rooms from 6 years ago and smashed Rock City.
Simons’ voice was sublime, never once seeming forced or off, she proved that in the world of Symphonic Metal, Epica are sat at the top table!
Words & pictures: Manny Manson.