Epica ~ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire 03.02.2017: Gig Review

The Friday before last, I embarked on a pilgrimage to the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire with my good friend Beth to witness a Heavy Metal Mass led by dual-headliners Powerwolf and Epica. There were plenty of euphemisms, lots of laughter, some headbanging-induced whiplash, a huge circle pit and even a Mark Jansen-organised Wall of Death*. I truly believe that there ain’t no crowd like a metal crowd, and this deliriously mad gig proved it.

*A particularly dangerous form of mosh pit that involves splitting a crowd down the middle and encouraging them to go to war by charging headlong into the other with the hope of survival i.e. utter madness.

For the first time in forever, Beth and I actually managed to turn up to a gig on time (praise be!), meaning that we were early enough to see the support. Admittedly when I say ‘see the support’, I mean amidst a scramble to put away bags and coats in the cloakroom, grab a beer and find somewhere decent to stand. Beyond The Black were not on for very long — just five songs in fact — but they were very warmly received. By the time they had left the stage, Beth and I had managed to park ourselves quite close to the front on the right-hand side of the stage next to a traffic route for the band photographers and security. This was a really pleasant place to be standing because we had a great view but weren’t squished. It also meant that we were randomly approached by Jenny Dorn — Powerwolf’s photographer and the wife of lead-singer Atilla Dorn — for a chin-wag between Beyond The Black and Powerwolf’s set. She was unbelievably nice, told us all about the tour and what everybody had been up to, her favourite places, a funny story about Mark Jansen’s ability to eat curry endlessly, talked to us about the different kinds of metal we were into and also gave us her card so that we could stalk her photos on Facebook later. Thanks, Jenny!

As previously mentioned, the first headliner of the evening was Powerwolf; a (surprise surprise) power metal band hailing from Germany who are hot on (you guessed it) wolves, blasphemy and euphemisms sung in Latin. Bursting onto the deserted graveyard set dressed from head to toe in priest’s robes and corpse paint, wielding censers, crosiers and harping on about the ‘Heavy Metal Mass’, it was quite clear from the off that this band don’t take themselves too seriously. This is the complete polar opposite of Epica — a band that takes itself very seriously indeed — which in some ways makes them the perfect dual headliner.

powerwolf-flag

Having never heard Powerwolf before, I had been pre-warned by Beth as to how bonkers they are, and I was not disappointed; they were supremely entertaining. Atilla Dorn actually has a really lovely baritone voice that occasionally slips into the operatic (I’m an absolute sucker for a male operatic voice, they’re so rarely heard in metal) and their songs are damned catchy if nothing else. Essentially, if you know the words “Mater Maria” and can pick up a tune relatively quickly, you already know how to sing along to 50% of Powerwolf’s songs. And what a collection of songs they are!

powerwolfIntro: Lupus Daemonis

  1. Blessed & Possessed
  2. Army Of The Night
  3. Amen & Attack
  4. Coleus Sanctus
  5. In The Name Of God (Deus Vult)
  6. Sacred & Wild
  7. Armata Strigoi
  8. Dead Boys Don’t Cry
  9. Let There Be Night
  10. Resurrection By Erection
  11. Werewolves Of Armenia
  12. Sanctified With Dynamite
  13. We Drink Your Blood

Outro: Wolves Against the World

Something to note here: throughout Powerwolf’s setlist, it gradually became apparent to me that Beth was not just a ‘secret Powerwolf fan’ as she had so reluctantly claimed, but a secret die-hard; she sang along to every single word. Sorry to out you, Beth, deny it all you want but it’s true. I personally am not sure what made me blush more; ‘Coleus Sanctus’ (which translates from Latin into “Holy Balls”), or ‘Resurrection by Erection’. Also, bit of a left-field comparison here, but keyboardist Falk Maria Schlegel strongly reminded me of Bez from the Happy Mondays, in that he seemed to spend more time down at the front of the stage thrashing around and holding up his stole like a football scarf than he did ever did actually playing the keyboard.

At the time I didn’t actually realise that Powerwolf were a dual-headliner so I personally felt that they dragged on a little too long (I was worried they were eating into Epica’s set), however there is just no denying how much fun they were, and the crowd absolutely loved them. I’d say roughly a third at least were there specifically to see Powerwolf (Beth among them, obviously) but by the time they had exited the stage, everyone was screaming for more!

“I think we need to open a few windows to let out some of the testosterone in here.” ~ Me to Beth after Powerwolf had left.

So. That was Powerwolf. Definitely… An Experience, shall we say? I will not be checking them out any further as their music was not my cup of tea at all, but they were a hell of a lot of fun and got me all pumped for Epica!

As seems to be traditional with Epica shows, the band members emerged onto the stage amidst the introductory track from their latest album (‘Eidola’) followed by the opener (‘Edge of the Blade’). There followed a setlist comprised of exactly 50% songs from their latest album, The Holographic Principle, with an uneven smattering of one or two songs from the previous six.

isaacIntro: Eidola

  1. Edge Of The Blade
  2. The Phantasmic Parade
  3. Sensorium
  4. Universal Death Squad
  5. Storm The Sorrow
  6. The Essence Of Silence
  7. The Obsessive Devotion
  8. Ascension ~ Dream State Armageddon
  9. Dancing In A Hurricane
  10. Unchain Utopia
  11. Once Upon A Nightmare

Encore:

  1. Sancta Terra
  2. Beyond The Matrix
  3. Consign To Oblivion ~ A New Age Dawns – Part III

I’m afraid at this point that I must have a gripe about the setlist. Disappointingly, nothing was played from their fifth album Design Your Universe at all; not even former setlist staple ‘Unleashed’ (which features in my top five favourite songs of all time). This, I think, is a downside of bands with increasingly large back catalogues: old favourites and classics are mercilessly dropped in favour of playing as many songs as possible from the new album, to the point that lesser-known gems become increasingly unlikely to ever see the light of day. Whilst I’m sure bands relish the opportunity to play new songs, it can be quite tedious for fans. It probably doesn’t help that I found The Holographic Principle album a bit of a disappointment on the whole (oh how I yearn for the stripped-back gothic sound of Epica’s earlier works), but I still personally prefer it when the setlists are a bit more balanced.

Rant about the setlist over, next up I have to have a small moan about the sound. I’m no sound technician, but something was definitely ‘off’ at the beginning of Epica’s set. Simone sounds completely drowned out by over-production on the newer tracks as it is, but she was barely audible throughout the live performances of ‘Edge Of The Blade’ and ‘The Phantasmic Parade’. Whilst I do not think this was entirely Simone’s fault — the sound did improve so someone must have fiddled with some knobs at some point — her voice was definitely much, much tinnier than when I saw her perform last. A combination of the two just exacerbated the situation and made for frustrating listening. Maybe it was where we were standing? Maybe she was tired on the tail-end of a long tour? The aforementioned Jenny Dorn did say that everyone had only gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before… Whatever the problem was, it was a real shame not to catch Simone at her absolute best because when she is on form, her soaring angelic soprano really is exquisite.

These points aside however, the gig was fantastic. Few bands have as much energy performing live as Epica and though objectively I am not so keen on them, the new songs from The Holographic Principle did translate well to a live audience, particularly the instrumental segments of ‘Universal Death Squad’ and the soaring choir-driven chorus of ‘Beyond The Matrix’. During the latter, audience members were encouraged to jump around as much as possible and I tell you what, singing notes that high and jumping that much is a great workout if you’re looking to increase your lung capacity!

simone-and-coen

Other personal highlights for me were: ‘The Obsessive Devotion’, during which I may have experienced some kind of spiritual epiphany and most definitely destroyed my neck with all my headbanging; and the finale, ‘Consign To Oblivion’, a truly old-school track from Epica’s second album of the same name. There were just so many moments in ‘Consign To Oblivion’ where the rest of the band could truly shine, especially during the instrumental segment that started just shy of the 5 minute mark. Punctuated by Coen’s screams and organ-like synths that interwove beautifully with Isaac’s wonderfully melodic guitarwork, Mark’s uncharacteristically subterranean growls of “LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW”, evoked apocalyptic visions of earthquakes, fire and brimstone alongside the marching 7-note refrain. The whole segment culminated with a stirring male choir, death blasts from Ariën and Mark’s more typical rapid-fire spitting verse that sent shivers down my spine, before Simone brought us back to the standard song structure and to both the song and the gig’s triumphant end. Superb.

Verdict: 4/5

epica-shepherds-bush

S.E. Berrow


Be sure to check out all the bands mentioned above’s official websites:

http://www.beyond-the-black.com/
http://www.powerwolf.net/
http://www.epica.nl/

Jenny Dorn’s photography can be found on her Facebook page here.

All photos included in this blog taken by me, except for the picture of Epica from the stage which was taken from their Facebook page (photo credit unknown). I’m down in the bottom left somewhere behind a load of arms!

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