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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Delain ~ KOKO, Camden 13.11.2016: Gig Review

As part of my two-year anniversary present, my boyfriend bought me a ticket to go and see Dutch symphonic metal act Delain play at the Camden KOKO on Sunday 13th November. The KOKO is one of my favourite venues in London, not least because it’s so beautiful. It is also extremely easy to get to, located just outside the Mornington Crescent tube station.

Though I would class myself as a pretty casual Delain fan (I own their two latest albums and a couple of tracks from April Rain, that’s about it), I have heard so many good stories from my friends about how fantastic they are live. The absolute best time to see a band live, in my opinion, is when you are at this middling stage of appreciation, as you can sing along with all your current favourites and at the same time discover some new ones. Some of my greatest musical loves – The White Stripes, Voltaire, Leaves’ Eyes and Kamelot – all won me over to the point of obsession in this way. I am pleased to report that Delain will be joining their ranks; this was without a doubt my favourite gig of 2016!

delain-mine

Before we get stuck into Delain’s performance however, I do wish to mention the two truly excellent support acts that they had with them. The first of these was a heavy metal band hailing from Canada called Kobra And The Lotus (KATL), founded and fronted by vocalist Kobra Paige. A not-unfamiliar face on the symphonic metal scene, Kobra has been touring with Kamelot for the last two years both as a support act during the European Silverthorn tour, and as a guest vocalist on their Haven tour. Due to a lack of functioning cash-machines near the KOKO, I missed the very beginning of KATL’s set, but as soon as I walked into the venue, I was bowled over by the Valkyrie-esque Kobra and her stunning set of pipes. She was an extremely charismatic front-woman and the crowd loved her, even going so far as to boo when she bid them goodbye. I am definitely going to be checking KATL out in my own time, I thought they were great.

The second support act consisted of Swedish progressive metal band, Evergrey. I’m just going to put it out there now that I am not the biggest fan of progressive metal, rock or indeed any genre that favours 10-minute-long, rambling guitar solos. That being said, Evergrey won me over within just a couple of songs despite my initially low expecations. Their eerie, melancholic music combined with soft blue lighting, grey backdrop and Tom S. Eugland’s mournful vocals transported me to a misty churchyard atop a gravestone-riddled hill, bathed in the light of the super moon. The one solo that guitarist Henrik Danhage did indulge in for an extended period of time was wonderfully melodic, beautifully atmospheric and downright gorgeous. I don’t think I will be investigating Evergrey any further, as I found their songs and Eugland’s voice a bit too generic for my tastes, but I did think they were very good nonetheless and by the time they had wrapped up their set, I  found myself wondering if Delain were even capable of topping their two excellent supports. Fortunately, this was turned out to be the case!

First things first, here’s Delain’s setlist which, as you can see, leans prettily heavily on their latest album, Moonbathers, with an about-equal spread of crowd-pleasers from the other four:

Intro: The Monarch

  1. charlotteHands Of Gold
  2. Suckerpunch
  3. The Glory And The Scum
  4. Get The Devil Out Of Me
  5. Pendulum
  6. Army Of Dolls
  7. The Hurricane
  8. April Rain
  9. Here Come The Vultures
  10. Fire With Fire
  11. Danse Macabre
  12. Sleepwalkers Dream
  13. Stay Forever
  14. The Gathering
  15. Pristine

Encore:

  1. Mother Machine
  2. Don’t Let Go
  3. We Are The Others

Outro: The Monarch

Show highlights for me included: ‘Suckerpunch’, which I am 100% convinced was written with a live audience in mind as there is just so much opportunity for call and response with the crowd; ‘The Hurricane’, because it was sung so beautifully despite being one of my least favourites on the new album; ‘April Rain’, which is my favourite Delain song for the bridge’s passionate refrain of “It keeps raining, keeps raining” alone; and lastly ‘Don’t Let Go’, in which the audience was encouraged to jump and thrash around as much as possible so that we would become “as hot and as sweaty” as the band on stage.Whilst we did this, singer Charlotte Wessels, bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, and guitarists Timo Somers and Merel Bechtold all bounced around in a circle in unison. Their hair was flying everywhere, the wires from their guitars and microphones got all crossed… It was just so funny and such a joy to behold, and fortunately no one tripped!

On this latter point, there was just so much chemistry fizzing between the band members, with playful interactions left right and centre and smiley happy faces all round. During a rousing rendition of ‘Fire With Fire’ for example, Charlotte appeared to be poking affectionate fun at pocket-rocket Merel Bechtold whenever she sang the lyric, “You will always be much too tall for someone else,” holding a flattened palm above her head whilst Merel pulled a mock-sulky face in response.

In terms of songs I hadn’t heard before, I absolutely loved the druid-esque ‘The Gathering’ and also ‘Pristine’, featuring rare heavy vocals from bassist Otto. Both of these songs were taken from their debut album Lucidity, which turned 10-years old earlier this year and has since been re-released as a special edition. Methinks I might just have to treat myself after Christmas!

All in all, a fantastic evening. The set was delivered with such energy, passion and joy from Delain, which is a perfect reflection of their music. In the crowded world of symphonic metal, Delain stand out for their simplicity, light-heartedness and the fact that they just do not take themselves or their music too seriously.

Verdict: 5/5

delain

That’s it for me this year now in terms of gigs. I am unable to make it to Týr on Sunday 23 November after all, as I am off gallivanting in Ireland. My next gig will be Epica at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 3 February 2017. I hope to see some of you there. On the subject of Epica, don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten about Part 2 of my review of The Holographic Principle, which I promise is coming soon. I have in fact, I have written it already, it just needs a few finishing touches.

Ta-ta for now and take care,

S.E. Berrow


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

http://kobraandthelotus.com/
http://www.evergrey.net/
http://www.delain.nl/

All photos included in this blog taken by me, except the photo from the stage which was taken by photographer Mark Lloyd, Amplified Gig Photography. I would point out where I am located, but my face is partly obscured by arms!

Remember, Remember the 8th of November…

Alexandra PalaceI always take a moment to remember the 8 November over the more traditional 5 November when it rolls around, particularly as I’ve never been one for fireworks and I positively loathe the idea of celebrating the barbaric execution of a (most likely) framed man. This year however, my celebrations are particularly poignant.

It was exactly 10 years ago today that I saw the White Stripes play live for the first time at the historic BBC radio tower, Alexandra Palace. Little did I know at the time that this fateful evening would change my life forever.

A quick White Stripes biography for the uninitiated amongst you:

The White Stripes were formed in 1997 by Jack White (born John Anthony Gillis) and Megan Martha White, a garage rock/blues duo hailing from Detroit, Michigan in the USA. Though they were in fact married at the time (never one for convention, Jack took Meg’s name), the two posed as brother and sister, using gimmicks such as a staunch red, white and black dress code, and Meg’s total lack of technical drumming skill (Jack taught her himself and controversially forbade her from taking any further lessons) in order to build up their childlike mystique, using lies to tell the truth. Though their marriage and subsequent divorce in the year 2000 did not remain a secret for very long, the two always retained a stage persona of brother and sister and continue to do so to this very day, even after their split. Whilst it was technically the duo’s third album White Blood Cells released in 2001 that helped them to break out of the Detroit garage rock scene and spread the blues internationally, it was arguably their fourth album, Elephant, led by the now prolific riffing anthem ‘Seven Nation Army’ released in 2003 which truly cemented their place in music history.

The White Stripes, 2005But it wasn’t until the year 2005 with the release of their fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan, did I finally jump on the bandwagon and spontaneously agree to attend one of their concerts at the invitation of my friend Carly.

It was to be one of 3 times that I would get to see the White Stripes over the course of my latter teenage years (which I consider to be very appropriate, because the White Stripes’ frontman Jack White was – and is – obsessed with the number 3). I also had tickets to go and see them play the Birmingham NIA and O2 Arena in Greenwich when drummer Meg White suffered from an acute anxiety attack in September 2007, causing them to cancel all their remaining tour dates. After four years of complete radio silence (barring the release of Under Great White Northern Lights – a documentary and recording of their ten-year anniversary concert – and a lacklustre performance of ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ on Late Night with Conan O’Brien), they finally announced their long-expected split on 2 February, 2011 (my birthday, no less, the heartless bastards!).

Strange to look back on it all today and realise that my time as a hardcore White Stripes nut – and by God, I was a nut – was so brief, especially when I consider what a huge impact this particular concert had on my life and its direction. It’s hard to put into words precisely how much this concert and Get Behind Me Satan mean to me, but I did manage to do it once with the below video filmed in 2013. So I think it’s only appropriate to include that video as part of this post.

I should mention that since this video was posted more than two years ago, a couple of very positive things happened off the back of it. One of the people I mention in it as having not been very nice to me at school reached out and apologised after watching it, and I have since buried the hatchet with all the others. If that isn’t a sign that time heals all wounds and everything happens for a reason, I don’t know what is!

For fellow ‘Stripes fans reading this blog post, the setlist from that fateful evening was thus:

Black Math
Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
Passive Manipulation
Screwdriver
Blue Orchid
Party Of Special Things To Do (Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band cover)
I Think I Smell A Rat
Passive Manipulation
My Doorbell
Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)
I Fought Piranhas
Death Letter (Son House cover)
Cannon
I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman
Hotel Yorba
You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)
Hello Operator
Cold Cold Night
I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart
Aluminum
Let’s Shake Hands
Warning (The Ansley Dunbar Retaliation cover)
Ball And Biscuit
The Nurse

Encore:

The Hardest Button To Button
The Denial Twist
We’re Going To Be Friends
Red Rain
Seven Nation Army
I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (Burt Bacharach cover)
Boll Weevil (Lead Belly cover)

At some point in the evening, a fan threw a red and white lollipop on stage and Jack paused a moment to pick it up and sing ‘The Munchkin Song’ from The Wizard of Oz to Meg, but I forget which song!


The White Stripes | Get Behind Me Satan memorabiliaBehold my Get Behind Me Satan collection in all its glory! Including:

  • Promotional album poster
  • Promotional Christmas cracker
  • Get Behind Me Satan: Under Amazonian Lights (Vault Package #23)
  • Get Behind Me Satan: Original promotional vinyl
  • Get Behind Me Satan: Record Store Day release with 3D lenticular cover
  • The Denial Twist CD live from Alexandra Palace, 8 November 2005 (given away for free on the night)
  • 3x 3D Lenticular postcards
  • Get Behind Me Satan promotional sticker
  • Paper ticket for The White Stripes at Alexandra Palace, 8 November 2005

I also remembered after I’d taken the photo that I have a copy of Walking With A Ghost which was an EP they released for Christmas, but totally blanked.


Lastly, to finish this admittedly rather disjointed, frenzied post off, I leave you with the greatest rock performance ever given (in my opinion): The White Stripes headlining the Glastonbury Pyramid Stage, 24 June 2005 with a searing cover of Son House’s ‘Death Letter’:

Thank you for letting me ramble. Take care,

S.E. Berrow


The White Stripes official website, like the band themselves, is no more, but you can find more information about them and Jack White’s other projects at Third Man Records:

http://thirdmanrecords.com/