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.

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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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The Holographic Principle by Epica: Album Review (Part 1: Unboxing)

After a two-week delay due to a manufacturing error that led to the incorrect logo being printed on my T-shirt, my Limited Edition The Holographic Principle Deluxe Boxset Bundle that I ordered back in July (click herefinally arrived today!

The verdict? It is B-E-A-UTIFUL.

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Look at it. Isn’t it wonderful? Just look at it. LOOK AT IT I TELL YOU.

Rather than doing a bog-standard album review, I have decided to do this in two parts. Part 1 is an unboxing and covers the physical contents, whilst Part 2 will cover the rather mammoth task of reviewing the album itself. So, here we go…


In addition to the beautifully designed cardboard box, which features the famous Epica ‘E’ in the middle of an Ouroboros (aka. “the snake devouring its tail” mentioned in ‘Universal Death Squad’), I also received a girlie-T. As previously mentioned, this T-shirt was originally printed with the men’s  T-shirt logo. Whilst I did have the option to receive the bundle as-is with the wrong T-shirt, I opted to wait for the originally intended design. I’m so pleased that I did because I think this one is much more feminine and pretty.

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The offending girlie-T in all its unique and exclusive glory. I know what I’ll be wearing this coming dress-down Friday!

There are a few cool knick-knacks inside the box. We have a lovely little Epica-logo pin (that I’m pretty sure is made from pewter, not silver like the website claims), an absolutely bloody enormous poster flag that probably needs an iron (I have no idea where to put this, it really is huge), and a neat little gadget called a holographic projector. I’ve given the latter a try by sticking it to my smartphone’s screen and navigating to www.epica.nl/hologram to watch the videos through it there. It’s impossible to film exactly what happens but it’s pretty much the coolest record gimmick I’ve seen since the spinning angel hologram on Jack White’s Lazaretto.

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Finally, the record itself comes in two formats: CD and vinyl. The CDs are packaged in a beautiful earbook, which is essentially the album sleeve in hardback form:

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The earbook includes the album itself, a bonus acoustic CD, and lastly, the entire album in instrumental form.
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An example of the amazing album artwork by Stefan Heilemann peppered throughout the book. This photo also features Edgar, who was not helping.

One of my favourite pages of the earbook is the very last one which shows artwork from both The Quantum Enigma and The Holographic Principle combined into one monster piece of art. If The Quantum Enigma was about creating your own reality and understanding your place within the universe, The Holographic Principle is about questioning that reality and taking your thoughts higher than the universe we exist in. I feel like this artwork really highlights that conceptual link between album nos. 6 and 7 even though the music may be drastically different. That however is for me to deal with in Part 2 of this review, not now!

As for the vinyl part of this bundle, well, I shall let the gorgeousness that is this picture disc speak for itself:

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All in all, this is undoubtedly the best special-edition record I have ever purchased and I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth, and that is before I’ve even popped the album on to listen to. Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

S.E. Berrow


img_9994For more information about Epica and The Holographic Principle, please visit their website:

http://www.epica.nl/

Side-Note: Edgar was a huge pain in the bum the whole time I was preparing for and writing this blog post. In addition to scratching and biting the earbook, he also ran off with the pin so that I thought I’d lost it.

This is why I can’t have nice things and, as a consequence, he has now been put in the bin.

A Few Things to be Excited About!

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Highlights from the beautiful Vatican City, Italy, including Michaelangelo’s Pièta, the Swiss guard and the simply gorgeous artwork in St Peter’s Basilica, all of which is mosaic.

I have just returned from my holiday – a rather swanky trip around Europe on the biggest cruiseship in the world, Harmony of the Seas, with my  lovely boyfriend Mark and my cruise-addicted parents. We set sail from Barcelona, stopping in Parma, Marseilles, La Spezia, Rome and Naples. It was bloody hot and extremely expensive, however there was much history to observe and lots of antiquity and culture to immerse ourselves in. My day on the Imperial Rome tour with Mark was without a doubt the best day, visiting such major sites as St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

Alas however, the holiday is now over (which is probably for the best because Mark and I were spending a fortune…) and I am now back at home with my wee beasties Petra and Edgar, whom my writing partner, K.F. Goodacre has been looking after in my absence. I have to admit, it is very nice to be home! It’s just such a shame that my holiday can’t go on a little longer.

This also now means that I can crack back on with my Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I have extended by a week to make up for the time I lost whilst on holiday. Wish me luck! K.F. Goodacre promised to write me a torture scene if I meet my word goal.

In addition to looking after my cats and house, K.F. Goodacre also went to the Young Adult Lit Con (YALC) on Saturday and waited in line to meet Derek Landy for 50 minutes just to get my first-edition hardback of Skulduggery Pleasant and a flyer for #SPX signed by the man himself! Isn’t she wonderful? Thank you so much, Kimothy!

Finally, more exciting news, Epica’s new track ‘Universal Death Squad’ dropped on Friday and pre-orders have been opened for their upcoming album The Holographic Principledue to be released 30 September later this year!

Of course I immediately downloaded the song as soon as I got home, listened and then treated myself to this baby:

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THP Deluxe Boxet Bundle

First impressions of the song so far is that the instrumentals sound great. There is a stunning piano bit right in the middle that just blows my mind, with some stirring choir pieces and a real orchestra at last ♥ Initially I felt that Simone’s vocal melodies were quite weak, but after watching the full lyric video I’ve decided that they fit. Literally, the song is about a draconic takeover by a technologically advanced robotic race, however knowing Epica this undoubtedly has a double-meaning. Cyber and drone warfare? The internet of things? The zombifying effects of political apathy? Watch and listen below and decide for yourself:

And now, if you don’t mind, it’s been a very long day, I’ve been up since 4:30am GMT time, and I am absolutely knackered. Time for me to get some sleep so that I awake fresh and eager for a new working week tomorrow.

Goodnight and take care,

S.E. Berrow


For pics of my cruise around Europe, please feel free to visit my Instagram. See such wonderful things as a Whirling Dervish, molecular gastronomy, badly-assembled balloon animals and perfectly preserved porn from a Pompeii brothel:

https://www.instagram.com/sallyella79/

For more information about Derek Lady and #spx, visit Derek’s blog:

http://dereklandy.blogspot.co.uk/

For more information about Epica, please visit their website:

http://www.epica.nl/