“Like symphonic metal, War Of The Worlds and Tubular Bells had a baby.” ~ Ayreon’s new single, ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’

Just a flying visit on my blog today to spread the word of something that’s got me really excited and inspired.

I had a new musical discovery this morning after following a link on Tommy Karevik (lead singer of Kamelot)’s Facebook page. The link led me to Ayreon, a musical project masterminded by Arjen Anthony Lucassen.

arjen

I believe that Ayreon is considered ‘old news’ in the world of metal — I’ve definitely heard the name before — but it’s not something I’ve ever really looked into. Wikipedia describes the nature of the project best so I’m just going to lift it straight from there:

Ayreon’s music is described as progressive rock, progressive metal and power metal sometimes combined with genres such as folk, electronica, experimental and classical music. The majority of Ayreon’s albums are dubbed “rock operas” (or “metal operas”) because the albums contain complex storylines featuring a host of characters, usually with each one being represented by a unique vocalist.

The link led me to new single ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’ from Ayreon’s upcoming album, The Source:

ayreon-the-source

Tommy posted the link because he is playing one of the characters on the album (the Opposition Leader). Other musicians that I love involved in the project are Epica’s Simone Simons (playing the Counselor) and Nightwish’s Floor Jansen (playing the Biologist).

Anyways, intrigued, I listened to the song, watched the video and… whoa. Just… whoa. Check it out for yourself! The video comes complete with text-commentary about the story, characters and instrument-geekery from Arjen too:

For me personally, it’s like all my favourite aspects of symphonic metal, Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells had a baby. I am completely in love with it, and I’ve already pre-ordered myself the earbook (signed by Arjen!):

mtr75156_signed_450

Anyways, just wanted to share!

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Arjen Anthony Lucassen, Ayreon and The Source project, follow the below link:

http://www.arjenlucassen.com/

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2016: Year In Review

For me personally, 2016 was a total write-off. I feel like I sleep-walked my way through most of this year. I hardly managed to do any writing, I didn’t do enough exercise, and financially I seem to be worse off than when I started. These last couple of months have been better, because back in late November I decided to ditch the antidepressants I’d been prescribed since 2012. This was because I noticed a direct correlation between taking these tablets and my lethargy levels, which have impacted my weight, work and overall mood. The withdrawal symptoms have been truly godawful, but these have lessened now (if not entirely gone) and my energy levels are way, way up. I still have Bad Brain-Chemistry days, but seeing as my anxiety and depression is active, not reactive, that will always be there; it’s just that I am now armed with the means to deal with it more easily than I was before.

On that positive note, it’s worth remembering that there were some really good things about 2016 amidst all the depressing celebrity death and political upheaval. I list a few of these things below in my annual sum-up (you can read 2015’s effort here). So, without further ado…

1. Album that surpassed all others:

Dirge For The Archons by Diabulus In Musica

dirge-for-the-archons

The Spanish symphonic metallers actually managed to out-Epica Epica this year with their stunning fourth album, Dirge For The Archons. Old-school, stripped-back symphonic goth-metal at its absolute finest.

Favourite tracks: ‘Marble Embrace’, ‘Earthly Illusions’, ‘The Hawk’s Lament’, ‘Zauria’

2. Most missed artists:

Of the numerous celebrity deaths that have occurred this year, none have hit me quite so hard as the very first that was announced. The world is a much bleaker place without David Bowie in it ♥

lazarus

Also the late Andrew Sachs, whose brilliantly quotable work as Manuel in Fawlty Towers continues to take-up a disproportionately large amount my dialogue.

manuel

3. Album that really surprised me:

Lemonade by Beyoncé

lemonade

Where on Earth did this album even come from? It’s rock, it’s roll, it’s blues, it’s full of rawness, empowerment and badassery and I love it. As if that wasn’t enough, it even has contributions from Jack White and the Weeknd on it. Not every song is my cup of tea, but I can totally appreciate every single one of them. Excuse me please, I’m off to join the Beyhive.

Favourite tracks: ‘Formation’, ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ feat. Jack White, ‘6 Inch’ feat. The Weeknd, ‘Daddy Lessons’

4. Person I would most like to have tea with:

I’ve really missed my Southern belle gal pal Lindsay this year. It’s completely rubbish that there is a whole ocean in the way between us. Personally, Lindsay, I think you should take advantage of the rubbish exchange rate and visit Jamie, Jasmin and I in the UK asap!

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5. The things I’ve completely had enough of:

The EU Neverendum, Brexit, the Labour Leadership crisis and the US Presidential election, all of which I’m happy to lay the responsibility of at the feet of our loathesome, unregulated press for bigging up the most vile, odious little toad that ever stepped foot on the political stage: Nigel not-even-an-elected-MP fucking Farage.

Also a lack of funds, but that’s just an inherent part of life that I am slowly learning to live with.

6. The thing I wish I had bought myself but didn’t:

One word: shelves.

7. Page-turner:

This is a tough one for me to pick this year… My reading habits were largely dictated by the Mr B’s reading subscription that Mark bought me for last Christmas so I didn’t read as much as I normally would have. One book really sticks out in my memory though, and that’s because it had such a profound impact on the way I think about the meat industry.

Under The Skin by Michel Faber

Under The Skin

Click here to read my 3/5 star book review (although looking back on it now, I’d definitely rate it higher).

8. Album that stirred my soul:

Paper Dolls by Ayria

paper-dolls

Released early in 2016, Canadian industrial act Ayria’s fifth album was almost prophetic in its pessimism of the year to come:

“You’ve broken her,
Crushed her will,
Maybe for all future generations.
It’s too late to say that you’re sorry
For taking her down with mob mentality.
She could have ruled the world,
But we fed her to the wolves
Because we all abhor it,
Our vanity, it kills.
We left her there as a warning in case it wasn’t clear.
Don’t misunderstand: we rule by fear.”

Favourite tracks: ‘Underneath The Water’, ‘Feed Her To The Wolves’, ‘Chameleon’, ‘Sticks And Stones’

9. Album that made me smile:

The Shadow Self by Tarja.

the-shadow-self

It is impossible to listen to the Imaginaerum-esque lilt of Nightwish kiss-off  track ‘Diva’ and not smile.

Favourite tracks: ‘Supremacy’, ‘Diva’, ‘Too Many’, ‘Demons In You’ (feat. Alissa White-Gluz)

10. Most stylish person:

This year I have been taking all my style cues from a Epica’s Simone Simons — she was totally rocking the blue lipstick in Epica’s ‘Edge Of The Blade’ video; I have worn Kat Von D’s Studded Kiss lipstick in ‘Poe’ almost exclusively this year as a direct result — and Charlotte Wessels, whose ombre-pink hair I have shamelessly copied in recent weeks.

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11. Best ‘thing’:

It feels a bit weird calling a living creature a thing, but that would of course be my new shelter kitten Edgar. Even though he is a brat who wakes me up before my alarm goes off in the morning, perpetually pesters Petra and destroys my beautiful black and white-striped wallpaper, he is also a cuddly, needy, purry little beast and I absolutely adore him.

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12. Favourite visual feast:

Gosh, there are so many contenders for this award this year: the music video for Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’; the ‘Pretty Lavinia’ video by American Murder Song, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Rise Of The Tomb Raider and the gorgeous Skyrim remastered edition for PS4…

I think I’m going to have to give this particular award to the final scene of Episode 5 in Game of Thrones, Season 6. I cried to the point of being sick.

hodor

13. Best fictional character since Sirius Black:

Lara Croft, aka. the Tomb Raider, who turned 20 this year!

lara-croft-20-years-of-tomb-raider

14. Coolest rock star:

The super talented Kat Von D, who finally, finally released her incredible make-up line in the UK this year exclusively at Debenhams. No more international trips to Sephora for my poor put-upon mother! I wear a lot of dark eye make-up and bold lipsticks, so for me her make-up is just perfect, and it’s all completely cruelty-free too ♥

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Kat also just seems so super nice and amazingly passionate about everything she does and I love that about her. Plus her cats are just the most gorgeous creatures I have ever seen:

poe-and-piaf

In fact, sorry Kat, but I’m going to name Poe and Piaf as this year’s coolest rock stars in your place. Is that allowed? Too late, it’s done.

15. Best gig:

Delain at the KOKO, Camden (13 November).

delain-mine

So much fun! You can read my review of the night here.

16. Most special moment:

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This one ♥

Also going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with my jammy friend Michael who won us an incredible pair of front-row tickets on the Friday Forty back in July:

the-cursed-child

17. Song of the year:

I’m going to defy convention. There will be no song of the year this year. Instead, there shall be…

17. PODCAST OF THE YEAR!

My Dad Wrote A Porno by Jamie Morton, James Cooper, Alice Levine and Rocky Flintstone.

my-dad-wrote-a-porno

If you haven’t listened to this podcast yet, oh my goodness, you simply must. The very first episode had me in tears of laughter on my daily commute. Literally, there were actual tear tracks running down my face as I struggled to contain the laughter in public. The really great thing is, everyone around me was doing the same thing. Everyone in London is listening to My Dad Wrote A PornoEveryone.

Come, join the esteemed ranks of Elijah Wood, Daisy Ridley and yours truly… Become a Belinker today!

18. Biggest achievement:

Running the 5K Colour Run in the Summer and also helping to raise so much money for Battersea Dogs & Cats with my tea party.

19. Biggest regret:

 

The fact that I didn’t put as much effort into reducing my credit card bills as much as I should have.

20. New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Get healthy and fit in plenty of time for Tough Mudder in September.
2. Buy a house with my boyfriend and move in with our menagerie of animals.
3. Write Book One of The Mayor.

Bonus! Instagram’s #2016Best Nine:

 

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Happy New Year!

S.E. Berrow


For more information on items, people or bands mentioned in this post, please click the below links.

Music:

http://diabulusinmusica.com/
http://legacy.davidbowie.com/
http://www.beyonce.com/
http://www.ayria.com/
http://tarjaturunen.com/
https://americanmurdersong.com/

http://www.delain.nl/

Books:

http://www.michelfaber.com/
http://www.mydadwroteaporno.com/

Games:

http://www.tombraider.com
https://elderscrolls.bethesda.net/skyrim/

Theatre, Film & TV:

https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/
http://www.fantasticbeasts.com/

http://www.gameofthrones.com/

Style & Beauty:

http://www.smoonstyle.com/
http://www.katvondbeauty.com/


Note: The original ‘Year In Review’ structure and the vast majority of my questions were shamelessly stolen from a MySpace blog post written by the inimitable Darren Hayes many years ago. So old is it that I’m not even sure the post exists anymore (I can’t find it regardless)! You can find out more about Darren Hayes and his wonderful effervescent self here:

http://darrenhayes.com/

Christmas Music: S.E. Berrow Edition

As I explained at length last year, I absolutely love Christmas. The cold weather, the Christmas lights, putting up my tree a month early, wrapping up presents, watching tat on the tele, being overly critical of supermarket Christmas adverts (Sainsbury’s, this is what you produce after last year’s triumph? Hang your heads in shame) and of course, all the yummy food.

There is however one aspect of Christmas that I absolutely cannot stand, and that is the hideously repetitive Christmas music that plays on all the radios and TV adverts.

I’m certain I’m not alone in this. It’s the same songs every single year: Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ (Do you really, Wizzard? I mean, really think about it for a second… Do you?), East 17’s ‘Stay Now’, The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale Of New York’… Yes, that’s right, I hold the rather unpopular opinion that I would quite happily never listen to ‘Fairytale Of New York’ by the Pogues ever again. Widely regarded by my friends and family as the Greatest Christmas Song ever written, I personally think they only love it because they get to say a really offensive word halfway through that they’d be horrified to use in real life. Don’t bother arguing with me, Said-Friends; you know it to be true!

‘Fairytale Of New York’ aside, it is not the Christmas songs themselves that wind me up. Objectively, ‘All I Want For Christmas’ is a cracking pop song, the lyrics of ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by the Waitresses are hilariously relatable, Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop The Cavalry’ continues to be painfully relevant after the politically turbulent year we’ve just had, and Nat King Cole’s ‘The Christmas Song’ prompts amazingly nostalgic memories from my childhood. No, what really irritates me is that the radio DJs and retail marketing departments refuse to acknowledge any Christmas songs released post-1995, and no, wistful indie-rock covers by a softly-spoken female vocalists for the latest John Lewis advert definitely do not count. If an artist does release an original Christmas song (e.g. the excellent ‘One More Sleep’ by Leona Lewis from 2013), it’s promoted for a single season and then never heard again…

However, as you may have gathered if you’ve followed my blog for a while, I love music, and I’m used to my favoured genres and artists not being played on the radio and on shop floors. So what does one do when they wish to escape the inane dirge but still get into the Christmas spirit? Why, listen to something else of course!

Here are just a few of my favourite alternative Christmas jams:

 

1. ‘We Three Kings’ – Abney Park (Through Your Eyes On Christmas Eve, 2012)

I am aware of the irony of presenting a traditional Christmas song to be first on my list after harping on about a lack of originality in Christmas music for several paragraphs, however Abney Park’s trademark steampunk sound unleashed on this particularly dark and morbid hymn is what makes this song stand out. “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone-cold tomb”.

 

2. Candy Cane Children – The White Stripes (Merry Christmas From The White Stripes, 2002)

I have fond memories of being rather obsessed with this song around Christmas 2005; I’d only just ‘discovered’ the White Stripes that November. It’s a stripped-back slightly morbid number that vaguely references seasonal depression and/or school shootings… I think! The title is a reference to die-hard fans of the White Stripes, known as Candy Cane Children, and the lyric “Nobody knows how to talk to children” was also the title of a pulled documentary. I really love the dark tones of the lyrics and, as always with White Stripes songs, the guitar riff is damned catchy and hits you right in the gut.

 

3. ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ – Melora Creager (Egg Nog Edition, 2013)

egg-nog-edition

Sadly I cannot find a streamable version of this song anywhere for you to listen to, or indeed any evidence on the internet that this ever existed at all… but it definitely does, because I own a copy! Like ‘We Three Kings’ (and along with the ‘Carol of the Bells’), ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is one of my favourite Christmas carols, so to hear my favourite musician of all time give such a beautiful, minimalist rendition accompanied by both acoustic and electric cello is quite something. Melora Creager is the founder, lead singer and cellist in the pioneering chamber rock outfit, Rasputina.

 

4. Gothic Christmas – Within Temptation (Mother Earth Tour DVD easter egg, 2003)

Within Temptation’s ‘Gothic Christmas’ is what happens when a symphonic metal band puts their mind to writing an original Christmas song. Objectively speaking, this song’s production is pretty terrible, Sharon Del Adel’s usually strong, delicate voice sounds strained, and the music lacks Within Temptation’s usual orchestral punch. The lyrics however poke brilliant fun at the band’s own genre, and I love it: “Santa’s going to grunt in Latin and slay a dragon or two. Rudolph, he will change his name, ‘cause Rudolph just sounds really lame. Now we’ll call him Ragnagord, our evil reindeer overlord. His nose it shall be red no more, it will be blackened to the core!”

 

5. Jingle Hell – Christopher Lee (A Heavy Metal Christmas Too, 2013)

This one is more of a novelty song than anything. Christopher Lee, he of the operatic bass voice, is a little-known huge fan of the symphonic metal genre. Lee actually released his first metal album, Charlamagne: By The Sword And The Cross at the ripe old age of 88, because nothing keeps an ex-Nazi hunter down. From that point onward, he released metal-renditions of Christmas carols every year up until his death in June 2015. ‘Jingle Hell’ was his second offering, and you can hear him talk about it here.

What a legend.

 

6. ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’ – The Darkness (2003)

Unlike other songs featured on my list, this song by early 00s glam-rock band The Darkness does actually very occasionally get some airtime. Released in 2003, X Factor was having a year off for reasons I cannot remember, so we actually had a genuine race to reach the Christmas no. 1 spot for the first time in God knows how long. Unfortunately this track lost out to a cover of Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews (a beautiful song, but hella depressing to listen to at Christmas and not exactly what I would call festive). Despite reaching the same point in the charts as The Pogues and Mariah Carey, The Darkness’ genuinely joyful and celebratory offering hardly ever gets played on the radio, and is usually relegated to Christmas compilation CDs.

 

7. ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ – Dean Martin (A Winter Romance, 1959)

Christmas With Nat And Dean (1990) soundtracked my childhood Christmases. This song is my favourite off of that album (and frequently named as my absolute favourite ever Christmas song), and it just reminds me of being all warm and cosy and sheltered in front of the fire and unwrapping all the beautiful gifts that my mummy and daddy had got for me that year, surrounded by family, toys and good food.

 

8. This Ain’t New Jersey – Smith & Burrows (Funny Looking Angels, 2011)

The most recent addition to my list of favourite Christmas songs, ’This Ain’t New Jersey’ is a simply beautiful ballad sung by Tom Smith (Editors) about a couple having a huge trivial fight over the use of the American name ’Santa Claus’ instead of the English ‘Father Christmas’. The protagonist of the song expresses disillusionment with the Christmas period pretty much in line with this blog post (“Those same old songs every single year, we drink, we sing and forget the things we need to hear”), only to eventually get snowed in with his partner in the pub on Christmas Eve. When the fight fizzles out the next day, he is able to set aside the stress and commercialism of the period and remembers to say that he loves his partner very much after all. I love the song’s relatability, melancholy and honesty, and the fact it still manages to have a happy ending. Just beautiful.

 

I hope that you enjoyed this post and that you feel enlightened and inspired to seek out other alternative tracks to listen to this Christmas!

Take care,

S.E. Berrow

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!

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.
img_9988
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.

Amaranthe/Tarja at Rock On Green Festival ~ O2 Forum, Camden 05.06.2016: Gig Review

Rock On GreenThe release of Tarja’s latest (fantastic) solo album – The Shadow Self – last Friday reminded me that I never got around to reviewing a gig of hers that I attended back in June. Please allow me to rectify that!

So, I guess it was just over two months ago now that I went to the debut of the new Rock On Green Festival at the O2 Forum in Camden. Joint headliners were the genre-defying melodic death metal band Amaranthe followed by the aforementioned ex-Nightwish operatic extraordinaire Tarja.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while now will know that my good friend Beth often accompanies me to these sorts of gigs, and today was no exception! Having stayed over the previous night to maximise time spent with a then-ten-week-old Edgar, we took our time travelling up to London as we didn’t really fancy forcing enthusiasm for those lower down on the bill. Consequently we rather happily missed the local metalcore three-piece, Immension, and showed up mid-way through a rather baffling set by Republic of Rock ‘N’ Roll; an alternative rock band from Paris. At this point the crowd was absolutely threadbare thin, the merchandise stall poorly stocked, and the atmosphere completely dead. I have to say, I did feel a little bit sorry for Republic of Rock ‘N’ Roll, who had an uphill struggle in playing to what was obviously not the right audience for them. That being said, they were pretty dire, and not even a cover of my favourite Aerosmith song ‘Dream On’ could endear me to them.

OctanicNext up were Octanic; a six-piece melodic death metal act that had travelled all the way from Australia just to play this one gig… impressive! Equally as impressive was their set, which proved to be a nice surprise after the incongruous dirge that was Republic of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Surprisingly melodic, full of synths, organs and classical licks, Octanic’s particular blend of clean and heavy vocals caught my ear immediately. Their charismatic lead singer Jay Shepherdson seemed so excited to be playing in the UK at last that his enthusiasm was infectious. Within no time at all he had the audience stamping their feet, clapping their hands and singing lines back to him despite the fact that I’m pretty sure hardly any of the crowd had heard of them before. Though they were only on stage for a short time, I thoroughly enjoyed Octanic’s set, and I fully intend to give their debut album, The Mask of Hypocrisy, a listen at some point.

At last, the first headliner of the evening exploded onto the stage amidst a blast of strobe lighting and distorted bass; six-piece Swedish elodeath metallers Amaranthe. Launching straight into single ‘Digital World’, they then began their very own metal dance party, drawing on all three of their studio albums in equal measure for an absolutely stellar setlist on the tail-end of a highly successful Massive Addictive world tour. All three of Amaranthe’s vocalists were on top form, led by an impeccably dressed Elize Ryd whose ability to bound around so effortlessly in high heels, short skirts and boots with no front never ceases to amaze me.

1. Digital WorldAmaranthe
2. Trinity
3. Hunger
4. Invincible
5. 1.000.000 Lightyears
6. Massive Addictive
7. True
8. Afterlife
9. Electroheart
10. Amaranthine
11. Call Out My Name

Encore:
12. The Nexus
13. Dynamite
14. Drop Dead Cynical

One of the biggest highlights of the Amaranthe show for me was actually the crowd itself. It seemed that the vast majority of the people in attendance were there specifically to see Amaranthe, and Beth and I made friends with those around us, including an older man with a conversation-starting MFVF (Metal Female Voices Fest) hoodie, and a younger man who told us that his future-wife had no choice in the first song at their wedding being ‘Amaranthine’, and promptly burst into tears when the band began to play it. Everyone knew all the words and sang along when Elize pointed the microphone at us, and the atmosphere was so warm and full of really positive energy! In terms of the setlist, my personal favourites included debut single ‘Hunger’, and all three of the songs in the encore; in particular ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ because that song always makes me want to get up and dance! This time, surrounded by what I like to call ‘my people’, I could bounce, bop, sing and growl along as loud and as hard as I wanted without a care in the world. Not even the really bizarre moment when the band’s bassist, Johan Andreassen, came out and started insulting the audience during the unusually long wait for the encore (presumably to give Elize Ryd time to change outfits) could possibly spoil my fun!

Although it was really weird… Johan, what on Earth? Go home, you’re drunk.

This whole gig from start to finish was hugely cathartic, massive addictive fun. One of the most innovative and unique acts on the metal scene, Amaranthe more than proved themselves at the height of their powers and, with the announcement of upcoming album Maximalism due out later this year, they don’t look as though they’re about to slow down any time soon.

So, after that rather full-on, full-length performance by the night’s headliner, it was time for… another headliner! Clammy and hot from the press of the crowd, our pent-up energy exerted, throats hoarse and legs stiff from standing for so long, I was beginning to wonder how on earth an exhausted Beth and I were going to manage to do it all over again.

However, much like the stomach always makes room for dessert, we managed to syphon the energy from somewhere as Tarja Turunen – arguably the most iconic singer in the symphonic metal genre – took to the stage in her trademark swirl of long raven hair, elbow-length gloves and black lace. With a radiant smile to her adoring audience, the ex-Nightwish soprano launched straight into a rousing rendition of her then-latest single and the opening track of The Brightest Void EP, ‘No Bitter End’.

Note: I seem to be having a streak of bad luck when it comes to gigs. Once again I accidentally parked myself next to the nutters and was forced to relocate during Tarja’s set to somewhere with an inferior view just to get away with them. I’m all for a bit of gig enthusiasm, but when someone is elbowing you in the ribs, jumping all over your feet and screaming – actually screaming – in your ear rather than singing along to the words, just to get Tarja’s attention? No, I cannot deal. After the awesomeness that was the Amaranthe crowd, this was really disappointing, and impacted heavily on my enjoyment. Gig etiquette is a so important, and it’s such a shame when people behave so inconsideratly and spoil the experiences of others.

1. No Bitter EndScreen Shot 2016-08-09 at 22.28.43
2. Never Enough
3. Demons In You*
4. Shameless*
5. Supremacy (Muse cover)*
6. Calling From The Wild*
7. Goldfinger (John Barry & Shirley Bassey cover)
8. Victim Of Ritual
9. Die Alive

Encore 1:
10. Until My Last Breath

Encore 2:
11. Over The Hills And Far Away (Gary Moore cover)

* Live Premiere

Here’s the thing about Tarja: generally speaking, her songs are not very good. She is by no means a natural-born songwriter and her albums tend to contain a lot of filler with the very occasional gem (watch me eat my words when I eventually get around to writing a review for The Shadow Self). Her voice on the other hand… My God, her voice is exquisite; a truly stunning thing to behold live. She is the absolute mistress of musical interpretation, and if I was in any doubt about her performance after a couple of unexceptional opening tracks, my fears were sufficiently allayed when she delivered a truly spectacular cover of Muse’s ‘Supremacy’. Her vocal range was off the scale, her control faultless. As goose-pimples rippled over the flesh of my arms and her voice climbed to the final, almost impossibly high note, I turned to Beth and said simply one word: “Wow.”

“Now that is a difficult song to sing,” Tarja confessed afterwards with a laugh as much to herself as to her audiece. Yeah, I thought to myself. No shit…!

Other set highlights included ‘Victim Of Ritual’ – one of my favourite ever Tarja songs  – and the live premiere of ‘Demons In You’; I got very excited when I caught the instantly recognisable screams of Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz on the backing track!

So, despite her setlist being peppered with covers and underwhelming song choices- and’Over The Hills And Far Away’ once again being dragged up from the Nightwish back catalogue – it simply doesn’t matter. Tarja is Tarja; our queen, our metal goddess, our diva… and I will follow her to the ends of the earth.

As always, thank you very much to Beth for accompanying me, I had such a fantastic time!

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 23.22.49

Verdict: 4/5

I haven’t got another gig booked for a while now; not until next year in fact when Epica perform at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 3 February. However, both Delain and Týr have announced London dates for November, so perhaps I will see some of you there?

Take care,

S.E. Berrow


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

http://www.octanic.com/
http://amaranthe.se/
http://tarjaturunen.com/

Rock On Green does not have an official website, however you can click the flyer to be taken through to the official Facebook page.

All photos included in this blog taken by me.

“Suckerpunch the demons from my dreams.” ~ Delain release their new single, ‘Suckerpunch’

DelainDelain – one of the more accessible symphonic metal outfits, hailing from the Netherlands – just released the official music video for their new single ‘Suckerpunch’. The song is taken from the upcoming Lunar Prelude EP, due for release on 19 February.

My goodness. It is stonkingly good. With a rousing chorus, a combination of synths and symphonic elements and a pretty decent, slick video to boot (metal videos are notoriously cheesy) lead singer Charlotte Wessels is sounding sublime. Plus – and this is very exciting – and they have a new guitarist… a female guitarist! Her name is Merel Bechtold and it’s just so refreshing to see a feminine face in a metal musician lineup. Merel, welcome!

I must confess I wasn’t all that excited about Lunar Prelude (I’d always rather listen to a full album), but I most definitely am now!

Lunar Prelude

Have a listen yourself and let me know what you think:

Take care… and keep it metal! \m/

S.E. Berrow


Visit Delain’s official website for information on Lunar Prelude and more:

http://www.delain.nl/

For more information on newcomer Merel Bechtold, she has her own website here:

http://www.merelbechtold.com/