Hysteria: The Disturbing History by Andrew Scull: Book Review

hysteriaI picked up Hysteria: The Disturbing History when I went to visit the Bedlam Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection on 8 October 2016 with my writing partner, K.F. Goodacre. Due to the fact that asylums feature in The Mayor, I was hoping to learn a little bit more about the treatment of the patients in the hospital during the 18th century, attitudes to madness during those times, patient recovery (if any) and also about the hospital itself. However, the exhibition was significantly more art and literature-based than I was expecting and I wasn’t able to glean much that was informative or useful, so I was hoping that this book – along with a few others that I picked up in the shop – might fill in the gaps.

This book is very well-written and I found Andrew Scull’s narrative style engaging, despite having to refer to the glossary upon occasion to look up words I’ve never heard of (e.g. ‘parturition’, or childbirth). Starting with the first use of the term ‘hysteria’ in 1602 up until it’s disappearance from modern-day diagnoses, Scull gives a relatively short historical account addressing changing understanding, treatments and attitudes of the medical profession over a long period of time. He also explores how doctors struggled to pin hysteria down to physiological causes, the notion of a mental illness at the time being virtually non-existent. One particular chapter about the ‘shell-shock’ suffered by soldiers during World War I being thought of in terms of ‘male-hysteria’ I found particularly interesting given my perception of hysteria as being thought of only as a ‘woman’s disease’, linked to their ‘inferior’ biology and repressed sexuality; a tool used by men to diminish them and write off their emotions and experiences as nonsense.

Certainly this book does dwell on this latter aspect of the disease quite a bit. If you’re a woman and hadn’t felt before that being called ‘hysterical’ was insulting, you certainly will after reading this book! There’s plenty of gory, upsetting detail as to some of the more brutal treatments of hysterical patients contained within these pages, including female genital mutilation and Freud’s, quite frankly, disgusting treatment of his sexually abused patient Ida Bauer. Surprisingly, the opposite end of the spectrum for treatment – manual genital stimulation – that famously led to the invention of the vibrator – is completely ignored. Scull does not even go so far as to briefly acknowledge this particular avenue of history. I found this very odd considering how Scull also went to great lengths to illustrate how some doctors felt victims of hysteria were taking ‘flight into illness’ for the secondary gains that a sick role could provide.

bedlam-the-asylum-and-beyond
One of the art installations at the Wellcome Collection’s latest exhibition: Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond

It’s actually in relation to this last point that I dropped my rating from five stars to four. In the conclusion to his book, Scull talks about the disappearance of the disease of hysteria, and how it has since been redefined as post-traumatic stress disorder, post-natal depression etc. However, rather than talking about a more developed scientific understanding of mental illnesses and changing cultural attitudes towards women, Scull then spends an inordinate amount of time almost discrediting those who claim to suffer from mental illnesses to conclude that hysteria (in it’s more stereotypical, hypochondriac form) has never really disappeared, citing Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and chronic-fatigue syndrome as particular sources of contention. This gave me a bad taste in my mouth, as whilst our modern-day understanding of mental illness is by no-means perfect, ever-changing, and often driven by the profits made by Big Pharma, simply dismissing claims of mental illness as being all in the victim’s head is completely counter-productive. The very definition of a mental illness is that it is in the victim’s head, but that doesn’t mean that their suffering is not real or unworthy of treatment. To automatically assume that the patient is making it up for attention is as pervasively dangerous as it was 200 years ago.

Despite Scull’s conclusion being a bit of a let down, overall I really enjoyed this book. I do not read non-fiction very often so to keep me engaged for 200-odd pages is an achievement in itself.

Verdict: 4/5

S.E. Berrow


Andrew Scull presently resides as a faculty member at UC San Diego, specialising in researching the development of modern-day psychiatric medicine. A list of his works and courses are available on the UCSD website:

http://sociology.ucsd.edu/people/profiles/faculty/andrew-scull.html

Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond is an exhibition currently running until 15 January 2017 at the Wellcome Collection in London:

https://wellcomecollection.org/bedlam

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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.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Book Review

CinderThis one had been on my ‘to read’ list for a while, largely due to its futuristic concept of a cyborg Cinderella. Instead of the dainty little ash girl we are so familiar with, the Cinderella of this story (Linh Cinder) is a strong-minded and intelligent mechanic. She is also the ward of a jealous and neglectful stepmother who, along with her daughters, is dependent on Cinder to make cash. Cinder also happens to be a cyborg – a human with mechanically enhanced limbs and brain interface – and is thus seen as a second-class citizen by most inhabitants of New Beijing.

When delving into faerietale retellings, I expect to read something completely different and unique whilst still maintaining a sense of the familiarity and spirit of the original. In this sense, Cinder succeeds. Unfortunately, a few of the ideas are not developed enough. Why, for example, are cyborgs seen as second-class citizens when they’re effectively just humans who have been injured and patched up by science? This is never explained. How have the Lunars come to be so powerful and why do they want to go to war with Earth? Also, despite being set in China (where the earliest known version of the tale originates), there is very little evidence of Chinese culture and customs here; it all seems very westernised, in a manner that doesn’t seem realistic despite being set a significant way into the future. The plot is also incredibly predictable, to the point that you can guess the ending within about ten pages (and I’m not talking about the traditional storyline here).

Nevertheless I’m really intrigued by the concept and considering that this is very obviously part of a series (entitled The Lunar Chronicles), the world and ideas contained herein may yet be developed further in future books. I fully intend to read the follow-up, Scarlet, when I eventually manage to get my hands on it.

Verdict: 2/5

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Marissa Meyer, Cinder and The Lunar Chronicles please check out the author’s website:

http://www.marissameyer.com/

Innuendo by Amberian Dawn: Album Review

InnuendoInnuendo is the sixth studio album from Finnish symphonic power metal band, Amberian Dawn, and the second to feature their new vocalist; former pop singer, Capri. The band was formed in 2003 by guitarist and keyboardist Tuomas Sepälä and ex-bassist Tommi Kuri, the latter of whom very sadly passed away at the beginning of last year. Whilst classically trained and capable of singing operatically, Capri’s strong, powerful voice is incredibly retro-sounding that gives the group a distinctive edge in the symphonic metal genre. Comparisons to ABBA and the general sound of Eurovision are easy to make; Capri has portrayed Anni-Frid Lyngstad on stage and auditioned for the infamous song contest twice in the late 2000s.

The current Amberian Dawn line-up is as follows:

Païvi “Capri” Virkkunen: vocals
Tuomas Sepälä: guitar, keyboards
Emil “Empuu” Pohjalainen: guitars
Jukka Hoffren: bass
Joonas Pykälä-aho: drums

Whilst their previous album, Magic Forest, favoured a heavier symphonic metal sound with a decidedly gothic, fairytale theme, Innuendo is much rockier and more melodic. Lyrically it is less cohesive than Magic Forest, with a greater emphasis on storytelling and individual characters that vary wildly from pirates to witches to ball-hosting counts. Likewise the music jumps around from sea shanty to synth-heavy 80s and musical-theatre throwbacks. Truthfully, the heavy emphasis on melody over power and speed make this one of the more accessible metal albums I’ve listened to, but the flip side of that is that there are less layers to sort through, and thus Innuendo becomes very boring to listen to very quickly.

Amberian DawnTracklisting:

  1. Fame And Gloria
  2. Ladyhawk
  3. Innuendo
  4. The Court of Mirror Hall
  5. Angelique
  6. Rise Of The Evil
  7. Chamber Of Dreadful Dreams
  8. Knock Knock Who’s There?
  9. Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft
  10. Your Time – My Time

The album’s pirate-themed opener, ‘Fame & Gloria’, is a significant departure from anything the group have tried before. The song tells the story of a group of pirate women called the Black Doves who take over a warship and rally to arms. With cries of ‘Hey ho!’ and ‘We’re drinking!’ there are some definite sea shanty lilts to the guitar work. It’s a fun, energetic opener that doesn’t exactly set the tone of the album, but gets you into the right lighthearted frame of mind.

Next up is ‘Ladyhawk’, a song with an ambiguously avian protagonist who wishes to ‘relearn how to fly’. This is probably the most 80s-sounding song on the record with its synth-keyboards, bubblegum backing vocals and major key chorus (my opinion could be ever-so slightly skewed by the fact the title resembles the 1985 film, Ladyhawke, which also features a woman who can turn into a bird). The breakdown is really fantastic with some technical guitar work hidden throughout, and the lyrics have a really positive, uplifting message. Definitely an album highlight.

The album’s title track, ‘Innuendo’ is another standout track. With its dramatic Arabic-sounding opening, super speedy drums, talk of ‘seven cycles’, ‘sand in the hourglass’, and the sun and moon design of the album cover, I find myself thinking of the original Babylonian Zodiac and the majestic desert sands of the Middle East. The title does not refer to the more well-known definition of ‘innuendo’ i.e. a sexual reference, but instead talks of life as being a nasty trick or a deliberate insult. This is one of my personal favourite songs on the record.

Things begin to fall down a bit with the next track, ‘The Court Of Mirror Hall’. This was the first song the band revealed from Innuendo in the form of a lyric video, and said lyrics conjure images of the Count of Monte Cristo showing off how rich and fabulous his house is whilst goading a woman to marry him (I couldn’t help but think of the Masquerade scene from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) as well). Beyond that, it’s a pretty forgettable track, and a prime example of what I said earlier about the music becoming very boring to listen to very quickly.

The follow-up, ‘Angelique’, is significantly more interesting. For a start, it’s a piano-led ballad with hints of the symphonic, fae-like sound of Magic Forest. Like ‘Ladyhawk’, the identity of the protagonist is ambiguous. Is she a shipwrecked Black Dove? A siren? Maybe even a mermaid? The softness of the piano really gives Capri’s vocals room to shine, and hints of her classical training are permitted come through to great effect. At times it does border a little on musical theatre, particularly when the piano changes to forte along with a general swell of symphonic sound, but this doesn’t detract from the overall strength of the song.

Like ‘The Court of Mirror Hall’, the next two tracks, ‘Rise Of The Evil’ and ‘Chamber of Dreadful Dreams’ are completely forgettable, despite  being among the two heaviest and most power metal tracks on the record. Meanwhile,’Knock Knock Who’s There?’ is not so much forgettable as just plain horrible. Whilst arguably playful, the synth, twinkling sounds, melodic major key and child-like wonder in Capri’s vocal inflections – that made its closest musical counterpart ‘Ladyhawk’ so good – are just way, way too much here.

Things pick back up a bit with ‘Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft’. With a strong symphonic opening and a bouncy, sing-a-long melody, it tells the story of a witch hunt, only for the the point of view to switch from the mob to the witch. Despite being of a more upbeat tempo, ‘Symphony Nr 1’ has a lot in common with ‘Angelique’; the general sound of the song is very musical theatre-esque with a strong focus on the characterisation of the protagonist. The song’s closing bars also echo ‘Angelique’ very subtly, however whilst ‘Symphony Nr 1’ grabs your attention on first listen, its repetitive melody and simplistic lyrics don’t have any staying power.

Fortunately, given how erratic and bizarre the rest of the album sounds, things end on a high note with ‘Your Time – My Time’. With some fantastically fast guitar-work despite the generally mid-tempo speed, the song is tightly written with some wonderful, equivocal lyrics that echo the album’s title track ‘Innuendo’. The song is beautifully sung by Capri, the breakdown is ominous and sinister, and the fade-to-black gorgeous guitar solo is simply wonderful. This is easily the best track on the record, and my personal favourite.

Overall, Innuendo is a decidedly mediocre album that drifts a bit too much stylistically and lacks the cohesiveness that makes a truly great symphonic metal record. Though there are a couple of tracks here that I do like, I doubt very much I will still be listening to them in a year’s time.

Verdict: 2/5
S.E. Berrow


Amberian Dawn’s official website:

http://amberiandawn.com/

Fancy a listen? Check out these officially released videos of some of the tracks reviewed above:

‘The Court of Mirror Hall’: https://youtu.be/dYxw1bI6rnY
‘Fame & Gloria’: https://youtu.be/vjqKk8JRzQo
‘Ladyhawk’: https://youtu.be/7H52v7RuANg

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: Book Review

The Miniaturist coverThe Miniaturist is the much-hyped debut novel of the very talented Jessie Burton. Subject to a publishing bidding war before it was even released to near-universal acclaim in 2014, it eventually went on to be crowned Waterstone’s Book of the Year just in time for Christmas. As a result, the book was reprinted in a simply gorgeous cloth-bound cover with a pretty gold ribbon-bookmark. To be entirely honest, I didn’t think a story about a dollhouse set in 17th century Amsterdam sounded terribly exciting. I feared that the writing would be stuffy and dull. Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for pretty collectible books, so I bought it anyway and just left it on my shelves until I ran out of other things to read.

I was right about one thing. A story about a dollhouse in 17th century Amsterdam probably wouldn’t have been terribly exciting. It’s therefore a very good thing that The Miniaturist is not really about a dollhouse. It’s not even about the elusive titular Miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror the protagonist’s life in disconcertingly prophetic ways. It is about the dollhouse’s owner, eighteen-year-old Petranella Oortman who, after having grown up in the quiet countryside, must now adapt to vibrant city-living following her marriage to the wealthy, charismatic merchant, Johannes Brandt. Upon arriving in Amsterdam however, with no one but her pet parakeet Peeboo for company, Nella is greeted not by Brandt, but by his sharp-tongued deliberately cagey sister, Marin. It isn’t long before Nella deduces that the Brandts are keeping one or two very big, very dark, dangerous secrets from her. When Nella discovers precisely what those secrets are… well. Soon the canals of Amsterdam – a city as morally backward as it is commercially vibrant and progressive – begin to flow with blood instead of water.

The Miniaturist
Jessie Burton

Simply put this book is absolutely gripping and beautifully executed, from its gorgeous clothbound cover to its sharp, concise and evocative writing. Jessie Burton does not fall into the trap of telling her story in an outdated, laboured fashion, as many other historical-fiction writers are prone to do. The descriptions of Amsterdam are stunning, inserted subtly into the most unexpected places to achieve great effect. For example, one of the book’s very first lines is, ‘Words flow like water in Amsterdam’, which not only conjures images of the canals but also cleverly foreshadows the spilling of secrets and the foreboding nature of water. The plot is tight and surprisingly violent, completely subverting my expectations; I was not able to guess at a single revelation. The times when I actually knew what was going to happen, I was filled with such dread that I willed myself to be wrong. Every single character, from the naïve newly-wed Nella to the quiet, anguished servant Otto, are crafted as meticulously and realistically as the Miniaturist’s dolls. Johannes Brandt’s sister Marin in particular – so stoic and fierce in her religious fervour and hypocrisy – was an absolute tour-de-force of a character, completely unpredictable, and I loved her.

Petranella Oortman's dollhouse
Petranella Oortman’s Cabinet House, on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

It’s interesting to note whilst we’re on the subject of characters that although Jessie Burton was inspired by the magnificent cabinet house owned by a real person called Petranella Oortman (who really was married to a merchant called Johannes Brandt in 17th century Amsterdam), everything she writes about their their lives – including their familial relations – is completely and utterly made-up. I found this very odd, and I’m not sure it was a very ethical thing to do (particularly where Johannes Brandt is concerned). I do not think the story would have suffered from a few simple name changes.

Any issues I had with this however, along with the ambiguous abilities of the Miniaturist, paled in comparison to everything else I enjoyed about this book. I didn’t want it to end, but at the same time couldn’t stop myself from reading, so emotionally invested was I in the fates of the characters. By the time I had turned the final page, I was at a complete loss, not only in terms of what I’d just read but also in terms of what on earth I was going to read next. The fact that this is a debut novel makes Jessie Burton’s achievement all the more impressive. I loved this book. Thoroughly recommended.

Verdict: 5/5

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Jessie Burton and The Miniaturist, please visit her official website:

http://www.jessieburton.co.uk/

Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland: Book Review

Ian Sutherland | Social EngineerEarlier this year I had the privilege of reading Ian Sutherland’s first novel in his Deep Web Thriller series, Invasion of Privacy; a slick modern thriller centred around ‘white-hat’ computer hacker, Brody Taylor, who finds himself caught up in a hunt for a serial killer. Crime is not exactly my go-to genre, but Invasion of Privacy was undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year. So to have then received an email inviting me to download a prequel 60-page novella, Social Engineer – for free nonetheless – I was only too happy to oblige, and excited to read more about Brody’s exploits. You can read my 5 star review of Invasion of Privacy on Goodreads here.

Ostensibly, Social Engineer has been written as an introduction to Brody’s character as well as his motivations, hacking techniques and day-to-day existence shrouded in a web of secrecy and lies, whilst trying to make a go of a relationship with an animal rights protester. The hope is that the reader will then go on to read the full-length novel, but those who have read the novel first, such as myself, Social Engineer is a nice little bonus story worth reading. Because the very nature of a novella dictates that Social Engineer cannot possibly be as informative or as in depth as Invasion of Privacy, it makes it all the more impressive that Ian Sutherland manages to cram so much in.

Brody’s character in the space of less than 100 pages succeeds in coming across as believable, consistent, intelligent and likeable, despite also being a self-confessed compulsive liar who walks a fine line between what is legal and what is not. The idea to pitch a much-needed, ground-breaking scientific discovery – in this case a cure for Alzheimer’s – against horrific but perhaps necessary animal testing (the latter of which was skilfully and subtly handled by the author) only helps to emphasise this blurring of black and white morality, which again I find impressive for a short story; to actually go so far as to include symbolism and social commentary with such a low page count. The writing is good, with no typos or formatting errors (important in a self-published work like this one). The story itself is tight with a solid beginning, middle and an open-ended, but very satisfying conclusion. The plot meanwhile is a little predictable, especially if you have read Invasion of Privacy first. Likewise, if you do read Invasion of Privacy after Social Engineer, expect to find yourself treading over old ground with the first Brody-centred chapter, the opening setting of which is very similar to this novella.

So, if you are looking for a (very) quick, pacey little Crime read with the potential to introduce you to something clever and more involved, and wish to support deserving, talented indie authors, I thoroughly recommend that you give Ian Sutherland’s Social Engineer a go. Hopefully you’ll pick up Invasion of Privacy afterwards too and enjoy it as much as I did.

Verdict: 4/5

S.E. Berrow


For more information on the Deep Web Thriller series and Ian Sutherland, please visit his official website:

http://ianhsutherland.com/

 

Leaves’ Eyes ~ O2 Academy, Islington 10.11.2015: Gig Review

On Tuesday night I went to see symphonic/folk metal band, Leaves’ Eyes play the O2 Academy in Islington. Liv, Alex et al were accompanied by Diabulus In Musica from Spain and supported by London-based EnkeliNation. The venue was not exactly the most packed out I’ve ever seen it, but the eclectic crowd was full of energy and all three bands fed it back three-fold.

Swords In Rock

Being a rather lonely gothic metalhead amongst my friends, and with my usual gig buddy Beth unable to attend due to teaching obligations in Birmingham, I decided to strike out on my own. I arrived at the venue within plenty of time and took my place in the queue to eat my dinner (a rather sad salmon and cucumber sandwich). Whilst waiting, I got chatting with a man who has made a hobby out of attending rock and metal gigs. He told me that since the beginning of this year, he has been to at least 120, and that Leaves’ Eyes was his fifth show in seven days. He also works full-time as a criminal investigator and functions on about three hours of sleep a night. What a dude. Sir, I salute you!

Having come straight from work I wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion, so the first thing I did when I got inside was buy myself a girlie-fit T-shirt with the album artwork from King of Kings printed on it. I took my time eyeing up the rest of the merch on offer – mostly T-shirts featuring various artwork from the album with tour dates on the back – and tried to secure myself a copy of King of Kings on limited edition red vinyl. The lady on the stall said she couldn’t look after it for me while the gig was on, so I resolved to try and nab one on the way out if there were any left. I parked myself two rows from the front and stayed there, making friends and trying to stubbornly ignore an incredibly bolshy, drunk blonde woman with no sense of personal space, who kept shoving in front of me and would later spend the entirety of Leaves’ Eyes’ performance of ‘The Waking Eye’ screaming into my left ear (she wandered off eventually to molest a couple of bald gentlemen in the front row instead, thank goodness).

First up was the local support, EnkeliNation – a melodic rock/metal band founded by classically trained opera singer and Finnish expatriate Elina Siirlana. The band also includes guitarist Shadow Venger, drummer Benjamin Tarten and bassist Julia Cadau. To see a woman on this scene in any position other than the lead singer was incredibly refreshing and it certainly made them stand out in all the right ways. I am not familiar with their stuff, nor indeed have I ever even heard of them before, but they had a passionate fanbase dispersed throughout the audience. Although I could not help but feel that Elina’s vocals seemed to suffer a little bit live, as though she were running out of breath, EnkeliNation certainly put on a solid performance and I will check out their debut album, Tears of Lust, in my own time.

Next up were a band I was really looking forward to see: Spanish symphonic metal act, Diabulus in Musica, fronted by an impressively pregnant Zuberoa Aznàrez. Zuberoa’s gorgeous operatic vocals were accompanied by grunts and growls from keyboardist Gorka Elso who also seemed to be controlling the bass through the use of a computer. Odei Ochoa – usually the band’s bassist – handled the guitar work in place of a regrettably absent Alexy Kolygin. Drummer David Carrica was also in attendance. Beautifully lit by a moody red and gold light reminiscent of the colour scheme used in all their album artwork, Diabulus In Musica dominated the stage, let down only by poor sound configuration that swamped Zuberoa’s powerful vocals in the lower octaves. Whilst I own a copy of their latest album, Argia, I am still not overly familiar with Diabulus In Musica’s work and therefore wasn’t able to pick out individual songs, but it didn’t matter. Every song got the crowd cheering, head-banging and throwing up their horns. The band looked positively overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response and they promised to return to England in the future.

After a bit of a wait, the band we all came to see, Leaves’ Eyes, emerged onto the stage amidst a roar of applause. Accompanied by a Viking re-enactment group, Jomsborg Ulflag (a collaboration unique to the London leg of the UK tour), they opened with a storming rendition of ‘Halvdan the Black’. Whilst the Viking re-enactors loomed in the background banging their shields like war-drums, lead vocalist Liv Kristine subtly sauntered her way onto the stage with her soft, distinctive voice, shortly followed by growling husband Alex. He positively exploded into view, grabbing the crowd by their proverbial horns and whipping everyone up into a frenzy in no time. The O2 Islington Academy stage is not the biggest, and given the Viking presence in the background, the crowd were all very close indeed to the band during the opener. It felt very intimate and helped crank up the atmosphere, doing an excellent job of filling up the room.

The setlist, packed with a suitable blend of old and new, well-known and obscure, was as follows:

Intro: Sweven

1. Halvdan The Black
2. Sacred Vow
Liv Kristine3. Farewell Proud Men
4. The Waking Eye
5. Symphony of the Night
6. Melusine
7. Edge of Steel
8. Into Your Light
9. Galswintha
10. My Destiny
11. Swords in Rock
12. Hell To The Heavens
13. King of Kings

Encore 1:
14. Elegy

Encore 2:
15. Blazing Waters

Outro: Mot Fjerne Land

Highlights for me included: Liv hitting notes during ‘Symphony of the Night’ so staggeringly loud and so unbelievably high that it could have shattered glass and certainly made every hair on my body stand on end; heavy rocker ‘Melusine’ that I’d never actually heard before; the inclusion of one of their earliest songs ‘Into Your Light’ on the setlist; the gallivanting revelry of drinking song ‘Swords In Rock’ which got everybody jumping, dancing and singing along; and a soaring, haunting rendition of my favourite track from the latest album, ‘King of Kings’. For the final song of the night the band performed the epic naval battle song ‘Blazing Waters’ (which incidentally has grown on me immensely since my initial review of the album). The Vikings came back on stage, led by a sword-swinging Alex dressed in his King of Kings album-cover getup as Harold “Fairhair” Hårfagre, first King of Norway. It was a truly spectacular end to the night and everyone left feeling pumped and ready for battle!

As the lady on the merchandise stall had promised earlier, Liv Kristine came out afterwards to meet with fans and hand out signed leaflets promoting her solo show at the Camden Underworld on 20 December later this year. Having dashed from the main room quickly before chaos could descend, I picked up that copy of King of Kings on vinyl I had promised myself and took my place in the queue/scrum to meet Liv. I didn’t have to wait very long, despite the madness. She was so very nice and sweet and immediately signed my record without me even having to ask, handing me a leaflet to go with it. I said thank you to her for putting ‘Into Your Light’ on the setlist because it was my absolute favourite song of theirs, and she told me that yes, she could see that because I knew all the lyrics! Cue mortified embarrassment that Liv apparently noticed me losing my proverbial shit during this song (she did point, grin, nod and clap at me halfway through but I thought she was gesturing to the crowd in general… nope). I then asked if she would kindly let me take a picture, to which she said, “Of course!”, thus making me insanely happy and grateful, as evidenced by the crazed look in my eyes:

Meeting Liv Kristine

I had such a good time and would definitely see these guys play again. Thank you, Leaves’ Eyes! Until next time!

Leaves' Eyes Crowd Photo

Verdict: 4/5

My next gig will be Nightwish at their sold-out Wembley Arena show on 19 December. Perhaps I’ll 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.leaveseyes.de/
http://diabulusinmusica.com/en/
http://www.enkelination.com/

Jomsborg Ulfag’s website:

http://ulflag.com/

To read my review of Leaves’ Eyes latest album, King of Kings, click here.

All photos included in this blog taken by me, except the photo from the stage which was taken from Leaves’ Eyes Facebook page. I am actually in that photo! Can you see me?