This concert began for me with my first ever VIP experience. I’d actually bought VIP tickets for Epica before, a few years ago, but we got delayed by hordes of Santas in the middle of London (don’t ask) and missed the meet and greet. This time the price was much higher, as it included a stack of merch including a t-shirt, tote bag and exclusive single. It was a hard choice to decide whether to get the VIP tickets, because let’s face it, I don’t need any more tote bags. But I felt so bad about us missing out last time, that I decided to give it a go.
In the end, I’m glad I did. I’ve never met Epica before, and we were able to line up and get things signed before getting a photo with the band. They were all happy and friendly, and overall it was a great experience. The staff at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire were also great, and accommodating of our needs with regards to seating, bringing special foods and so on.
On to the main event, and Beyond The Black were up first. This German symphonic metal band have been getting a lot of attention lately – both for their albums and for the fact that every member except the singer left the band last year. They seemed to have recovered from this well, and put on a cohesive front. They open with their hit Lost In Forever which quickly gets the audience’s attention. They don’t have the time or the stage space to do much with their set, especially when compared to the two musical giants they’re up against, but they do the best they can. Definitely one to watch on the symphonic metal scene. (7/10)
The joint headliners for the tour are another act from Germany, the mighty Powerwolf. Having not experienced much of this band before, I was in for a surprise. The band use a heavy amount of gothic and religious imagery, not dissimilar to Ghost, combined with some completely over the top power metal. We were unsure at first how serious they were, but with song titles like Dead Boys Don’t Cry and Resurrection by Erection it soon became clear. The stage show was energetic and fun, with the band encouraging tons of crowd participation. And the crowd clearly loved it, with many of them having appropriately painted faces and constantly chanting of the band and lead singers’ names. Despite there not being much crossover with Epica fans, their 13 songs still went down a storm. (9/10)
Epica are always a pleasure to see live, and they have been going from strength to strength. Compared to when I first saw them, they are tighter as a band, Simone’s live vocals have improved drastically, and their stage show is on another level. It’s a less personal experience now that the venues are that much bigger, but it’s very impressive, with great lighting and staging (witnessing keyboard player Coen zoom around with his stand on wheels is a particular highlight).
As you might expect, the setlist is heavy on the latest album The Holographic Principle, with 7 songs from that record. The other songs played are a selection from the bands earlier albums, though there is surprisingly little from The Quantum Enigma. Given the quality of their material, you almost feel the band could do with a much longer show. It feels all too soon when we hear the familiar opening to Consign to Oblivion, which always signals the end of an Epica show (it would be nice to see them to mix this up occasionally) and they lead the crowd in a “wall of death” which they jokingly refer to as a “wall of Epica”. By the time they take a bow on the stage of the grand venue, it’s clear that Epica are a band at the top of their game. (9/10)
Author and photos: Sophie Cleverly
The Wembley Arena is a huge deal for many bands: with a capacity of 12,500, it’s an iconic venue that has played host to the likes of Queen, Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden in the past. On this cold night in December, legions of fans are queuing up outside to see the UK’s first arena performance from Nightwish, the final show of their European tour in support of Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Shortly before the show, singer Floor Jansen has revealed that it will be filmed for an upcoming DVD and that there will also be a surprise guest – so excitement levels are high.
Amorphis are the first to take the stage. The Finnish band’s music is a mix of death metal with other genres like progressive and folk. They put on a great performance and get the crowd warmed up well, though they don’t seem to be as excited at the prospect of playing Wembley as the other bands do. With a beautiful backdrop but few other gimmicks, they play a short set of 8 songs, finishing with House of Sleep. A good start to the night. (7/10)
Following them are Swedish death metal band Arch Enemy, bringing with them their new frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz. Their show kicks off with a bang and it’s immediately clear that Alissa is a real powerhouse, growling both the band’s old and new songs with ease as she bounces around the stage. The setlist consists largely of songs from their most recent albums, War Eternal and Khaos Legions. Unlike Angela Gossow (the band’s previous pioneering vocalist), Alissa doesn’t require any effects to pull off her vocals, and she seems to have endless energy and enthusiasm. Their performance is stellar and by the time they conclude the show with their most famous song (Nemesis) they have won over the crowd, many of whom aren’t even fans of the harsher side of metal. (9/10)
And finally it’s the moment everyone’s been waiting for. A curtain in front of the stage drops and Nightwish launch straight into Shudder Before The Beautiful, the opening song of the album. They’ve also brought their full production with them – huge screens with videos that accompany each song, spectacular lighting and even fireworks illuminate the stage. Floor powers her way through Yours Is An Empty Hope, Ever Dream and Storytime. At that point, pipes player Troy Donockley joins them on stage. As a Brit, he’s clearly beside himself with joy at getting to headline the venue.“I’ve been wanting to say this since I was nine years old…” he says. “Hello Wembley!” My Walden follows, a jaunty folk number that gets the entire crowd dancing.
Keeping the hits flowing, there are fab performances of Nemo, I Want My Tears Back and even something from deep into the back catalogue: Stargazers. The final portion of the show is pretty much non-stop epic. Fan favourite Ghost Love Score (or Ghost Love Floor as it has been nicknamed) doesn’t disappoint, and neither does a storming rendition of the usual show closer Last Ride of the Day. But it doesn’t end there… There’s a new epic to perform, and it really is a showstopper. The appropriately titled The Greatest Show On Earth is the final track, a spectacular 20 minute journey through the history of our planet complete with amazing visuals, fireworks and yes – that special guest appearance. At the very end of the song, biologist Richard Dawkins appears on stage to reprise his narration from the album, and is met with much applause.
Overall, this Wembley show is an incredible night that neither the band nor fans will ever forget, and one that cannot be recreated. Thankfully, we’ll get to relive it on DVD. (10/10)
Author and photos: Sophie CleverlyRead the full story
This year's Dames Of Darkness festival took place at the usual haunt, The Robin 2 in Bilston, Wolverhampton, UK. The fifth edition of the festival took place over two days this May with headline acts Sirenia and Leaves' Eyes.
As is tradition, the day began with Grandstand – the recurring 'theme' music that starts the day. DJ Beerman, one of the hosting DJs was quick to welcome the crowd with a few jokes before announcing opening band The Fall Of Eve who were playing the debut show at the festival. The band quickly won the crowd over with their own brand of catchy symphonic metal and array of bombastic beats. The band's latest single Destiny was a real crowd pleaser with its melodic peaks. Vocalist Evangeline had a magnetic energy about her as she pumped the air with her cane to get the crowd going, her vocals were strong and clear with a really sweet tone that carried across the room. From the band's performance is was hard to believe that this was their debut show, The Fall Of Eve displayed confidence and remarkable stage presence that was quite fascinating. (8.5/10)
Next to take the stage was the fourteen-legged beast that is Yorkshire's Aonia, who were quick to make an appearance and pump more enthusiasm into the crowd. Aonia commanded the stage throughout with songs soaring through the more symphonic elements and straight into operatic power metal with tones that hark back to Iron Maiden. The band presented with dual soprano vocals from Joanne Robinson and Melissa Adams which, while at times was a bit hard to digest in the overlap of their voices, provided a really intense, larger than life sound that seemed to peak with Melissa's powerful notes. (7/10)
Having previously seen Rainover at the Quinphonic Festival earlier this year, I was thrilled to watch the band again. The band's chemistry was vibrant and rich as they gave a passionate performance that held the whole audience captive. Andrea Casanova's charisma and charm was relentless as she encouraged the crowd to jump and dance along between songs. Her vocals were perfect and so expressive as they rang out across the room with resounding warmth and clarity. Rainover had the crowd dancing to songs H2SO4 and Dust & Dawn, singing along to fan favourite Cycles and in the next moment silent and speechless through emotive performances of Despair and Rebirth. The band's performance was incredible and rivalled their previous shows, if not being better. (9/10)
Dames Of Darkness 'house' band Apparition followed Rainover. The band were recently reunited with former vocalist Fiona Creaby, and recruited second guitarist Amy Lewis. Opening with The World Of Our Creation, the eight minute long number Dames regulars are familiar with, the band showed that they were back in business with great charisma and chemistry within the new line up. Fiona's voice added a twist to songs we had heard in previous years, with her vocals adding a sweet, warmer depth to some songs and a darker tone to others. After several years, Apparition brought Salvation back into their set, a song which Fiona had originally recorded with the band. Fiona's vocal abilities shone through with note-for-note clarity. Apparition closed with another older song Frozen Roses, which much like Salvation sounded fuller, and bigger with the addition of a second guitarist to the live set up. After many line-up changes through the year, hopefully Apparition have found the perfect line up that works for them – it certainly worked for the audience! (7/10)
UK-based alternative metallers Bad Pollyanna blew every other band that had played that day out of the metaphorical water with their expressive and explosive energy. The band's catchy anthems stuck out amongst the other bands with stompy numbers such as singles Monstrous Child, Hollow and My Incubi. Each song varies from its original studio sound, and the way the band adapt their song for live shows really draws the audience in and keeps them there. Vocalist Olivia Hyde in enthralling with her magnetic, unwavering energy – at one point she stops the crowd and has an emotional and quite raw talk about mental health issues while explaining the concept of the band's new song Create Me. The speech stuck in my mind as one of the most true and real speeches I have heard on the subject. Create Me is an emotional, vocally dominated, slower tempo number for the band which still possessed the heavy chaos Bad Pollyanna represents. Continuing straight on the band launches into Define Me, heavily drenched in sarcastic lyricism the song stands as one of my favourites with a pretty valid point. Olivia gets the crowd chanting along as she really puts all her energy into the song. Bad Pollyanna were probably my favourite band of the day, the way in which their songs deviate from the original studio sound in a live setting as well as the way in which the band performed made for an intense and powerful show. (10/10)
The pace of the day completely changed when Maltese doom metallers Weeping Silence started their set. With its heavy reliance on atmosphere I have always been uncertain as to how well doom metal would translate into a live setting. While the band put out an incredibly tight performance, the atmosphere was never really quite there and I felt that detracted from the performance as a whole and made it feel flat. After the energy of Bad Pollyanna, doom seemed to fall flat, in a different setting, or may be at a different point on the bill the band's sound would have been more enjoyable. (6/10)
Dames regulars may remember Whyzdom from when they played the festival two years ago. Back in 2013, vocalist Marie Rouyer had not long joined the band, fast forward to 2015 and the band had not long ago released their third album, and debut studio effort with Marie on vocals - Symphony For A Hopeless God. The band appear more confident as they taken to the stage amid fake fires and a display of lights. Whyzdom put on a proud display of mystery in their performance, all while maintaining the crowd's enthusiasm. (8/10)
Headlining Saturday's festivities was Norway's Sirenia, their latest album The Seventh Life Path was released the day before the festival and so we were privileged to be amongst the first fans to hear the new material live. Before the band even appeared on stage the crowd was clapping rhythmically, eager for the show to begin. The room came to life again as Sirenia opened with Serpent – taken from the band's new album; the song showcased a darker, rawer energy. Morten's growls took on a harsher, more brutal quality that proved quite the contrast to Ailyn's softer vocals, really playing on the 'beauty and the beast' element that is often present in gothic metal. The band gave out strong performances with songs My Destiny Is Coming To Pass, the crushing, crashing sounds of Seven Widows Weep, lead single from the new album Once My Life and Cold Caress. In places Ailyn's vocals were drowned out by the music, but this was made up for by her strong vocal passages that shined through most of the songs, and her take on earlier Sirenia singles My Mind's Eye and The Other Side – with previous vocalist Monika Pedersen.
The day had been long, and unfortunately, by the time it came for Sirenia's encore things had started to drag. Mostly everyone appeared to be exhausted from their travels and the day's festivities. Overall, though not without the occasional technical slip ups, Sirenia put on an excellent show, proving that they have come a long way and evolved into something quite remarkable. (8/10)
After some much needed rest, we returned to the venue for the second day of the festival. Picking up where we left off yesterday, the day opens with goth metal band Edenfall. Their intro theme sounded like a compilation of sounds from horror movies and the band had the outfits to match. Early on Edenfall captured a melancholic, doomy atmosphere with an overlaying contrast between Rob George's growls and Clare Webster's strong vocals. The band's sound got heavier towards the end as they played through songs from their 2014 release Under Sultry Moons And Velvet Skies, such as Thistle's Cairn and Wolves. Edenfall set a more mellow atmosphere – if mellow can ever be used in connection with metal – for the day, the crowd seemed to enjoy as the band closed to a round of applause. (7/10)
Second to play that day was Insuna, a band that presented with some progressive elements, as well as some groove and djent elements to their music, layered with clean hard vocals and the occasional growls from vocalist AK. The band really engaged with the audience, getting most of the room to thrust their 'horns' in the air with their fiery energy. It was clear to see they were nervous, but that did not detract from the band's overall performance, the guitar solos were well executed, AK continually surprised me with her vocal transitions and the band genuinely looked like they were enjoying themselves on stage. (7/10)
London based melodic metal band EnkElination entered in waves. They built into their first song with individual members emerging and playing a riff until the song came together. EnkElination had a strong stage presence and a brimming confidence that was contagious and enthralled the audience. Elina Siirala's vocals rang out with astounding clarity, and the more confident she grew on stage the more her voice seemed to grow. A large portion of the audience had started to jump along mid-way through the band's set, but this cooled into gentle swaying as the band launched into the beautifully sad ballad Last Time Together. The timbre of Elina's voice is stunningly sweet and as the song ends the room erupts into cheers. Coming to a strong close, EnkElination performed the lead single and title track from their debut album Tears Of Lust and ended to the cheers and applause of delighted fans. (9/10)
Skarlett Riot brought a heavy dose of super fun rock n' roll to the festival, and while failing to incite a circle pit in the front rows the crowd still jumped, head banged and danced hard. The band's sound was catchy and ballsy, enough to give Halestorm a run for their money with anthems like We Will Rise, Riot and Rising. Skarlett Riot's energy is incredible and never falters, everyone on and off stage looked like they were having the time of their life – the front half of the room is bouncing during What We've Become. Skarlett's smile radiates through her voice as she belts out note after note in a completely stunning performance. (10/10)
Winter in Eden then had a tough task as their lead singer Vicky Johnson lost her voice shortly before the show. Determined to continue, they borrowed several other vocalists from the festival. Bexie James from Khaos Theory was up first, and put on a brave performance despite having to read from the lyric sheet. Andrea from Rainover performed next with a ton of enthusiasm, and they rounded the set out with an instrumental and three songs with Melissa from Aonia on vocals. The band remained energetic throughout and commanded a lot of respect from the audience for making the best of a bad situation. (7/10)
The penultimate act was Enemy of Reality from Greece, with Iliana Tsakiraki on vocals. She is a veteran of the genre, but the band as a whole are new to the scene with their debut album Rejected Gods released last year, which they played a selection of songs from. They produced an epic wall of sound with their progressive symphonic metal that really hits you, even at the back of the room. Iliana’s operatic voice is so strong and intense – she is the stand-out aspect of the band that could otherwise get a bit lost amongst all the other acts. Between each song she sweetly smiles and gives heartfelt thanks to the crowd. This band isn’t for everyone, but there were plenty at the fest who were blown away by the powerful performance. (8/10)
Finally it was time for the festival’s Sunday headliners, Leaves’ Eyes. It was an interesting contrast to see them go from their huge 10th anniversary show last year to the relatively small stage of Dames of Darkness, but the show was equally fantastic even when stripped of all the extravagances. Husband and wife vocal team Liv Kristine and Alexander Krull don’t seem to have lost an ounce of their passion for performing, and it shows. There were plenty of the band’s most recent tracks on the setlist – Galswintha, Symphony of the Night, Maid of Lorraine, Hell to the Heavens – as well as plenty of classics from their back catalogue. There was even an appearance from Norwegian Lovesong, taken from their first album. And they looked to the future as well, as Alex made a special announcement that their upcoming record will be called King of Kings, before launching into a brand new song (Halvdan the Black) much to the excitement of the crowd. It’s now pretty much a tradition for them to end with the beautiful Viking epic Frøya's Theme, which is always a real treat to hear. An incredible set from one of the gems of the symphonic metal genre. (10/10)
Overall, this year's Dames experience was fantastic. Opting to expand the festival to a two day event was clearly a good move – it was great to see so many more people in attendance. The crowd were wonderful, and everyone was pretty friendly, we had a fun time meeting old friends and making new ones. Each band brought something different to the festival and the great variety in musical influences, and different styles made for well rounded music journey over the course of the weekend. We would once again like to extend our thanks and appreciation to festival organiser Dave Homer for arranging the festival with its amazing line up, as well as for having us.
Authors: Tayla Dickinson & Sophie Shire
Photography: Sophie Shire