It’s Friday evening in a normally sleepy suburb in Belgium, and hundreds of black t-shirt clad metalheads are descending on the Oktoberhallen for a 3-day weekend of music. Today is the taster evening of the festival – people are meeting up, unpacking the merch stalls.
We unfortunately miss much of Diary Of Destruction due to the bus getting caught in endless traffic jams. From what we briefly do get to see of them, though, they seem a great way to kick off the festival. Both heavy and melodic with a strong vocalist, they’re reminiscent of Killswitch Engage.
Not long later and the extravagant Ayin Aleph takes this stage. This “baroque metal” singer from Russia turns up the theatrics and performs to a slideshow of her own gothic imagery. This is certainly something new and different – combining satisfyingly weighty metal with elements of romanticism and Russian music. She sings and plays the keyboard with dramatic passion. It’s not for everyone, but cheers from the crowd prove that her voyage to the west has been a success.
The headline event of the evening is MFVF United, a replacement for the Eve’s Apple vocalist collective that performed in recent years. On the bill are Ailyn Gimenez (Sirenia), Maxi Nil (Jaded Star), Karolina Pacan (Skeptical Minds), Iliana Tsakiraki (Enemy Of Reality), Mariangela Demurtas (Tristania), Kassandra Novell and Saeko, all performing cover songs. The choices range from some more obvious genre favourites like Bless The Child by Nightwish to more obscure choices like Trains by Porcupine Tree, but all the songs go down well. Saeko also performs her charity song Light Of Life for Japan’s earthquake victims, and the whole group close with another charity number – Stars, originally performed by Dio and others as part of Hear’n’Aid in 1985. As a bit of fun for the opening night, this is a great idea, and people leave the festival excited for the following day.
We stumble off the bus – it’s the morning, and it’s far too early. Luckily, we have the sounds of La-Ventura to wake us up nicely. Accompanied by two enormous taiko drums, the melodic metal band offer up songs from both their previous album and their newest, White Crow. They also had the world premiere of their new music video Song For An Idiot on the big screen. With a lot of promise, they will surely be one to watch in the future.
Up next are Season Of Ghosts, the new project from ex-Blood Stain Child singer Sophia Sama. The music is electronic, and the look has a flavour of gothic Lolita.
With the next band, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a Tim Burton musical. Heidi Parviainen’s Dark Sarah play their first international show and they certainly give it their all. They also bring on Zuberoa Aznárez from Diabulus in Musica (she will prove to be a popular guest) for their hits Memories Fall and Evil Roots. Heidi’s operatic voice is perfect for this eccentric, dramatic music that brings something unique to the festival.
Ancient Bards follow. This Italian symphonic group provide an epic wall of sound that certainly gets your attention. Lead vocalist Sara Squadrani has an extremely strong voice, and she powers through songs like Through My Veins and The Birth Of Evil over galloping drumbeats. There’s not much in the way of staging or gimmicks here, but the band don’t need it – their music is more than enough. They are soon to gain more attention in the future.
Another even newer band comes next - Jaded Star formed in 2013, created by Maxi Nil, previously the lead of Elysion and Visions of Atlantis. This was a slightly strange one given that the band have not actually released any music yet, but Maxi’s popularity was enough to sell the show. They also brought on Mariangela Demurtas for one song, and – memorably – 30 competition winners who danced along with them on stage. Fans will now be eagerly awaiting an album from them.
As they say in Monty Python, now for something completely different… Head Phones President are a Japanese nu metal band, with a vocalist like a whirlwind. Anza Ohyama spins and twirls her long skirt repeatedly on stage (how is she not dizzy?) as she intersperses clean singing with intense screams over crushing riffs. Musically, they remind me a little of In This Moment. It’s an acquired taste, but it just goes to show the variety that MFVF can provide.
From Japan to somewhere far more local, Belgium’s own Skeptical Minds, a staple of MFVF, are the next to play. It would probably be fair to say that the band aren’t that well known outside of their own country, except to those who attend the fest each year. Singer Karolina Pacan is always heavily involved. The electronic/industrial band aren’t quite up to the standards of the others playing – but nevertheless, they are highly popular, and you can see plenty of the crowd wearing their t-shirts as they dance and mosh along.
Then it’s time for the first of the big hitters. Spain’s Diabulus in Musica have been increasing in popularity recently, with their latest album Argia being well received. They’ve brought a choir with them, a small touch that really adds to the sound. Zuberoa’s soprano voice comes across well live and she reveals another talent – playing the flute. In another of the day’s many collaborations, they also bring on fellow Spanish singer Ailyn from Sirenia to perform Furia de Libertad. All in all, the band provide a classic slice of symphonic metal.
It’s then a big welcome back for doom metallers Draconian, playing their first show since 2011 after vocalist Lisa Johansson left to spend more time with family. Her replacement Heike Langhans isn’t feeling well today but she still gives her all, her beautiful voice the perfect accompaniment to Anders Jacobsson’s heartfelt growls. The band’s set is regrettably quite short but we get to hear a great selection of songs from their most recent records A Rose For The Apocalypse and Turning Season Within, as well as Heaven Laid In Tears from Arcane Rain Fell. We’re also treated to stunning new song Dishearten, which promises great things for the band’s long-awaited next record.
The Sirens are next, a new project for genre pioneers Liv Kristine, Anneke Van Giersbergen and Kari Rueslåtten. Together they play a mix of their solo material and songs from their original bands: Theatre of Tragedy, The Gathering and The Third & The Mortal respectively. Their voices blend together to make an almost ethereal sound – their name comes as no surprise after this! Although their back catalogue is perhaps not as well-known as it was, this is a treat for fans who’ve been following the music for a long time.
More sirens to come as Sirenia take the stage. The band don’t tend to do very extensive tours so this is one of only a handful of dates they’ve so far performed in support of latest record Perils Of The Deep Blue. It’s the familiar beauty and the beast set-up with the lovely voice of Ailyn (whose vocals have gone from strength to strength) paired with harsh growls from composer Morten Veland. It was no surprise to hear lots of the bands recent hints, but it was a little more unexpected to hear them cover the gorgeous classic My Lost Lenore from Morten’s original band Tristania.
Finally, it’s time for the event that most have been waiting for: Leaves’ Eyes 10th anniversary show Hymns Of A Decade. It’s clear that this will be something special before it’s even begun, when two giant metal replicas of the famous Norwegian sculpture Sverd i fjell (swords in rock) are wheeled onstage. The band play a set voted for by fans, to the accompaniment of pyrotechnics, folk musicians and dancers – and yes, the swords do catch fire. Ailyn returns to guest on classic song Into Your Light, while Zuberoa guests on Meredead’s first ever live outing. We’re even given a sneak peak of the next record with brand new song Halvdan The Black (a heavy song that reminds us a little of Hell To The Heavens) named for a 9th century Viking king. Liv Kristine is on top form, her light voice soaring over the epic music, while her husband Alex Krull provides harsh vocals and whips the crowd into a frenzy. There’s a patriotic moment as Liv waves her flag for Norwegian Lovesong, and the show is closed with, of course, Frøya's Theme, revered by many as the band’s greatest song. A perfect anniversary event – this will be remembered by Leaves’ Eyes fans for years to come.
Sunday starts a bit later, to the great relief of everyone exhausted from the day before. US band Aria Flame are the first to take the stage. Singer Aziza is well known at the fest for her line of fragrances, but today she’s performing for us as well as making us smell lovely. She brings a strong voice to the symphonic metal band – and some other strong voices join her in the form of fellow US singers Sabrina Cruz, Grace Méridan and Kassandra Novell. A great show to start off the day.
Evenoire from Italy are next to play, another symphonic act (side note: their logo uses a pi symbol instead of an N, and I can’t help reading it as Evenpoire…). This relatively new band have released two albums so far, Vitriol and Herons, and they give us some material from both. It’s nice to see that they blend some folk influences in with their music as well – singer Lisy also plays the flute, which adds a unique touch.
Then it’s time for the third Japanese act of the weekend: visual kei band Magistina Saga. They have certainly put a lot of effort into their visuals, making them a joy to watch. The guitarists come out waving flags before pulling them aside to reveal lead singer Iori with a fabulous black, white and purple multi-layered dress (and a hairdo to match). Their sound is heavy but pretty, with Iori’s sweet melodic vocals. She’s expressive and uses movement brilliantly in her performance. The band get a good welcome to Europe and the festival – even getting to sign the giant duck (of course).
Afterwards, Iliana Tsakiraki (formerly of Meden Agan) returns, bringing new band Enemy Of Reality, fresh from their debut album Rejected Gods. The band play solid heavy metal with Iliana’s immense operatic soprano voice sailing over the top. With only the one album to choose from, the band play it almost all the way through from start to finish – an interesting approach, and something you don’t see very often. This band are ideal for fans of the more classic style of symphonic metal.
Viper Solfa are another new project, this time from Ronny Thorsen, ex-vocalist of Trail of Tears. Miriam “Sphinx” Renvåg provides the female voice of the band. It makes a nice change to what’s come before – something a little more extreme. They come out wearing all black boiler suits, making them look like (as my partner put it) “the pit crew for a Norwegian black metal F1 team”. It gets everyone’s attention, though, as does their heavy and uncompromising music. It’s quite a challenge when you consider that this is another band on the bill who haven’t yet released a debut album, but I think it’s safe to say that plenty of people in the crowd today will be buying a copy.
We’re sticking with heavy now as veteran act Holy Moses come to assault our ears. Frontwoman Sabina Classen has seemingly endless energy as she bounds around the stage, growling her way through an impressive back catalogue that spans over three decades. A comparison to Arch Enemy would be far too easy and not quite right – this is a thrash band, as Sabina assures us. She also makes jokes about the other bands – imploring the audience to “wake up” after all the operatic singing and saying that pretending to leave stage before an encore is completely stupid. It’s all in good, metal fun, and you have to admit that she has a point. The crowd is moshing and headbanging along in no time.
If anyone felt a bit overwhelmed by all of that, it’s back to more familiar territory with Stream Of Passion. The setlist repeats some songs from last year like Collide, The Curse and Street Spirit, but the band do mix things up a bit with some new tracks including A War Of Our Own from their recent album of the same name. Marcela Bovio is a charismatic front woman (and not to mention a skilled violinist) with a beautiful voice. Although they are (again) a band that don’t need gimmicks, it would still be nice to see them with some staging/special effects to add to the whole picture.
Staying with symphonic metal, Xandria make their first appearance at the festival since recruiting Dianne van Giersbergen of Ex Libris. Dianne’s voice is a real pleasure to hear live – she has perfect control, making everything look effortless. The setlist mainly consists of songs from latest album Sacrificium and previous album Neverworld’s End, and she does not struggle with either. There’s even an appearance from classic song Ravenheart, which sounds lovely, but only emphasises how far Xandria have come in recent years. Their change in direction towards a more epic sound has really paid off for them.
The surprise massive hit of the day are folk metallers Arkona. The band’s plane was delayed and they end up running on stage in their t-shirts and jeans, not having had time to put on their usual stage outfits. Nevertheless, their show is intense. Energetic lead vocalist Masha Scream pours her heart and soul into both her growls and clean singing – and despite most of us not being able to speak Russian, we’re hanging on every word. Everyone seems to be caught up in the show, cheering and moshing without having to be asked as the band play everything from classics like Goi, Rode, Goi! to new songs like Yav and Serbia. By the end of the set people are dancing like crazy in the crowd (we spot some beardy blokes skipping arm in arm at one point) – this has been easily the strongest performance of the day, if not the whole weekend.
Therion, then, have an awful lot to live up to. Unfortunately, they don’t quite manage it. They certainly try their best, bringing out huge songs like Sitra Ahra, The Birth Of Venus Illegitima and To Mega Therion, and it’s clear that this genre pioneering band have a lot of classical credibility. They just seem like the sort of band that should be viewed with an orchestra and choir behind them, whereas instead they have a bunch of singers with uncoordinated outfits who spend a lot of time looking lost. Musically everything is good, but there’s something missing that leaves them not quite working as a headliner, and much of the crowd filters away. Those who do stay certainly look enthralled, though – there’s a lot of love for their theatrics, even if doesn’t work for everyone.
The one thing that really stood out to me over the weekend is just how diverse MFVF is. Looking at the singers on stage, you find voices ranging from the deepest growls to soaring operatic heights. There are big singers and small singers. Singers of different races and nationalities. Singers in corsets and singers in battle jackets. There’s always room for more, of course, but it reminded me that there is a reason why this festival is so essential to the music scene. It shows what women in metal can be: everything.
Author & Photography: Sophie Cleverly-EdwardsRead the full story