The week before last my wife and I went to the O2 Academy in Bristol to catch the opening show of Dutch symphonic metal band Epica‘s short UK tour.
The night before the show we received word that the timings had changed so that the doors would now be opening at 6:30pm instead of 7:00pm. This seems to be a recurring theme with gigs lately, as this was the third in a row I’ve been to where the timings shown on the ticket was subsequently changed.
Having arranged a babysitter for the kids for the evening we headed off to Bristol in plenty of time to arrive for 6:15pm. We were aiming for that time as we had arranged for a disabled access ticket for my wife and were therefore able to enter the venue before the official time.
However, traffic on the M32 into Bristol had other ideas, and it was nearly 7:00pm by the time we arrived at the car park behind the venue. The door staff were excellent and arranged for a medical person to come and escort us to the area reserved for the disabled and their carers immediately. I must say that this was a huge help to my wife, enabling her to sit in a usually standing-only venue, with a good view of the stage as she wouldn’t be able to manage a standing event.
The first band of the night were Scar Symmetry, a Swedish death metal band, and the one I suspected that my better half would enjoy least. As it turned out the traffic delay meant that we arrived in time to witness the band’s final song “The Illusionist” so neither of us had time to make much of a judgement – though my wife did say that she thought the band’s singer had smeared his arms in baby oil to make himself look sweaty!
After a fairly brief interval it was time for band number two, Swiss folk metal act Eluveitie. An eight piece, the band feature two electric guitarists (Rafael Salzmann and Ivo Henzi), bassist (Kay Brem), drummer (Merlin Sutter), violinist (Shir-Ran Yinon), a hurdygurdy player / occasional vocalist (Anna Murphy), a guy who played tin whistle and bagpipes (Matteo Sisti) and a lead vocalist (Chrigel Glanzmann) who also played mandolin. Quite an eclectic mix of instrumentation resulting in a sound that I described on the night as sounding like they could have been the offspring of The Corrs and Slipknot.
The group had the audience well and truly enthralled, with Glanzmann and Murphy (who took the lead on the atmospheric “Scorched Earth”) being the focal points – there were even a couple of girls in the audience dressed somewhat like Katheryn Winnick’s character in the TV series “Vikings” – so much so that they had an encore at the end of their set, which is something that I’ve never seen a support act do in all the years I’ve been attending concerts.
Unfortunately guitarists Salzmann and Henzi were not very audible, I would imagine it’s rather tricky trying to get a good balance of such a range of instruments. I thought that Sisti had his work cut out too, simply because it can’t be easy trying to look all rock and roll when you’re holding a tin whistle and it’s not your turn to be playing!
A side effect of the pain medication that my other half has to take is that she often falls asleep rather quickly mid-evening. This one was no exception and she did indeed fall asleep during Eluveitie’s set, albeit only briefly rather than completely. I don’t imagine that this is something that occurs often when they are playing!
Ultimately the band had nearly as much stage time as the headliners, and to be honest I felt that, enjoyable though their music is, it became rather samey after a while, with the Celtic reels tending to sound much the same from song to song. There’s no denying that the band went down really well on the night though.
Intro – Origins / 2. King / 3. Nil / 4. Luxtos / 5. Omnos / 6. The Call Of The Mountains / 7. From Darkness / 8. Brictom / 9. Scorched Earth / 10. Kingdom Come Undone / 11. Neverland / 12. Tegernakô / 13. Havoc / 14. Alesia / 15. Inis Mona
1, 2, 6 and 7 originally from “Origins” (2014) / 3 and 10 originally from “Everything Remains (As It Never Was)” (2010) / 4, 9, 11, 14 and 15 originally from “Helvetios” (2012) / 5 and 8 originally from “Evocation I : The Arcane Dominion” (2009) / 12 originally from “Spirit” (2006) / 15 originally from “Slania” (2008)
Before we knew it the lights went down again for Epica as the intro tape “Originem” from their most recent album “The Quantum Enigma” boomed out through the PA. This was just the first of seven tracks taken from that album given an airing during the set, demonstrating perhaps just how strong the band believe the record to be.
The band entered the stage – first drummer Ariën Van Weesenbeek, then keyboard player Coen Janssen, bassist Rob Van Der Loo and guitarists Isaac Delahaye and Mark Jansen – and they plunged headlong into “The Second Stone”, with singer Simone Simons last, but certainly not least, onto the stage.
From the off it was clear to see that here was a band thoroughly enjoying what they do. Janssen was very entertaining spinning his keyboard around to face different directions, sometimes strapping on a portable keyboard and interacting well with the rest of the band and the audience with a humour filled performance.
Delahaye and Jansen’s guitar playing was top-notch and fit seamlessly with one other, whilst also involving the audience through smiles and gestures.
Band founder Jansen’s harsh vocals came across clearly too. This is the one thing that my wife is less keen on, but she commented that it worked much better live than on record because she felt that the band’s instrumentation and vocals actually meshed better and made the experience more enjoyable as a result.
Van Der Loo and Weesenbeek anchored everything brilliantly. It did seem a bit odd to see the drum kit positioned stage left (the keyboards being stage right) rather than centrally, but it was quickly clear that the central riser was for Simons to use in addition to the front of stage.
And what of Simons? Well, her vocals were superb. Admittedly she was supported by pre-recorded backing vocals, but given the often choral nature of Epica’s backing vocals that really was the only way to achieve the fullness of sound that you hear on their recordings.
Nonetheless, it was clear what was her live vocal and what was pre-recorded and her performance was flawless. Not as operatic as some singers in this particular genre, Simons has a purer sound to my mind making the lyrics clearer and more intelligible than some of her contemporaries.
Of course, speaking for myself, it doesn’t hurt that she is so easy on the eye too – though I wasn’t madly keen on the skirt chosen for this performance as it didn’t make the most of her legs – but that’s me being an old-fashioned sexist male I expect!
It’s hard to pinpoint specific highlights of the band’s set as it really was of a uniformly high standard from start to finish and the whole group performed excellently and with a clear sense of enjoyment and fun. This was illustrated perfectly by the rendition of “The Phantom Agony” at the end of the main set.
Simons prefaced it by asking if we’d all brought our dancing shoes and then said that they’d prepared a disco number for us. Naturally, as the song started I presumed she’d been joking. However, when a couple of minutes into the song the band broke into a disco beat and started dancing around it became clear that she was not! A video is currently available on YouTube. I’ve subsequently discovered that this isn’t the first tour that the band have done this on, but it was great entertainment on the night.
After keyboard teases from Janssen offstage the band returned for a well deserved encore before we headed off into the night for the journey home. A fabulous gig by a great band, with some excellent lighting and perfect sound – thoroughly enjoyable!
Again praise must be given to the staff at the O2 who were on hand to ensure that my wife and I were able to exit the building safely, even offering the opportunity to get to the merchandise stall quickly too. It’s also worth mentioning that all of the fans that we (or more specifically my wife) encountered were polite and respectful and did their best to give any help that they could. This all added to an already great night that will live long in the memory…
1. Intro – Originem / 2. The Second Stone / 3. The Essence Of Silence / 4. Sensorium / 5. The Fifth Guardian / 6. Chemical Insomnia / 7. Unleashed / 8. Martyr Of The Free World / 9. Cry For The Moon (The Embrace That Smothers, Part IV) / 10. The Obsessive Devotion / 11. Victims Of Contingency / 12. Design Your Universe 13. The Phantom Agony / 14. Sancta Terra / 15. Unchain Utopia / 16. Consign To Oblivion (A New Age Dawns, Part III)
1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11 and 15 originally from “The Quantum Enigma” (2014) / 4, 9 and 13 originally from “The Phantom Agony” (2003) / 7, 8 and 12 originally from “Design Your Universe” (2009) / 10 and 14 originally from “The Divine Conspiracy” (2007) / 16 originally from “Consign To Oblivion” (2005)