Review of Epica Gig at The Electric Ballroom
Despite my love for symphonic metal bands such as Nightwish, Xandria and Leave’s Eyes, I have never actually given Epica a chance until recently despite them being one of the biggest names of the genre. A friend recommended them saying they’re basically a heavier Nightwish, to say they are heavier is putting it mildly but the two bands have few similarities.
For the uninitiated, symphonic metal typically refers to a fusion of metal and progressive rock with the likes of classical and folk music (Nordic and Celtic influences are easy to find with most bands). The sound is often bombastic, melodic and theatrical in nature, keyboards and gothic overtones are also commonplace. Invariably symphonic metal groups are fronted by women, classically trained mezzo-sopranos are a genre favourite (and is the case with Epica).
Symphonic metal has a limited audience in the UK due to limited exposure, but a lot of people seem receptive to it when I introduce them. If you’re a lover of more accessible rock, catchy melodies, ballads and film score music then try Nightwish’s ‘Once’, ‘Dark Passion Play’ and ‘Imaginaerum’ albums. But if metal is more your thing and you long for something heavier and less conventional then go for the likes of Epica’s ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’ which focuses much more on the metal rather than the symphonic. Keyboards are apparent but take a back seat to the dual guitars and Simone Simon’s angelic voice frequently plays off against Mark Jansen’s death metal grunts.
I went to see Epica at Camden’s Electric Ballroom only knowing bits of the new record and perhaps a couple other songs so this gig was going to be my true initiation to this band and I can tell you now, I’m hooked! The venue is very intimate to say the least. The band had virtually no stage production barring a handful of lights and a smoke machine; they didn’t even have a banner with their name on! This of course meant that the only visual spectacle this evening was the band members themselves, on a stage that could barely contain the six of them.
After a lengthy intro Epica finally emerged and ripped straight into ‘Monopoly Of Truth’, the opening number of their latest record that also just happens to be a brutal 7-minute piece (conventional song structure is a no-no for Epica) which in itself showcases both the hard and soft elements that Epica has to offer. The first thing that grabbed me was the astonishing sound quality, every note from every instrument flew out through the air with near-perfect clarity and it was perhaps the tightest gig I’ve heard all year.
The band members themselves had fantastic chemistry on stage, they played as a group and created a terrific sense of fun. Simone has a belting voice that can switch seamlessly between all-out opera and cleaner rock melodies and she never missed a note all evening from what I could here, phenomenal performance! That being said though, Simone didn’t steal the show, which is a testament to how the whole band played as one. Very often the lead singer takes all the attention for themselves and you can imagine this issue being augmented
tenfold when the singer is a beautiful red-head in a black dress amongst sweaty topless men… but the guys matched her energy and since Epica’s pieces involve heavy instrumental sections there were long periods where Simone left the stage and the boys had to carry the show by themselves. The between-song chit chat was, short, sweet, genuinely endearing and there were a couple of jokes about it being the last Epica show ever since the world was due to end the following day. Mark and Simone handled the audience interaction in equal share but for the most part they just played.
I was unfamiliar with a lot of the material and my friend accompanying me had no prior knowledge of the band whatsoever, but it makes one listen more intently and since the band was so damn tight I was actually picking up chorus lines, able to sing along to songs I didn’t know and there was no low point in the set. The band played a lot of progressive numbers that constantly switch in tempo and melody but it was first and foremost a heavy metal show with no ballads to speak of. One major highlight did include a track called ‘Cry For The Moon’, brilliant song in itself but made all the better when a lady called Marcela Bovio came on stage and played violin during the song’s opening. Marcela actually returned for the first song of the encore ‘Sancta Terra’ to perform a duet with Simone and as my friend rightfully pointed out, she can sing just as well as Simone!
If I had to make a criticism of the entire night, it could only be that I would have appreciated a longer setlist. Epica only played 13 songs, which from a numerical standpoint is a short set but on the other hand the band was on stage for nearly 1h40m with very little downtime between numbers so it is difficult to complain about length of show.
At time of writing it is Boxing Day and so the Epica show will mark my final gig of 2012 and what a way to end! I have not had this much fun at a show this year since Rammstein waaaaaay back in February. Ironic since one band played a greatest hits set at the O2 Arena with a VERY extensive stage production and the other played a set (75% I did not recognise) in a glorified pub and didn’t even have enough room to put a band banner on the stage. Just goes to show a band doesn’t need much outside its individual members to put on a brilliant performance.
Monopoly Of Truth
Martyr Of The Free
World Serenade Of Self Destruction
Cry For The Moon/Drum solo (featuring Marcela Bovio on violin)
The Phantom Agony —
Sancta Terra (featuring Marcelo Bovio on vocals)
Storm The Sorrow
Consign To Oblivion
Review by Al Westlake