Voices in the Night - Metal Female Voices Fest V, Oktoberhallen, Wieze, 19th and 20th October 2007
There’d been a couple of changes to the MFVF set-up since I was last here. This time around, instead of two side-by-side stages there was just one massive stage, built to accommodate Leaves’ Eyes dramatic Viking longship which stretched across its full width. Secondly, the bands were almost all introduced by Miss Metal 2008: I’m sure she’s a very nice young lady, and she managed a couple of frock changes as is de rigeur in the MFV scene, but it was pretty cheesy to say the least.
Circumstances meant that we missed the four-band bill topped by Doro on the Friday night, and due to the 10 o’clock start we also missed Valkyre, Interria, Imperia and Distorted on the Saturday. Still, the travelling plans worked out beautifully and we arrived as planned in time on Saturday to catch DRACONIAN. Originally formed back in 1994, the Swedish band have their roots more in the classic goth/doom side of the genre with dual vocalists in Lisa Johansson and Anders Jacobsson and heavy doom-laden riffing from Johan Ericson and Daniel Arvidsson. The band’s sound is downbeat and gloomy, although executed with precision. ‘She Dies’ from their third album, 2006’s ‘The Burning Halo’, stood out for me, although there were no duds in their forty-minutes on stage. After their set, Lisa told me that their performance was “typical of a Draconian show. It’s a bit odd for us as we’re not very used to playing live shows: we haven’t actually had that many shows for a few years but we hope that we’re going to be doing more in the future.” With a new album ‘Turning Season Within’ due next year, it looks as if the band are going to start raising their profile, and deservedly so.
Broadswords aloft, more blood and gore than a Tarantino convention, atmosphere and excitement: it’s got to be BATTLELORE. The Tolkein-loving Finns were in fine form, and after the more downbeat Draconian showcased almost the opposite end of the genre’s spectrum. Kaisa Jouhki sang wonderfully, and the interplay between her vocals and the grunts ‘n’ growls (and sword-wielding) of Tomi Mykkänen was used to great effect. Maria’s keyboards decided to throw a wobbly during the set, but that appeared to be fixed with minimal disruption while the male members of the band ran amuck and generally did what you’d expect from a band called Battlelore. ‘House Of Heroes’ and ‘Summon The Wolves’ (both from ‘Evernight’, the band’s current and fourth album) were the stand-out songs of their performance.
Elbert de Hoog, from rising Dutch stars A New Dawn, suggested I get a clear spot from which to photograph SERAPHIM (whom A New Dawn had supported) as they were “good, but small!” And as the Taiwanese five-piece shuffled on stage I could see what he meant. There’s no doubting the band’s commitment as they played their hearts out, but I’m not sure a power metal band with operatic vocals actually works particularly well. Both components were well played, but it was a bit of a bizarre mix and in the end the band were hard to watch and difficult to listen to. I came away thinking that either the boys tone down the Dragon Force riffs and work with the singer, or they get in a guy and go all the way down the power metal’s Route 66.
If ever there was a band to pull things back on track it was DELAIN. Although seemingly a project at first with an album chock full of guest musicians, Martijn Westerholt’s band are now a real force to be reckoned with. With few frills or flash, they came on, plugged in and delivered a spell-binding performance, beautifully paced and superbly executed. Midway through the set three things struck me. The first was how redundant those special guests – Sharon den Adel, Marco Hietala, Liv Kristine etc – are now, as the members of Delain 2007 have put their own stamp on the songs. The second was that singer Charlotte Wessels looked so at ease you’d think she’d been playing to crowds this big all her life. And the third was that I could listen to this band all night long: why, for example, can’t every band write songs as good as ‘The Gathering’? At the end of a triumphant 45 minutes, album closer ‘Pristine’ wrapped up what was, for me, the show of the day.
Some interview commitments meant that I didn’t see as much of ELIS as I would have liked. They were here at MFVF3 with their singer Sabine Dünser who died tragically last year, and appeared as non-playing guests the following year. This time they were back to play once more, with new singer Sandra Schleret. After two openers, they aired their current single ‘Show Me The Way’, originally sung by Sabine on the band’s ‘Griefshire’ album and now re-recorded by Sandra, which was touchingly dedicated to Sabine. After the most unfortunate of circumstances, it’s good to have them back in business once more, and I look forward to watching them properly in the not-too-distant future. By the way – and this is not one of my observations – but what on earth was Sandra wearing?
Having just got a copy of the band’s extremely good new semi-acoustic live album ‘Invanity’, I was keen to see FLOWING TEARS in full-on electric mode. “Nothing to dislike about them, but nothing to get excited about either,” commented one of my colleagues, but I beg to differ. Their performance was not only atmospheric and moody, but also a masterclass in control, in not showing your hand too early, in revealing the band’s strengths one at a time. And besides, I’m a sucker for synchronised headbanging and unexpected black metal vocals from female singers! Having been in the MIA file for a while, the band – vocalist Helen Vogt, guitarist Benjamin Buss, bassist Frederic Lesny and drummer Stefan Gemballa – seemed to be having a blast, which Helen confirmed afterwards. “It was a great concert with an amazing atmosphere. The audience was just stunning. It was a pleasure rocking for them, and it was a damn good feeling being back on stage again.” And as for the black metal vocals, which is something you don’t hear that often from a female singer... “Definitely! But I really like it! The grunts ‘developed’ on our tour with Samael. When we were in Poland, there was a concert with only ‘die-hard death metal fans’ in the audience, who didn’t want to see any band with female vocals. So I started grunting the choruses, just to get any reaction and it worked perfectly. In the course of this tour, we discovered that this suited certain parts of our songs, and that’s why I always use these grunts for live shows. And the reactions I get are great!”
Rumours abounded that SIRENIA had pulled out of the show, but unfortunately those rumours turned out to be false. The band, whose ‘Nine Destinies And A Downfall’ album is one of the highlights of 2007, put on a display which to my mind was at best disappointing and at worst inept. With Morten Veland and guest guitarist Bjørnar Landa seemingly rooted to the spot the band seemed lost on the cavernous stage. And with all the bass, keyboards and orchestration on backing tracks, the set took on the air of a karaoke show. Singer Monika Pedersen’s aimless wandering across the stage was frankly embarrassing: apart from the odd line here and there, she sang just three songs (all from ‘Nine Destinies…’), and all of them were painful. Sirenia’s position on the bill, and the fact that people were keen to get into a good position for Epica, guaranteed them a sizeable audience, although they deserved neither. Fortunately, after ‘My Mind’s Eye’, Veland announced the last song but drummer Jonathon A Perez was already standing beside him, delivering the message that they were out of time (Landa’s guitar problems had resulted in a very late start). That their set was terminated by the musical equivalent of a bullet in the head was a great relief: I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in a band in my life.
As a big Leaves’ Eyes fanboy, it pains me to say this but it’s pretty obvious that a considerable number of people had come to see EPICA. And with Sirenia shooting themselves in the foot, Holland’s finest wouldn’t really have had to do much to win the crowd over. But the band were in no mood to leave anything to chance and instead delivered a headliner’s set, rammed full of powerful songs, passionate performances and pyrotechnics. Lots of pyrotechnics! The band had a ball, covering every available inch of the stage, and Simone Simons is a truly captivating singer. Epica are rolling on the best album of their career to date, and it’s no surprise that the cream of their show was drawn from ‘The Divine Conspiracy’: ‘Never Enough’ (with an explosive finale), ‘Fools Of Damnation’ and the soulful labyrinth ‘Chase The Dragon’ (again replete with flames ‘n’ bombs) accounted for a good third of their sixty-minute set and ably highlighted the album’s strengths as well as shouting out loud ‘n’ proud that Epica are challenging for a spot amongst the genre’s big three: Nightwish, Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation take note. Inevitably, ‘Consign to Oblivion’ rounded things off, and such was the challenge to Leaves’ Eyes it was as if Epica had thrown down the proverbial gauntlet. “Didn’t realise they were the headliners,” said one of my colleagues, mischievously.
Because of the need to make sure things were right – the LEAVES’ EYES show was being filmed for a full-length DVD – the thirty-minute changeover stretched into an hour which broke up the momentum somewhat, and it was close to eleven o’clock before the ‘Vinland Saga’ tape started to roll. The band emerged from the longship to ‘Farewell Brave Men’, with Liv Kristine mindful not to catch her foot in her hem and break her neck as she descended the stairs. It’s difficult to review the performance as it was staged for the cameras and so was stripped of spontaneity; for example, dropping a cello solo into the intro to ‘Mourning Tree’ to allow time for the first dress change. However, the lengthy set gave them the opportunity to really mine their back catalogue, and in playing ‘For Amelie’, ‘Skraelings’, and ‘Temptation’ back-to-back, the band pretty much showcased everything Leaves’ Eyes stands for in three songs. The individual performances were, as ever, spot-on, and you can always rely on the appearance of Alexander Krull to really get things moving. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay to the end, so missed the inevitable pyrotechnics, but there’s always the DVD to look forward to. And you know what? It’s going to be stunning!
John Tucker, November 2007
For ProgPower UK Webzine (www.progpoweruk.com)