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Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Epica, Myrkur & Oceans Of Slumber (Live Review By Paul)

Epica, Myrkur, Oceans Of Slumber, O2 Academy Bristol

It’s hopefully a sign of the times that women in metal finally appear be increasing in number. Whether intentional or not, this three-band bill pleasingly starred an all-female front row and it was damn good too.

The Banished Heart, the latest release from US outfit Oceans of Slumber (8) certainly stirred the interest pot earlier this year and the band proved that their material is as strong live as it is on record. A shortish set was initially masked by a muddy sound but once the microphone of front woman Cammie Gilbert was given prominence, it was a phenomenal show. Cramming six musicians to the front of the stage meant that movement was restricted but Oceans Of Slumber let the music do the talking to great effect. Their combination of dark and heavy progressive death metal blended perfectly with the intense and delicate passages which allowed Gilbert to highlight her stunning voice. Tracks from The Banished Heart were well received by the small but slowly increasing numbers in the crowd. A superb, understated set which led to a deserved ovation. With a better sound this would have brilliant.

Having seen Myrkur (9) at Damnation in November, anticipation was already high, and Amalie Bruun and her hooded cohort delivered in stunning style. The atmosphere heightened by swirling smoke combined with the inverted Danish flag strategically placed behind Bruun contributed to a mesmerising 40 minutes with songs from 2017’s masterful Maerdit and 2015’s debut M interspersed through the set. It may be hard to distinguish what song is which in the live arena, but Bruun's incredible voice, high pitch magnificently controlled, meant that it doesn’t really matter as you are exported to a different place for most of the performance. Thunderous black metal combined with beautiful passages captivated and enchanted the audience. Dressed in her trademark white flowing dress, Bruun limited her interaction with the crowd to a couple of “thank you Bristol”. However, the mystique that has emerged over the past couple of years remained unbroken, and the concluding percussion only folk tale only elevated the experience to one that transcended mere mortals. Closing one's eyes allowed you to be transported to another plane. Quite magnificent.

I’ve never been a massive fan of symphonic metal. The multiple layered sound which pervade the songs tend to overwhelm me, with the female vocals soaring above the cacophony often merely adding to the maelstrom of Eurovision style rock. As a result, Epica (8) is a band who have rarely crossed my radar, but tonight, on my second viewing of the band, the Dutch outfit oozed confidence and polish as they blasted through an impressive set which unsurprisingly focused heavily on tracks from their most works, The Quantum Enigma and 2016’s The Holographic Principle. Having to follow two splendid opening acts, was a challenge, but with the benefit of a crystal-clear sound, Simone Simons’ operatic vocals cut through the huge riffs and double bass drumming with ease, her stage presence impressive as she commanded the enthusiastic audience with each twist and turn.

Flanked by guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye, Simon demonstrated poise and self-assurance whilst the enjoyment of the band on stage was evident with their enthusiasm at times greater than that of the crowd. If there was one irritant, it had to be the constant Sabaton-like interplay, with keyboard player Coen Janssen the main culprit. His rotating keyboards appeared gimmicky, as did his frequent and unnecessary forays to the front of the stage, and bassist Rob Van Der Loo seemed at times to spend more time messing around with Janssen than focussing front and centre. That gripe aside, Epica are truly a polished outfit, with their interplay seamless. I still find their music too similar, with little at times to distinguish them from their peers in Nightwish, Within Temptation, Delain et al, but that’s probably me doing this classy and striking band who are, despite my reluctance, a quality act in the live arena.

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