Epica - LIVE: Rescue Rooms 2011

UK Tour
Nottingham - March 11
Capacity 480

At the start of 2009, the news that After Forever were to make their break more permanent was a blow to fans of female fronted metal everywhere. The loss of one of the major staples in the genre has been felt for the last two years, with very little filling in the gap.

One band that has helped fill the void though has been Epica. The band – once rivals (Mark Jansen having quit After Forever to found Epica) but since become close friends – share a similar but heavier and more technical sound, and have grown in popularity considerably over the last few years. Similarly, After Forever's front woman Floor Jansen (no relation to Mark) returned to metal in 2010 with a new project, ReVamp. Both ReVamp's debut and Epica's last record, Design Your Universe, stand as two of the best female fronted metal albums of the last two years – so a joint tour of the UK was something not to be missed by any fan of the genre.

Nottingham's Rescue Rooms does seem a bit small for the line up, the venue having all but sold out for tonight's event. The Rescue Rooms have a large stage, but a somewhat narrow layout – not entirely perfect for gigs, but it'll do. Certainly a recipe for a long, hot and sweaty night.

The large crowd already assembled by the time the lights dim for ReVamp, a mere 45 minutes after the doors opened, should give indication of how anticipated they are as a support act. After a short intro tape, the band – mostly unknowns who weren't actually on the album – arrived on stage to considerable applause. The sound to begin with was somewhat sketchy; drums and keyboards high in the mix but guitars way down, a worrying start.

Thankfully such things were quickly forgotten as Floor Jansen graced the stage, to more cheering as expected. For a singer that has spent several years out of the limelight and only returned to performing metal full time last year, Floor shows little sign of being out of the loop. If anything, her performance and skill as a front woman seems to have grown since the end of After Forever. She strides confidently to a delighted crowd, her delivery near-flawless. If there were ever to be a definitive front woman in the world of heavy metal, then ladies and gentleman, this would be it. She isn't a delicate flower, and as she is too eager to declare she prefers a tasty lager to a more ladylike wine, but boy does she know what it takes to be a proper metal front woman. Unlike some female singers who can't do live performances justice, Floor breathes such immense life to her songs live, a truly immense and awe-inspiring voice that simply has to be witnessed for oneself.

The band's sound problems resolved themselves by about the third song, the bombastic Fast Forward. Whilst perhaps lacking any star power in her line up, Floor's band perform well in their roles. This is Floor's show, obviously, and the band fall in line to support her rather than overshadow her. There is a feeling at times that perhaps the band are at a loss being little more than a solo project, with a band who weren't actually involved in the album's recording, but they perform well regardless.

But really, this was always going to be this way, and Floor really does have the crowd at her fingertips. At the end of one song, after the cheering has died down, there's an almost chilling silence as the crowded venue waits for her next word, to be met by a bemused Dutch woman joking about the situation. The singer's vocal repertoire has also expanded. On the band's debut, the singer is joined by guest appearances from the likes of Russell Allen, Bjorn “Speed” Strid and George Oosthoek – a power metal vocalist, melodeath growler and doom/death grunter respectively. Whilst the band's guitarist does handle some growling, especially on opener Here's My Hell, Floor does take to filling the roles of both Allen and Strid on Sweet Curse (arguably better) and Disdain (resorting to fearsome yells, though some brief grunting is involved as well).

There are times where the singer's energy seems to get the better of her – like pumping up the crowd to the detriment of singing the actual chorus on Disdain. There are also some disappointments – as nice as the ReVamp material is, it's still not quite up on par with the best of After Forever's material, which sadly the band doesn't visit this time around. But overall the performance was high calibre and extremely well received by an awfully packed crowd. Most headliners would be lucky to get such a good response – tonight, ReVamp won many fans.

If the venue was packed for the opening band, then by the time Epica come on it is exhaustingly full. Epica's popularity in the last few years seems to have soared, having long since surpassed that of Mark's former band and as it stands now threatening to become as popular, or more so, than the likes of Lacuna Coil. Of course, another reason for the band's large crowd tonight is simply down to how long it has been since the band last headlined in the UK. Epica were originally meant to visit the UK whilst touring The Divine Conspiracy, but due to singer Simone Simons contracting MRSA, the tour was cut down to one supporting appearance with Symphony X – and that was the last we saw of the band in Britain, bar an appearance at Hammerfest. A headline appearance from Epica on UK shores has been long overdue.

That being said, whilst those waiting for the band to finally return to headlining shows in the UK await in anticipation, those who have seen the band across the sea will now know what to expect. Epica's headline shows are fairly lengthy (rarely being under two hours), and have a fondness for bringing out the band's longer tracks such as regular set closer Consign To Oblivion (at ten minutes), and Kingdom of Heaven, a fourteen minute epic that's also one of the highlights from their last album. Whilst normally this would be great, one can't help but think that this is rather exhausting in a baking venue such as the Rescue Rooms.

The band's set is suitably professional and difficult to fault. Epica have, after all, been touring Design Your Universe for two years now, across both Europe and the Americas. Anything short of a perfectly executed performance would be inexcusable. Perhaps the main flaw here is that there is the feeling that the band have done this so many times before and are ready for the next record, which is entirely understandable.

For those in attendance tonight though, this is a long overdue showing of some of the highlights of both Design Your Universe and '07's The Divine Conspiracy. The set list also brings out a considerable amount of tracks from the band's first two albums, The Phantom Agony and Consign To Oblivion, including the rather rare Mother of Light. All the other staples of an Epica show are there – the anthems (Resign To Surrender, The Obsessive Devotion), the ballads (Tides of Time), the aforementioned epics and just enough time to play something from their live classical album (The Imperial March – do you need to be told where this is from?). Unlike openers ReVamp, Epica are blessed with a somewhat perfect sound throughout, with Simone Simons voice glistening over the band's tight set. There are some notable exclusions – whilst perhaps the likes of single Never Enough never did work live, classics such as Chasing The Dragon and Fools of Damnation are noticeably missing. Perhaps the only reason for this is simply time – and at a lengthy two hours, this set was plenty long enough!

Little argument can be made as to what the highlight of the set was, as the band retook the stage for their encore, following on from some interesting attempts at humour from keyboard player and recent father, Coen Janssen (again, no relation). As a surprise treat, Floor Jansen retook the stage to duet with Simone on Divine Conspiracy favourite Sancta Terra. Most singers are usually dwarfed by Floor's overwhelmingly powerful voice, but to Simone's credit she might be one of the very few singers who can hold her own alongside her, truly revealing that beyond the pretty exterior lies a much bigger talent. Floor herself sang the song as if it was her own, managing to excel performing Simone's parts, as well as adding additional harmonies of her own. Between the two of them they might just represent the very best that female fronted metal has to offer, and whilst this is hardly the first time the two singers have graced the stage together, it was still the image that most of the crowd would take home with them. A terrific end to a highly enjoyable evening, albeit a very hot one.

Tonight was proof that when it comes to female fronted metal, the Netherlands is still very much ahead of the pack. With ReVamp due to return to the UK this May for the Femme Metal Festival in Birmingham, and Mark Jansen's new MaYaN project about to unfold, it might just be that the heydays are back again.

“ a long overdue showing ”

ReVamp Setlist: Here's My Hell / All Goodbyes Said / Fast Forward / Break / Sweet Curse / Disdain / Million / Kill Me With Silence / No Honey For The Damned / Head Up High / Disgraced

Epica Setlist: Samadhi / Resign To Surrender / Sensorium / The Last Crusade / Unleashed / Martyr of The Free Word / Cry For The Moon / The Imperial March / Tides of Time / Mother of Light / The Obsessive Devotion / Kingdom of Heaven // Sancta Terra / Quietus / Consign To Oblivion

Written by James Donovan
More: 2011, Female-fronted, Gigs, Symphonic, ,

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