Metal Female Voices Festival 2011

Oktoberhallen, Weize - October 21-23
event website | venue website | full line-up

The term 'Female Fronted Metal' often means different things. For some it represents bands within the loose group of genres of symphonic and gothic metal, led by acts such as Nightwish and Lacuna Coil. For others it represents a time of classic heavy metal fronted by hard-rocking ladies such as Warlock and Girlschool. Yet to others the term simply means exactly what it says – metal, whatever form it might be, with a female singer somewhere within the mix. Metal Female Voices Festival, for better or for worse, holds firmly to this use of the term, and as such brings a wide range of metal bands from brutal death to soft symphonic, so long as they adhere to this one basic requirement.

The result is a festival line-up that can be often divisive. In fact whilst the festival is called Metal Female Voices Festival, to an extent it could easily be called Metal Female Voices and Male Screamers and Growlers Festival, such is the dominance of beauty/beast bands across the bill. Given the majority of symphonic/gothic metal is built upon the foundation provided by this setup though, this tends to be rather expected.

The line up itself was very much dominated by that of Napalm Records, whose roster provided over a third of the line up this year. With the exception of Arkona and Van Canto, every eligible artist on the label's roster with a new album already out this year attended (Battlelore, Leaves' Eyes, Midnattsol, Stream of Passion, Draconian, Visions of Atlantis), as well as several artists with albums expected next year (Trail of Tears, as well as new signings Xandria and Diabulus in Musica). With adverts for both Diabulus in Musica's and Nemesea's forthcoming albums also on repeat-play in between sets, it did feel like the label had a noticeable, and perhaps uneven, stake in the festival.

This might have helped spur the strangely high position of Diabulus in Musica on the festival's bill, holding a prime-time slot before Leaves' Eyes on the Saturday. Managed by the festival's organisers and now signed to Napalm Records, the band did have a noticeable push behind them but this did seem to bear fruit, as the Spanish band drew by far the biggest crowd of the festival – more so than any of the festival's bigger names. With fresh material, guest performances and a few theatrical moments possibly inspired by the next day's headliner, Diabulus in Musica definitely seemed to earn their high position. Whilst Diabulus in Musica proved a big success, the organizer's other managed bands (Velvet Seal and Dylath-Leen) were far less enticing.

The biggest surprise of the festival though came from Battlelore on the Friday. After delivering an uncharacteristically strong set, far beyond the band's usual standards, male singer Tomi Mykkänen announced that the show would be the band's last outside of Finland for the foreseeable future, with the band going on indefinite hiatus after a final show at home. Given the strong performance, this seemed like a massive shame, but the band certainly went out with a bang.

Highlights of the weekend in general included great sets from both headliners Therion and Doro, as well as might-as-well-be headliner Leaves' Eyes. Midnattsol drew a sizeable crowd on the otherwise quiet Sunday, whilst heavier bands such as Trail of Tears, Draconian and Kivimetsan Druidi also did very well in their respective slots, pulling considerable crowds. Visions of Atlantis, whose set was being recorded for a future DVD, did very well despite now missing a bass player. Younger bands such as Bare Infinity, Triosphere, Diary About My Nightmares and Hanging Doll also more than proved their worth and drew considerable interest despite being relatively unheard of in Belgium.

The festival organisation itself was very professional but also very relaxed. Everything mostly ran on-time, though sets did seem like they were running slightly early on the Sunday. Headliners also seemed to start slightly later than expected, but not by a hefty margin. The main issue the festival faced were technical problems, usually with dead wireless microphones and on occasion intermittent guitar sound. Deadlock were the most affected by these troubles, suffering problems through the entirety of their set – thankfully the band's sense of humour seemed to get them through such a difficult show. In contrast to these issues, the sound itself was always very good with a few minor exceptions, and the venue's lighting rig was incredibly impressive and very awe-inspiring for the entire festival.

Otherwise everything seemed to be smooth, and many problems from previous years seem to have been smoothed over. Coaches ran on time, food was basic but plentiful, and the facilities might be pay-to-use but were clean and well maintained. Campers did complain about the conditions at the camp-site, but seemed to suffer through it with good cheer. Attendance was good, though could have been better – at its peak during Diabulus in Musica, there was still plenty of room to move even if the centre seemed quite packed. The crowd itself was incredibly friendly and there was little-to-no trouble during the course of the weekend. Security was very relaxed and always pleasant, if you can believe such a thing is possible.

Overall, given that the festival is privately run by genuine fans of this admittedly broad genre of metal, it is incredibly difficult to not be fond of the efforts the organisers have gone to make such a festival possible. Nowhere else in the world can so many bands of such high calibre appear on such a bill, many of whom might never leave their own countries otherwise. With tickets already on sale for the tenth edition of the festival, this time headlined by Arch Enemy, fans who have yet to attend should seriously consider next year's event.


Amaranthe

Saturday
October 22
14:25 - 15:05

Amaranthe might divide metal fans everywhere else, but Metal Female Voices Festival is the most likely place the band will find a core supportive audience. With a much larger stage than what the band have gotten to play on in the UK, some of the band's main issues as a live act were thankfully resolved. The additional space meant that the band's trio of singers – Elize, Jake and Andy – were no longer tripping over each other or feeling forced to sit out parts of the set on the stage's side.

There was still a degree of awkwardness about the three singers and their interactions with each other and the audience, though. Andy, as talented a screamer as he is, still comes across as stiff and uncomfortable when on stage. Jake – who has recently cut off his braids in favour of just wearing a baseball cap – can sing well but some of his banter does come off as a bit cringe-worthy. There's no problems with the athletic Elize though, who high-kicks and bounces her way throughout the set with ease. The real problem with the trio as a collective, however, is that there is a lack of interaction between the three singers – they compete for the lead position, when really they need to work on performing together. Until they change this, they'll always come off as 'Elize, and those other two guys'.

The set, unsurprisingly enough, was the same general set the band have been playing across Europe all year. You can either like the band's songs for their feel-good charm and straight up pop, or dislike them for the exact same reasons. The bands combination of pure eurodisco and melodeath does genuinely work, albeit is sometimes so cheesy it becomes a guilty pleasure. It's a pleasure that the crowd accepted without question though, and whilst in other metal circles Amaranthe might raise more than a few eyebrows, on this turf they are happily in their element.

A solid show, one that has reservations due to a lack of cohesion from the singers, but otherwise better than what we've seen of them in the UK.

“ becomes a guilty pleasure ”

Setlist: Leave Everything Behind / Enter The Maze / 1,000,000 Lightyears / Automatic / Call Out My Name / Rain / Serendipity / My Transition / Hunger


Benedictum

Saturday
October 22
16:30 - 17:15

With so many soft, graceful women singing softly or operatically over their band's music, it makes for a welcome change to have a performer that is feminine and yet so very far from soft. That's Veronica Freeman all over, a looming, intimidating figure with the pipes to match. A genuinely unique and charismatic singer, V does stand out amongst the crowd and is more than willing to tell any naysayers where to stick it – to quote her own lyrics on Them - "They tell me I can't cuz I'm a chick, I tell them kneel down and suck my dick". Youch.

Benedictum certainly have the songs to match such a performer, and the evening's set managed to take cuts evenly between the band's three albums. The band's third effort Dominion is certainly the weakest of these three, though the songs performed certainly stand out as the best from the album. Likewise, their choices from Seasons of Tragedy were well picked, especially specifically requested closer Beast In The Field. It was disappointing to not hear the epic Valkyrie Rising, nor did the band bring out any of their well respected cover versions (though rumour has it Mob Rules was on the setlist), but otherwise it would be very hard for the band to pick a better setlist to fit 45 minutes.

Admittedly the sound did occasionally feel a bit empty. Despite how crushing guitarist Pete Wells is and how loud the guitar sound was in general, it did feel at times that something was missing. There was a noticeable lack of backing track during a lot of the set, and given that keyboards are used heavily on the recordings it seemed odd the band wouldn't use any keyboards live. Still, the end result was a Benedictum with an intense, raw sound, and there's few that would argue that isn't a good thing.

“ an intense, raw sound ”

Setlist: Dominion / Benedictum / Two Steps To The Sun / Dark Heart / At The Gates / Bare Bones / Drum Solo / Them / Ashes To Ashes / Shadowlands / Shellshock / Beast In The Field


Coma Divine

Saturday
October 22
12:25 - 13:05

As a replacement for Theatres des Vampires (who cancelled for reasons unexplained), Coma Divine filled the more burlesque slot in the festival line-up. Lead singer Sonja Kraushofer – best known for her work with L'ame Immortelle – is certainly one of the more unique characters on stage. Dressed more like a tattered gothic ragdoll than wearing a fancy corset, the singer's image is much more distraught than it is elegant. That certainly makes the band stand out amongst the crowd, especially with her band following her lead.

Like their debut album, though, Coma Divine really suffer from a lack of strong material. After opening up with the magnificent Burn, Sister!, the band's set quickly headed south and so did a good portion of the audience. Sonja's general onstage persona was a bit restricted as a result of having to play the lead role throughout (as opposed to L'ame Immortelle when she shares the duties), and there was a general lack of between song banter – though perhaps that was to keep a certain mystery about the band.

Nevertheless, Coma Divine are conceptually fantastic and are certainly interesting even if they aren't consistent. The band closed out in style with Dead End, as Sonja slowly crept away, leaving Ashley Dayour to cause some guitar-based havoc before the set came to a close. Certainly one of the more difficult bands of the weekend, and not one of the most talked about either, but certainly one that may have potential in the future.

“ conceptually fantastic ”

Setlist: Burn, Sister! / The Odd One Out / From Time To Time / I Remember / Praise The Fallen / Secret Lover / About A Girl / Dead End


Deadlock

Saturday
October 22
15:25 - 16:10

Opening up with a drum'n'bass version of instrumental piece Bizarro World, Deadlock (sponsored by Monster Energy Drink, apparently!) started things off as they meant to go on – loud and a bit tongue in cheek. The afternoon's performance did seem especially odd as Deadlock's line up seemed to have changed without notice – there's no bass player to be seen, and it would appear that the band's usual bass-player John Gahlert was screaming instead of Johannes Prem. Whilst Johannes has now confirmed he has left the band, there's still no actual confirmation as to whom his replacement actually was. Assumptions can be made though; whoever it was, an incredibly energetic and eager performance was made by both male and female singers.

Meanwhile, of all the bands of the weekend, it was Deadlock's set that was most affected by the technical gremlins. Poor lead guitarist Sebastian Reichl couldn't seem to get a break at all. Continually throughout the set, his guitar intermittently cut out at the worst possible times, more often than not during the start of an incredibly technical solo. Likewise, Sabine's microphone dying during End Begins resulted in a game of pass the microphone between her and her co-singer, resulting in tag-team antics. Despite crippling technical issues, the band did press on and with good humour – frustrated laughter rather than anger. Hopefully Sebastian got more than a few consolation Monsters for his heroic efforts.

Such problems really couldn't have happened to a better band, either. Even without a bass player, the band were on utter fire, with the twin guitar riffing (when they could be heard) deserving special mention. The set was mostly solid (although softies State of Decay and Paranoia Extravaganza did slow things down), giving a good measure of the band's more melodic side yet at the same time highlighting the band's heavier attitude. More dance-orientated tracks like Renegade, and the techno-interlude of End Begins (which even Sabine pokes fun at) didn't feel out of place and as a whole the unlikely fusion of techno and melodeath worked exceptionally well. The only real issue was that there could've been so many more songs to add to the setlist – but then time restrictions did apply.

So a very tough set for Deadlock to play through, but also one that was fun and full of good humour. Very much a band that need to be caught on a headline show.

“ with good humour ”

Setlist: Intro (Bizarro World) / Earthlings / Brave/Agony Applause / Virus Jones / Code of Honour / State of Decay / Paranoia Extravaganza / Brutal Romance / Renegade / Awakened By Sirens / End Begins


Hanging Doll

Saturday
October 22
10:40 – 11:10

Given how the band had been psyching themselves up for this performance ever since they were announced last year, Hanging Doll were understandably very nervous about their show. Opening Saturday's rather extensive bill with a thirty minute set might not be much to some, but as the band's biggest opportunity to date, any misstep and the band's hopes for establishing a fanbase in the mainland would be shattered.

Whilst the band got to a good start with the soft Sweet Retribution whilst the hungover crowd started to drift in from the cold, there was a few technical hitches. Daniel Leddy's guitar acted up throughout the song, and only seemed to resolve itself by the time the much faster Hope Springs Eternal started. Afterwards the band were pretty much free from technical problems and were simply left to play.

The result was an incredibly confident display, with the band seeming entirely at home playing on such a large stage. The band – performing as a six piece alongside second guitarist Dave Cox – strutted so comfortably around the two-level stage you'd think every show they played happened to be on such a big stage. Following on from Hope Springs Eternal, the band moved into the twin-terrors of A Formidable Mistake and Twist of A Deity, making much fuller use of the dual scream/growl vocals of Daniel Leddy and Kev Wilson alongside Sally Holliday's soft crooning.

Closing with the lengthy, swaying and melancholic Forlorn, Hanging Doll didn't so much warm things up as they gave the audience chills. It is slightly disappointing not to see any new material from the band's forthcoming second album The Sacred And Profane, but that will come in time. For now, Hanging Doll are a confident reminder that, yes, the UK really can do the symphonic gothic metal genre justice and the run on CDs at the band's merchandise stand is proof enough that many in the audience agree.

“ gave the audience chills ”

Setlist: Sweet Retribution / Hope Springs Eternal / A Formidable Mistake / Twist of A Deity / Forlorn


Leaves' Eyes

Saturday
October 22
21:10 – 22:10

Self-confessed regulars of the festival, Leaves Eyes always prove to be a major draw and this time round it was no different. Despite not retaining as much of a crowd as Diabulus In Musica who played before them, Leaves' Eyes still brought one of the largest crowds of the weekend. After all, it is Leaves' Eyes performance at MFVF-V that perhaps remains as the most famous performance in the festival's history, immortalised in the band's live DVD We Came With The Northern Winds – En Saga I Belgia.

This evening though there wasn't anything quite as extravagant. With only an hour for the band's set, they chose to focus primarily on their latest album Meredead, with half the set coming from it. With Elfenthal singers Maito Inez and John Kelly already having appeared during Diabulus in Musica's set, and Liv's sister Carmen due on stage the following day, it seemed inevitable that all three would reprise their roles for Etain, Tell Tale Eyes and Krakevisa respectively, thus making this show the most definitive of the shows the band have done in support of the album.

Otherwise, the setlist focused mostly on third album Njord, with a couple of songs from Lovelorn (including the saddening ballad of unrequited love that is For Amelie) and single Melusine. It did seem odd that the band would skip such obvious favourites like Elegy, but ultimately it felt like a very full and complete set. Like their latest album, it didn't seem like the best show that the band have played at the festival, but certainly an interesting and unique one, especially with the rare appearances of the guest singers.

Given the sizeable exodus after the band's set, it was clear that for many Leaves' Eyes were the real headliners this evening despite Doro's continued popularity in Europe. The band made a good showing as a result, but some stated disappointment due to the high expectations from previous appearances the band have made at the festival. Still, a respectable and enjoyable set.

“ interesting and unique ”

Setlist: Spirits' Masquerade / Velvet Heart / Ocean's Way / My Destiny / Etain / Melusine / For Amelie / Take The Devil In Me / Krakevisa / To France / Tell Tale Eyes / Froya's Theme


Therion

Sunday
October 23
21:00 – 22:30

Whilst most of the upper acts at this year's MFVF were seasoned regulars, returning for their second or even third appearances, legendary symphonic metal powerhouse Therion made their debut appearance closing the festival on the Sunday. The crowd during the day was noticeably sparse when compared to Saturday, but by the time Therion came on the crowd did thicken quite a lot. From speaking to many people across the weekend, Therion were one of the most eagerly anticipated bands of the weekend. This is understandable – whilst the band might find mixed opinions at other festivals, the symphonic-metal friendly MFVF was almost guaranteed to warmly receive the band.

The band were missing one key figure though – Thomas Vikström, apparently off in Spain with ex-Therion singer Mats Levén of all people, taking part in Queen Symphonic Rhapsody. Whilst his presence was deeply missed, it sort of made sense for this particular festival for the gender balance to be shifted to the women, with his daughter Linnéa and the incomparable Lori Lewis taking the lead next to the always entertaining Snowy Shaw.

Strangely – and perhaps because of the absence of the senior Vikström – there was a shortage of material from the band's latest opus Sitra Ahra tonight, with only Kali Yuga, Part 3 appearing in the set. Instead tonight's set was mostly the greatest hits, with a few extra cuts from both Vovin and Secret of The Runes. That perhaps was the best way the band could introduce themselves to the festival, especially as many in the crowd were seeing the band for the first time. There were a few big hits that made welcome returns – Son of The Sun, strangely absent from most of the band's shows since they went back on the road last year, reappeared to much fanfare.

Otherwise it was business as usual. Lori Lewis continues to be a wide-reaching and awe-inspiring singer, and Snowy Shaw has so much boundless charisma it is scary. Linnéa got a few moments to shine as well, in particular a special set piece in Muspelheim, where the other singers held her in shackles whilst she attempted to run to the microphone in order to actually sing. Take note Thomas – this is what happens when you go off on your own, your co-workers try to imprison your daughter! Still, the young singer definitely held her own against the two veterans performers, as a theatrical performer and as a vocalist.

Those who attended the band's 20th anniversary tour would recognize belly dancer Johanna Najla, who returned to do a similar performance right from the start. The band closed their set with the always well received To Mega Therion, to loud singing from the crowd, before impossibly loud screams for an encore brought the band back for their cover of Summernight City. Therion might not have had as big a crowd as the latter bands of Saturday, but there's no denying that the response was louder and more enthusiastic than anyone who played over the entire weekend. Hopefully after such a rapturous reception, Therion shall be back.

“ the most eagerly anticipated ”

Setlist: The Rise of Sodom And Gomorrah / Schwarzalbenheim / The Wild Hunt / Clavicula Nox / Ljusalfheim / Typhon / Kali Yuga, Part 3 / Lemuria / The Wand of Abaris / Muspelheim / The Perennial Sophia / Wine of Aluqah / Call of Dagon / Ginnungagap / Son of The Sun / To Mega Therion // Summer Night City


Triosphere

Sunday
October 23
13:50 – 14:30

The UK got a good taste of what Triosphere are capable of when they supported Sonata Arctica, but due to short sets and impossibly early start times, attendees were lucky to get more than a brief glimpse of the Norwegian heavy metallers. Sunday's early afternoon set in Belgium however meant that the band played to a decent crowd, many of whom had never even heard the name Triosphere (pronounced similar to biosphere), let alone knew what they were capable of.

They'd soon learn what an unbelievable unit the band is. Triosphere are low on frills and low on pretense, but high on energy and high on tunes. For this band, it is all about the music and they deliver top notch heavy metal in spades. Ida's voice was as always ever powerful for such a polite and unassuming frontwoman, whilst her guitarists bounced around the stage throughout. Marius even jumped down to the barrier to greet the fans during the band's final song.

As for the band's set, they really couldn't have picked a better collection of songs from their two albums. Fast belters such as Onwards Pt II (Decadent One), Trinity and Driven were mixed in with some of the band's slower and more progressive pieces such as Worlds Apart and The Road Less Travelled, all very well received. Fans of proper old school heavy metal were particularly impressed, given the genre's low coverage over the festival.

Given the relatively timid reaction bands early on Sunday were getting, it was no small feat that Triosphere finished their set to tremendous cheering. A massively successful showing from the band – if you haven't already checked them out, now is the time.

“ as always ever powerful ”

Setlist: Ignition / Driven / Human Condition / Onwards Pt II (Decadent One) / The Road Less Travelled / Worlds Apart / Trinity / Watcher / Sunriser


Visions of Atlantis

Sunday
October 23
19:30 – 20:30

Ending a four-band block of acts from Napalm Records, all of whom were well received despite reflecting different moods, Visions of Atlantis's set had some high expectations due to the fact that it was being filmed for an upcoming DVD. Though it has to be said that by the time the band's set came around, the intensely illuminated stage was something the audience had pretty much acclimatized to, leaving Visions of Atlantis delivering nothing unique outside of an otherwise strong performance.

But really, that's all that matters, and even without a bass player Visions... delivered a very upbeat and entirely entertaining set. Mixing songs from all periods of the bands history, rather than doing the obvious and focusing only on that which Maxi Nil performed on, there was really little the band did to disappoint other than not adding the extra frills. The band still delivered a set just as tight and entertaining as Leaves' Eyes in the same slot the day before, making up for lack of extras with a genuinely good performance.

The band's persona did at times strike as slightly tongue-in-cheek. At one point, an overly enthusiastic fan screamed 'I love you Maxi' at the band's Greek singer. Grinning, she simply replied with 'Well, I would have to get a good look at you before saying I love you back'. Better luck next time? Mario also made a remark about how we are all children of the '80s before going into the band's latest single, a cover of European megahit Maria Magdelena. Given how the song fits in with the band's sound so perfectly, one has to wonder how influenced by '80s pop and soft rock the band really is.

Still, the band continue to sound rocking whilst at the same time being very easy on the ears and offering a much more soothing vibe at the end of the evening. Some would describe Visions of Atlantis cheesy, but given the band have such a defined character and simply make good, upbeat music, such a term just seems demeaning. A great choice for final band before the evening's headliner, and a good set to release as a live DVD.

“ upbeat and entirely entertaining set ”

Setlist: At The Back of Beyond / Elegy of Existence / Last Shut of Your Eyes / Wing Shaped-Heart Reflection / Maria Magdelena / Lost / The Poem / New Dawn / Seven Seas // Passing Dead End / Memento


Xandria

Friday
October 21
20:45 – 21:35

It was a bit of a surprise to see Xandria underneath Battlelore on the bill – but given that Xandria have been somewhat off the radar since the departure of Lisa Middelhauve (who was seen drunkenly wondering around the festival most of the weekend) and Battlelore's surprise hiatus announcement, perhaps there were valid reasons.

From the start, Xandria definitely sounded a little bit ropey. One of the guitars was having definite problems and there was persistent feedback almost entirely throughout the set, it even sounded a bit off-tune. However the biggest issue with the band's set wasn't really a technical one, but rather how the band's back catalogue was handled by their new formation. New singer Manuela Kraller – best known for her work with Haggard and a confessed fan of symphonic metal – has a very operatic voice that definitely fits many bands that heavily use orchestral arrangements and bombastic songs. Xandria aren't really one of these bands, some elements sure, but their music is often characterized as being rather gentle and almost more folk inspired. Changing style of singer isn't really a problem, many bands do it and to great success – but nothing in the arrangements has been changed to suit her voice more appropriately. Instead it felt like Manuela was overpowering normally 'gentle' songs such as Save My Life, and even older symphonic songs like India sounded strange with the more operatic tone.

Thankfully the band's new material – Valentine and Euphoria – sounded great even if it was distant from the band's usual style. The new songs are heavier and much more in keeping with the symphonic metal genre. That perhaps isn't the Xandria we know, but perhaps the Xandria they need to be in the future.

A mixed affair then. Xandria certainly weren't at their best and nowhere near the standard set whilst Lisa was in the band, but the new material shows enough promise that the band weren't entirely disappointing, and showed a degree of potential for the future.

“ A mixed affair ”

Setlist: India / Now And Forever / The End of Every Story / Save My Life / On My Way / The Lioness / Valentine / Salomé / Euphoria / Ravenheart

Photo(s): Evelyne Steenberghe | www.vlien.net

Written by James Donovan
More: 2011, Female-fronted, Festivals, Folk Metal, Gothic, Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Symphonic, , , , , , , , , ,

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