Thoughts in advance of the Epica show:
On an absolutely atrocious night of rain in Glasgow where roads round about were closed causing traffic chaos Dutch symphonic metallers Epica brought their United Principle tour to the ABC 1. Despite all that, there was a healthy crowd that turned up to catch the band play a set that centred around their last album The Holographic Principle. I confess that I found it a difficult album to get in to. Not that it isn’t good but to be honest I didn’t have a clue what they were singing about lyrically a lot of the time. It is hard (at least for me) to get a hold on songs that I can’t get an emotional tie with. The subject matter of recent material including the latest is too intelligent or technical for a guy who left school many years ago with only four “O” levels! I was hoping that things might take more of a hold live for me.
Each time I have seen the band I have enjoyed them as they seem to have such a good time on stage and that tends to rub off on an audience. This time was no different. With no disrespect to the rest of the band, for me the star of the show is keyboardist Coen Janssen who is hilarious and fun to watch as well as being a fine player. The life and soul of the party onstage, grinning constantly and running around the place, along with skating across the stage with his keyboards at points (really), I found myself laughing away.
The band regularly swap around position wise and have wonderful stage craft, with lots of nods and nudges to each other, egging each other on and making each other smile or laugh. The whole time live there is something going on and something to watch and enjoy.
Musically of course there are mellow moments where Simone Simons can show off her beautiful soprano voice counter balanced with death style grunts and vocals from Mark Jansen along with symphonic bombast from the keyboards and crashing drums from Arien Van Weesenbeek who holds things together solidly with bassist Rob Van Der Loo. There are many symphonic metal bands out there vying for attention and many have very similar ingredients, but Epica are one of the few who are really at the top of the genre having that bit more in arrangements and performance. Even though some of the lyrics are hard to get a handle on these days, they arrange things better than most so it still sounds unique to them.
The best of the songs on the night:
Two tracks that stood out for me live included firstly the Eastern-tinged “Dancing In A Hurricane” a more simple song about war and the effects of it on those involved. Mixing ethnic sounding music from the Middle East and Western metal and a haunting vocal this captured attention from all. The other was main set closer “Once Upon A Nightmare”. The way they utilized the audience to light the stage by mobile phones was impressive. Coen led the crowd to the taped intro music into swaying back and forth with their lighters which was quite a sight. Eventually he took over the music with plaintiff piano and it led to just his piano and Simone’s voice for the first part of the song until the more symphonic parts came in. Stripped back from all the bombast, elegant and beautiful this was one of the most powerful moments of the set.
Newbie song “Fight Your Demons” from the EP The Solace System worked the crowd nicely. It has heavier moments of course but never drifts too far from a riff or melody that you can join in with. Keyboardist Coen was burling his keyboard round and round whilst running around it a little like Gowan from the band Styx, well when he wasn’t down the front of stage punching the air, leading the crowd to do similar hunched up next to Simone.
The two tracks from the first album were warmly received. Those were “Sensorium” where for the first time we saw (or at least I did) Coen whizzing past the back of drummer Arien’s head! It was like he was skateboarding while blasting out his parts. On “Cry For The Moon” the audience supplied the lyrical retorts on “forever and ever” and Simone ended up playing the guitar (or at least making out she was) through the arms of guitarist Isaac Delahaye.
The encore started with a sort of symphonic version of “We Will Rock You” leading into “Sancta Terra” after lots of band silliness including Coen’s declaration of “I love you, but I don’t understand what you ever say” to a crowd who laughed and cheered. In fact, during the song he disappeared into the pit at the front of stage to get closer to the audience! He really is a showman. They finished with “Consign To Oblivion” the title track of the second album which is an absolute beast of a song. A track that truly puts Epic into Epica. A fantastic ending to the show without a doubt.
Final thoughts from the man with four “O” levels and none of them in science:
So do I understand the new album any more than I did? Not really. Have I got into some of the songs more despite that? Yes I have. All the new tracks between the album and EP fit into the repertoire without a drop in standard or performance. As to the performance itself that was top drawer. This is a band that rocks, are obviously clever and intelligent yet are also fun and can create a party atmosphere causing me (and all the people near me) to leave with a smile on our faces. I call that a successful night!