Metal Chick of the Month – Dianne van Giersbergen

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You will die for my love tonight!

When you think about the Netherlands, the first (if not the only) things that come to your mind are probably prostitution, drugs and those famous wooden shoes. However, you should forget about all that touristic bullshit and start admiring the true wonders of that picturesque European country: their female Heavy Metal singers. It’s amazing how many talented girls can be found in such a small country, as for example Anneke van Giersbergen (Agua de Anneke, The Gathering), Sharon den Adel (Within Tempation), Charlotte Wessels (Delain), and our last Metal Chick of the year, the stunning soprano Dianne van Giersbergen, frontwoman of Dutch Progressive Metal band Ex Libris and German Symphonic Metal band Xandria.

Dianne was born on June 3, 1985 in the village of Liempde in the Netherlands, about 100km from the capital Amsterdam, but currently resides in the city of Dordrecht, close to Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the country. Her beautiful and potent voice started to be defined and polished really early in her life: when she was a kid, Dianne used to listen to many pop female singers such as Whitney Houston (R.I.P.), which developed in her a true fascination for the human voice and, at the age of four, her parents gave her as a birthday gift her first singing lessons. In the following years, she had several other music teachers and sang in different choirs.

In the year of 2005, this long dark-haired beauty began her studies in Classical Music at the ArtEZ School of Music with singer Elena Vink, and also became a trainee at the Nationale Reisopera. Besides her classical Music studies, in her free time our gorgeous soprano also braved the worlds of popular music and musical theatre. Finally, in May 2009, Dianne graduated from her studies with distinction, and her newly acquired Bachelor’s also worked as the admission for her Master studies, when she improved her technique to have classical and metal music mixed together. Not only that, this nonstop diva also attended composition courses, wrote poems on behalf of composers, and was the chairman of the New Artez Student Association group of master students. We have to admit this is a very respectable resume, which makes me wonder if she somehow has part of the DNA from Iron Maiden’s “multi-man”, Mr. Bruce Dickinson.

Moving on to her career as a Heavy Metal singer, Dianne has been with Ex Libris since their beginning in 2003, and has already recorded the demos Drawn (2005) and Medea (2011), and the full-length albums Amygdala, in 2008, and Medea, now in 2014. In one of her interviews, she explained the reason for the name of the band.  “An Ex Libris is used to indicate ownership of products of a craft-guild and can come in different forms like a seal, stamp or a brand. You could say that by naming the band Ex Libris we would like to brand our products as our own.”, she said. In case you have never heard the voice of Dianne with Ex Libris, here are a few songs to make your day a lot more pleasant: From Birth to Bloodshed, A Mother’s Lament, Love Is Thy Sin, and Dawn Of Sugars.

In October 2013, Dianne was chosen as the new frontwoman for Xandria, replacing German singer Manuela Kraller. She made her live debut with Xandria in November 2013 during a Spanish tour, and has recently recorded her first album with the band, entitled Sacrificium. You can for example check her astonishing voice beautifying Xandria’s music in the very enjoyable song Dreamkeeper, from Sacrificium.

Besides that, she was a guest soprano for Polish Symphonic Power Metal band Pathfinder during their Blood Aliance Tour in 2011, and in December 2013 she was a guest vocalist during one of the concerts from Dutch Symphonic Gothic Metal band Stream Of Passion, when together with lead singer Marcela Bovio they performed the duettino Sull’aria, from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”, and one of Stream of Passion’s own songs. And, of course, you can always check all her other projects and videos on her official website and also on her official YouTube channel.

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A woman so talented like that could never have a bad taste for music, and this can be easily seen on her awesome list of favorite bands and artists, which includes music icons such as Nightwish, Dream Theater, Tarja Turunen, Devin Townsend Project, Anneke van Giersbergen, Anathema, System of a Down, Dire Straits, and many more. And before you ask about it, despite having the same last name as Anneke, those two divas are not related at all. “We share the same surname but are very different in voice type and vocal techniques. I like her style though.”, Dianne said during an interview. Not only that, she also listens to a lot of classical music (mostly choir pieces, songs and opera), with Wagner, Rachmaninoff, Zemlinsky, Berg and Verdi being among her favorite composers.

In terms of cinema and literature, Dianne once again showcases a splendid cultural background by mentioning among her favorite movies masterpieces such as Braveheart and Lord of the Rings (and anything from masters Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton), great TV series like Breaking Bad and Lost, and everything from one of the greatest and most mysterious writers of all time, the unparalleled American poet Edgar Allan Poe. Add to that the fact that she loves French food and red wine, and there you have a perfect European “milady”!

Last but not least, Dianne even said once that she would love to have an alto (or contralto) voice for a day. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, just for your reference the female voice can be divided into three categories: alto, mezzo-soprano and soprano, with the alto being the lowest standard female voice type (you can see a very good explanation of all types of voices HERE, including a perfect example of how an alto sounds like). But even after reading all that information about voice types you didn’t really get it, don’t worry: I’m pretty sure that, as long as our Dutch princess Dianne keeps singing Heavy Metal, your metal heart will keep beating delightfully.

Dianne van Giersbergen’s Official Facebook page
Ex Libris’ Official Facebook page
Ex Libris’ Official Twitter
Xandria’s Official Facebook page
Xandria’s Official Twitter

“Smile and you will be rewarded.” – Dianne van Giersbergen

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Album Review – Epica / The Quantum Enigma (2014)

The new album from Epica just corroborates how good Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands has been in recent years.

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coverIt definitely looks like whenever a Heavy Metal band from the Netherlands releases a new album, especially if it has female vocals, we can purchase their new material without even listening to it. All releases from bands from the “Land of Windmills” in the past few years have been simply amazing, with no exception, and that’s also valid for the excellent The Quantum Enigma, the sixth studio album by Dutch Symphonic Metal band Epica.

Although it’s the first with new bassist Rob van der Loo, who replaced Yves Huts in 2012, that didn’t hurt the overall quality of the album. Quite the contrary, the other members of the band have been together for some good years, which translates into cohesiveness and an outstanding flow of the music. Not only that, the addition of a chamber choir and some strings (violins, viola and celli), along with the excellent guest musicians Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion) on backing vocals and Daniël de Jongh (Textures) as additional male vocals were extremely positive from a quality standpoint.

The Quantum Enigma starts with the beautiful symphonic intro Originem, tailored to create a special atmosphere for everything else to come and already introducing to us the choir, which will be a constant throughout the whole album. Also, I don’t need to say this track will be used as an intro to their upcoming live concerts, right? But it’s when the first actual song begins that we’re able to notice how grandiose the band wants its music to be in this album: The Second Stone is a great song with lots of Power Metal elements, Simone Simons’ unique voice sounding superb as usual, and the fast solos and harsh vocals complementing what might be considered the best track of the album by many fans.

The next track, The Essence of Silence, has that characteristic sonority from some old Epica songs without sounding repetitive, a beautiful chorus (“Retrieve your balance / Use your senses to observe / The essence of silence / Search for essence / Find the silence within you / The essence is…”), and all the extra strings fit perfectly with the musicality not only of this track but of the whole album. It’s a very good track but not really awesome, though, which is the case for the amazing Victims of Contingency, where its heavy riffs balance really well with the keyboards and orchestral parts. Moreover, the Death Metal punch found in this song blended with Simone’s lyrical voice is above the average, and add to that Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye doing an excellent job with their guitars and you have another memorable track in the album.

Perhaps the weakest track of all is the next one, Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code), which despite having a nice and smooth vocal intro, strong keyboard notes and a good balance of harsh and female vocals, ends up being a bit tiring, especially after the 4th minute,  losing all momentum gained. Unchain Utopia might not be a brilliant song, but it’s indeed better than the previous track and Simone’s performance once again gives it some extra energy; while The Fifth Guardian (Interlude), despite being just an instrumental bridge, is really well-crafted and perfect for energizing the listener for the following track, the excellent Chemical Insomnia. What an awesome Symphonic Metal tune! The music keeps growing and growing until it reaches a truly climatic ending, with all band members playing their parts beautifully, and also proving to us all a song doesn’t need to be absurdly long to be epic.

epicaReverence (Living in the Heart) seems to be the song chosen by Ariën van Weesenbeek to mercilessly smash his drums, with some excellent riffs, choir, and especially the quick but awesome keyboard solo adding a special touch to this sonic massacre. On the other hand, Omen (The Ghoulish Malady), with its piano intro and all orchestral parts, sounds too bland for an album so full of intense music and do not keep up with the other tracks.

The final part of The Quantum Enigma starts with the beautiful ballad Canvas of Life, where we can savor a great performance by Simone one more time. She simply steals the show here, mainly due to all the poetry in the lyrics (“The stains come alive where the paint has gone dry / You float above looking down reaching out to me / Depicting a beautiful scene that shapes divinity”) enhancing the emotion in her voice. Then comes Natural Corruption, another good track with all those Epica elements fans learned to enjoy, and The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II), an epic song with over 11 minutes with the orchestra and choir dominating the first part of the song. However, it then becomes a bit generic and, although it maintains a good rhythm, unfortunately it’s not enough for such a long song, making it a little tiresome in the end. The bottom line is, if you’re going to compose a long song make sure it has different “songs” inside of it, as for example the classics “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, from Iron Maiden, and “Halloween”, from Helloween, otherwise just keep it simple. As previously mentioned, a band can be epic without extending the length of a song too much, which Epica themselves did in this same album. It’s not that the song is not good, let’s say it’s exaggeratedly ambitious.

Anyway, add to this very good album some interesting bonus tracks (each version of the album has a different one) and its beautiful album art done by visual artist Stefan Heilemann, who has already worked with Epica in other opportunities and with many other famous artists and bands, and you have another high quality album worth buying and, of course, worth listening to many times. Because as I said, if it’s Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands, especially if it’s an album from Epica, just go for it without thinking twice.

Best moments of the album: The Second Stone, Victims of Contingency, Chemical Insomnia and Canvas of Life.

Worst moments of the album: Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code), Omen (The Ghoulish Malady) and The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II).

Released in 2014 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Originem 2:11
2. The Second Stone 5:00
3. The Essence of Silence 4:47
4. Victims of Contingency 3:31
5. Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code) 7:42
6. Unchain Utopia 4:45
7. The Fifth Guardian (Interlude) 3:04
8. Chemical Insomnia 5:12
9. Reverence (Living in the Heart) 5:02
10. Omen (The Ghoulish Malady) 5:28
11. Canvas of Life 5:28
12. Natural Corruption 5:24
13. The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II) 11:53

Bonus tracks
14. In All Conscience (Digipack additional track) 5:04
15. Dreamscape (Earbook additional track) 4:59
16. Memento (Vinyl additional track)
17. Banish Your Illusion (iTunes additional track) 6:11
18. Mirage of Verity (Japanese additional track) 5:59

Band members
Simone Simons – lead vocals
Mark Jansen – rhythm guitar, harsh vocals
Isaac Delahaye – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Rob van der Loo – bass guitar
Coen Janssen – keyboards, piano
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums, harsh vocals

Guest musicians
Marcela Bovio – backing vocals
Daniël de Jongh – additional male vocals