Concert Review – Epica & Moonspell (The Opera House, Toronto, ON, 01/22/2016)

An electrifying fusion of Melodic Death Metal, Dark Metal and Symphonic Metal from distinct parts of the world storms the Opera House in Toronto in a memorable celebration of music.

OPENING ACT: Starkill

The North American Enigma PosterAlthough the winter hasn’t been too harsh so far in the city of Toronto this year, there’s nothing better than warming it up even more with some high-quality metal music from different parts of the world, all at the same place and time, don’t you agree? That’s what happened this Friday at the nice and cozy The Opera House, where fans could witness the riveting fusion of Melodic Death Metal from the United States, Dark Metal from Portugal and Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands on a cold but (thankfully) snowless night.

And I was finally able to get a full concert in Toronto from the very first second, without missing anything, starting with the young and restless metallers from STARKILL. Still promoting their latest album, the good Virus of the Mind, from 2014, this talented American quartet distilled their Melodic Death Metal in a precise way, warming up the crowd for the main attractions yet to come. Lead singer/guitarist Parker Jameson and guitarist Tony Keathley seemed very comfortable on stage and also among the crowd right after their concert was over, having a few beers with their fans, therefore showing how humble these guys are too. Despite adding a couple of nice unreleased songs to their setlist (entitled Burn Your World and Cloudless), in my opinion they truly thrived with songs from their two studio albums, in special the excellent Be Dead or Die and Fires of Life. I just wish they had played a faster song such as “Breaking the Madness” or “Skyward” instead of Before Hope Fades to close the show, but that was just a minor detail in their solid overall performance.

Setlist
Be Dead or Die
Burn Your World
Cloudless
Fires of Life
Virus of the Mind
Before Hope Fades

Band members
Parker Jameson – lead guitar, vocals
Tony Keathley – guitar, backing vocals
Shaun Andruchuk – bass guitar
Spencer Weidner – drums

MOONSPELL

IMG_1037About 24 hours before the moon in the city transitioned from First Quarter to Full Moon, and after an interesting alternate version of La Bafomette working as an intro, the iconic Portuguese Dark Metal wolf pack MOONSPELL stormed the Opera House with their obscurity, heaviness, electricity and undisputed talent. I really don’t know what to say about their performance so perfect it was. Perhaps that it took me too long to watch those old school Gothic metallers live for the first time? Anyway, their live concert is so damn brilliant it feels like an enhanced version of their studio albums, especially the performance by frontman Fernando Ribeiro. There’s so much passion emanating from his voice, either through his deep clean vocals, through his powerful growls or through his “real-time poetry” (or even when he made a joke about the guys from Starkill being so young they could be his children),  that it’s impossible not to get completely mesmerized and stunned by him during the entire show.

IMG_1032Of course, the rest of the band contributes enormously to the perfection of their music, with highlights to the polished and soulful riffs and solos by guitarist Ricardo Amorim, and to the sinister notes by keyboardist Pedro Paixão. There’s an absolute attention to detail coming from each musician involved, turning the experience of seeing Moonspell live into something unique. In addition, when you have such a masterpiece like their 2015 album Extinct guiding the setlist, with incredible compositions like Breathe (Until We Are No More), Extinct and The Last of Us complementing their old classics Night Eternal, Opium, Vampiria and Full Moon Madness, it’s extremely easy to put a sincere smile on the faces of the fans that attended the concert.

My only complaint is that their setlist was way too short and didn’t live up to their dark legacy. When the show was over after a little less than one hour, I was eager for more of their Gothic Metal, something you can expect from such an amazing band with a dazzling career like Moonspell. Well, they haven’t risen to stardom for no reason, right? If they had another 20 or 30 minutes to showcase more of their beautiful music, maybe by adding songs like “White Skies” and “Scorpion Flower” to their setlist, the night was going to be epic and, more important than that, more than eternal for us mere mortals. I cannot wait to see the “gajos” from Monspell live again, and next time, before the lights go out and before our time is gone, they better be the headliners or we riot!

Setlist
La Bafomette (Intro)
Breathe (Until We Are No More)
Extinct
Night Eternal
Opium
Awake
The Last of Us
Funeral Bloom
Vampiria
Alma Mater
Full Moon Madness

Band members
Fernando Ribeiro – vocals
Ricardo Amorim – guitars
Pedro Paixão – keyboards
Aires Pereira – bass
Miguel Gaspar – drums

EPICA

IMG_1069However, as most fans at the venue were there to see the main attraction of the night, the Dutch metallers from EPICA, I had to cope with the fact Moonspell’s concert was over and get ready for another good performance by the red-haired bombshell Simone Simons and her loyal crew. Due to personal reasons, they had to cancel their concerts in Toronto, Chicago and Minneapolis last September, which is why I believe their fans at the Opera House were so excited this Friday night.

Blending old classics with newer songs from their 2014 album The Quantum Enigma, Epica captivated the hearts of most people at the venue, with Simone connecting every single moment with the fans. As it happened with Moonspell, songs like The Second Stone and The Essence of Silence, despite not being classics yet, set fire to the crowd and boosted even more the impact of their classics, creating a very positive atmosphere among the crowd. And what can I say about the weird keyboards by Coen Janssen? What the hell was that? I mean, it looks cheesy, but it ends up working well with the music. If you like Epica, you know what I’m talking about.

IMG_1066There was just one minor issue with Epica’s performance, that being Moonspell. Well, not actually Moonspell, but the quality of the sound by the Portuguese metallers was way above what Epica provided the fans, which in the end felt odd. Sometimes their music sounded a bit muffled or tangled, not as clean as their studio versions, with Simone’s voice sounding lower (and almost inaudible in some moments) than all instruments. Nothing that could diminish the excitement among the fans at the venue, though, and obviously nothing that would make the night less memorable. If that mix of different subgenres of heavy music from distinct countries will ever happen again, only time will tell. In the meantime, all that’s left for us is keep those good moments deep in our hearts and wait until these bands come back to Toronto (especially Moonspell, in my case) for another shot of top-notch Heavy Metal.

Setlist
Originem (Intro)
The Second Stone
The Essence of Silence
Sensorium
Unleashed
Martyr of the Free Word
Cry for the Moon (with drum solo)
Storm the Sorrow
The Last Crusade
The Obsessive Devotion
Victims of Contingency
Design Your Universe

Encore:
Sancta Terra
Unchain Utopia
Consign to Oblivion

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

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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.

Rating4

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