January proved to be a month of some excellent concerts in the New York City area, and this one with headliners Epica turned out to be one of the most special. Not only did it signal a return to New York and headline status for the band, but also the return of lead singer Simone Simons, who was unable to tour with the band on their venture with Symphony X two years ago due to illness. For this tour, the Dutch acts also brought along fellow Nuclear Blast band Threat Signal, black/pagan metal act Blackguard, power metal band Cypher Seer, and Phoenix Reign. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo attended the show and brings this full live concert report.
Unfortunately, arriving at the Gramercy Theater just a tad late and having to then deal with will call and coat check, I was unable to catch much of openers Phoenix Rain, but their style of power metal with female vocals seemed to go over well with the crowd. However, the next act, Cypher Seer, seemed to kick things up a notch with their brand of Fates Warning styled power-progressive metal. Playing material mostly from their album Awakening Day, the band, with a very different line-up than who recorded the CD, tore through a short but enjoyable set long on powerful vocals, thick & crunchy riffs, and interesting arrangements. Cypher Seer are apparently hard at work on a new CD with the current line-up, so hopefully we'll see that sometime this year. Fans of power & progressive metal would be well advised to check this band out.
Blackguard, who hail from Canada, have made the rounds on the metal touring circuit in recent months, but their brand of black/pagan/symphonic/folk metal pretty much fits in on almost every bill. Hot on the heels of their CD Profugus Mortis, you could easily tell that the crowd were pretty familiar with the band and the songs, as Blackguard tore through their 30 minute set with plenty of swagger and attitude. Lead belter Paul Ablaze leads the charge, his hair flailing about as he runs from stage left to stage right amidst a crushing onslaught of guitars, keyboards, and jackhammer drum patterns. This is a band that is quickly building up a strong fanbase, and they are only going to get better. Expect big things from these guys in the very near future.
Obviously Nuclear Blast were pretty excited about also putting Threat Signal on this tour, but in all honesty, most thought they were sort of an odd fit. After all, Threat Signal are more of a metalcore/thrash act, which conflicts a bit with the mostly symphonic & power metal styles on display this evening. Even so, the band, who also have done their share of multiple tours over the last few years, went over really well. With a wall of guitars that remind of vintage Pantera, a rhythm section straight out of the Meshuggah playbook, and a mix of hardcore scream & shouts plus some clean vocals, Threat Signal are as modern as you can get, and ultimately served as a nice little change of pace on this evening to let everyone get their metal groove out a little. Their recent album Vigilance features a completely new line-up, so chances are we'll see the band out on the road quite a bit over the next year or so, bringing songs like "Through My Eyes" and "A New Beginning" to the metal masses.
The crowd roared with approval as Epica made their way on to the stage. It was pretty chilling to watch and hear as the band made their entrance to a grand symphonic sountrack. Once the lovely Simone Simons walked up to the microphone, the sold out Gramercy really came to life, and the excitement commenced from there. The band played an intense and career spanning set, including favorites such as "The Obsessive Devotion", "Consign to Oblivion", "Resign to Surrender", "Samadhi", "Cry for the Moon", and many others. Simone's lovely rendition of their song "Tides of Time" showed just how much range and emotion she can convey, and it was a tender moments amidst a sea of symphonic metal numbers. Band leader and guitarist Mark Jansen as always contributed some very effective vocal growls to give that 'Beauty and the Beast' vibe, but new lead guitarist, and former member of God Dethroned, Isaac Delahaye, also injected in some effective black metal screams to the mix as well. Sitting in on keyboards for this tour was Oliver Palotai from Kamelot, who was filling in for regular member Coen Jenssen, who could not make the trek. Palotai fit right in, which should come as no surprise to those who follow him in his main band Kamelot.
Epica's set surged to well over 90 minutes, which is a great thing considering how many songs they now have in their discography. Though heavy from the new album Design Your Universe, the band did a good job of playing selections from throughout their career, so it was a nicely balanced set. Mention need to be made again of just how remarkable Simone is in a live format. Not only is she a stunning beauty, but her vocals are spot on and full of power & emotion, perfectly fitting the music. She and the band are mixing heavy metal, classical music, and progressive rock like no other these days, and there seems to be no limit to their creativity in recent times. Let's hope they make their way back here again soon and deliver another stunning live performance like this one.
Epica Set List
2.Resign to Surrender
5.Martyr of the Free Word
6.Seif Al Din
8.Fools of Damnation
9.Tides of Time
10.The Obsessive Devotion
12.Design Your Universe
13.Cry For The Moon
15.Consign to Oblivion