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ConcertsEpica at Highline Ballroom in NYC 9/9/2007

Posted on Sunday, December 16 2007 @ 16:58:42 CST by Pete Pardo
Progressive Metal

While it's true that the Dutch Symphonic Power Metal band Epica had been doing their thing for several years now, it was mainly through their association with the band Kamelot that many Metal fans first became aware of them. Not only did they name themselves after a Kamelot album but lead singer Simone Simons would also provide additional vocals to their hit albums The Black Halo and Ghost Opera and even make an appearance on the bands concert DVD. The association has been nothing but positive of course because with it the fan base for Epica was able to grow exponentially due to their being taken on tour when Kamelot was supporting their live CD and DVD One Cold Winter's Night. I caught that show and was amazed at how good Epica was in concert but I admit that I really kind of expected this to be my findings as I had prior experience in their music having reviewed a number of their releases before I ever saw them in concert. They showed headlining potential that night which made the news about their new tour something that many were looking forward to very far in advance. The show would be at The Highline Ballroom, which is pretty much the Sister club to B.B. King Blues Club, and I felt that this room would be the best suited for Epica and the many opening acts that would be on the bill as well. The show would feature another Symphonic Operatic band called Visions Of Atlantis, the Melodic Metalcore thrashers The Agonist, and Montreal's Extreme Avant-garde experts Unexpect. It would appear that the audience tonight was in for a real treat.

Unexpect: This would be the third time that I would be catching Unexpect and I was looking forward to seeing them on a larger stage for a change. The last time they visited they played a tiny venue and new violinist Blaise was so close to me in proximity that I could have been blinded if anyone pushed me forward or if he missed his violin with the bow. Needless to say their set that night was all the more intense in such confined quarters. Tonight the Highline Ballroom offered the band a sizable stage to run around on and with the venues dramatic lighting the bands already powerful music was all the more intriguing. Their appearance on the show tonight was a last minute arrangement as I was told and for all present this was a great bonus. Most of the audience had arrived early enough to see all of the bands and while many were at first staring in wonder at what Syriak and Leilindel were up to onstage, it seemed that by the end of the set that they had won over even more friends and supporters in their quest to save the world from mundane music that offers no heart. The group is quite animated live and another member to watch during the set is bassist Chaoth, who is one of the most energetic players that I have ever seen on stage in this role. The bands debut on The End Records is called "In A Flesh Aquarium" and if you like music that is unpredictable from one moment to the next then this is something you should be looking into. I was once again impressed by what they do and since they made some new fans tonight the band remained about the venue to meet those who cheered them on while they performed. That was a very cool thing. The main thing about Unexpect is that you need to see them live even though you might have already fallen in love with them on recording. It is just such an overwhelming experience to see them do what they do in person and that is that.

The Agonist: I had only heard The Agonist about a month before the gig and was curious as to how the Metalcore group with the blue-haired girl was going to do their thing live. I wasn't certain but I think this was also their first time hitting New York City and they really hit the stage with a great Metal force. Their singer is Alissa White-Gluz and she is a dynamo on stage as she blends an amazing clean vocal power along with guttural growls from Hell. You might think this sounds a lot like their Century Media label mates In This Moment, but I am happy to report that both bands are quite different in overall sound yet if you like them you should also find some appeal in The Agonist. On guitar they have Danny Marino, who is actually related to legendary guitarist Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush. The group's rhythm section is comprised of Simon McKay and Chris Kells on drums and bass respectively. Musically the style is rather aggressive and at some times appears technical as far as the riffing goes. As a band they are very energetic especially in the way of Gluz and Kells who are the more showmanship oriented of the group. Their debut album "Only Once Imagined" only came out a little over a week before the gig and the tunes on the release comes off very well in a live sense. As a singer Alissa is also quite attractive and that might win over some parts of the demographic for them but the coolest part about her was that she can growl with the best of her male contemporaries and seems to effortlessly be able to switch back and forth between both of these styles of singing. The song-writing seems deep and finds the band tackling subjects that are very personal to them as musicians as well as causes that they strongly believe in. I have a feeling that we shall be seeing a lot of these guys in the near future and if you were one of the lucky audience members tonight you got a jump on everyone else. They kicked some ass tonight and so far this show was two for two in my opinion and Visions Of Atlantis was coming on next.

Visions Of Atlantis: When this gig was set up I had to admit to being very excited about seeing VOA perform as well as Epica for when I got my hands on a copy of their third album, the appropriately titled "Trinity", I was left wondering how this band had been off my radar until now. Fans who I spoke to that night had mentioned to me that the previous albums were far different from it and with "Trinity" they had probably achieved their most diverse and best album of them all. Those words made the feeling of anticipation all the more intense so I could hardly wait for them to hit the stage. As you might have guessed, Visions Of Atlantis is another female-fronted Symphonic Operatic Power Metal group and to be very honest, if you were a fan of how Tarja used to sound with Nightwish, then the stuff on this new album will be right up your alley. The band is fronted by Melissa Ferlaak (formerly of Aesma Daeva) and she knows how to work the stage quite well and was all decked out tonight in her long dress and high heels which just added visual beauty to her already magnificent voice. She shares the vocals with a male counterpart in the band (Mario Plank) and together they offer a great dynamic which really came across well in the live sense. With the new album to support and the intent on generating proper interest from this perfect audience for their style the set list would primarily focus on material from "Trinity" which was fine by me since the album is so good. Highlights from the album fell to "My Darkside Home" and "At The Back Of Beyond" to name a choice few. In comparing the set to the new record it seemed as though eight of the numbers came from it and most of the audience were smart and snared a copy of this as soon as the band had finished. They were definitely pros tonight who showed that they would go well as direct support for other bands like Epica in this region and could soon headline their own shows over here and be met with the same positive reception that they received tonight. Three down and one to go and I was all the more psyched for Epica now after having VOA bring the level of energy to new heights for the crowd and myself. Their set seemed rather short and this left me wanting more from them, and as result I really look forward to seeing them perform again. I recommend that all fans of the female fronted groups keep their eyes peeled for any activity from them as they will not be disappointed. Tonight's show for Visions Of Atlantis was a debut for NYC and they really went over like gangbusters. Good job guys.

Epica: I loved the music that Epica did since I first heard it on "The Phantom Agony" and watched how it progressed when it came to their sophomore effort "Consign To Oblivion". Now with their third album "The Divine Conspiracy" I felt that the group was presenting us with their magnum opus or the best of the best that they could give us. The band completed the tour with Kamelot and returned home to find no more record label and a drummer who quit but these pitfalls didn't cause the band to falter and with their signing to Nuclear Blast Records are now able to reach a wider audience in more regions than they had ever envisioned under the failed Dutch label. For those that require a history lesson, the band was formed by Mark Jansen, formerly of After Forever, and as a composer he is big on the film score aspect of music and is interested in keeping Metal as grandiose and powerful as possible. Their singer is Mezzo Soprano Simone Simons, who is not only one of the best singers of this kind in the business but is also one of the most beautiful women in the Metal scene altogether. Epica would wisely choose to mix their set up tonight and feature material from all three of their albums and oddly enough the audience around me seemed to know the music from these older releases as well as the just released new stuff. This impressed me because sadly the early Epica albums are almost impossible to find based on the dissolution of their old label. If you see these releases anywhere I suggest you pick them up. The venue tonight was working for Epica very well in terms of light and sound. I felt the lights responded to their movements and offered the perfect colors and moods for each scene that the group musically painted during their set. Jansen was ripping on the guitar tonight and of course he also does the death grunts for the band and this stuff is very prevalent on the new material and works quite well in its overall context. They had been doing the tour with two different drummers and for this leg we would find the talents of Arien van Weesenbeek, skin-basher for the Dutch Death Metallists God Dethroned. Arien was the drummer who recorded "The Divine Conspiracy" as well so it was great to have him up there. Having seen the band before with their old drummer I had to say that Arien really seems to fit into the group and he offers so much in the way of percussive talents to them – my hope is that he finds time to work with Epica more in the future when matters of God Dethroned allow him to do so. Technically he is a lot more aggressive than Jeron Simons was and this makes the Epica sound all the more heavy on album and especially in concert.

I could find no fault in the set for tonight as it progressed as it was not only encompassing in terms of the bands catalog but because they seemed to be doing all the songs that everyone in attendance had been interested in hearing. They hit my favorites from the first CD with "Seif Al Din" and "Façade Of Reality" among others and of course offered up a healthy dose of music from the new album which is a must have for ones Metal collection. It's been receiving rave reviews across the board and this is very well-deserved which you will realize from the moment you begin to play it. Simone sounded amazing tonight I had to say and it was probably because it's different when one is headlining as opposed to being the direct support. She was all smiles and often reached out and touched the audience hands that were reaching up to her as she belted out the tunes. The great part about a singer like Simone is that she sounds exactly like she does on record and her notes were cutting through the air of the club like knives. Unlike some bands that have the female lead who sometimes walks off while the band continues to jam, Simone remained onstage for the whole set with the exception of one song that Mark Jansen sang. Tonight they would treat us with a cover of Death's "Crystal Mountain" which he would handle the growling vocals on. While I generally like surprises like this from bands and though it was done with precision I would have rather that they left the space for another original tune. The band is building legions in this area and the more music we get from them the better. Some of the other highlights were the hit single from "TDC" in "Never Enough" and that's an interesting song for the group since it differs from the rest of their material very much. Epica is one of the few acts of note who have kept to the soaring operatic style while many of their companion bands from recent past have morphed their sound to be a little more accessible. Given the incredible amount of power they have under this style I am glad that they have chosen to remain with it as opposed to experimenting too much with other genre aspects.

To say that the entire evening was exceptional would be an understatement and every band seemed to raise the bar tonight in terms of their overall performance. As I scanned the attending crowd I was happy to find a lot of the same faces that I see at many of the areas shows on numerous occasions present and accounted for. They are to be commended for their diligence on behalf of the genre and they know who they are. The downside was that the event had not sold out and while crowded I felt that the amount of great Metal which we found over the course of the four plus hour event should have brought more of the Metal community into the venue. Those who chose to pass on this one missed out without question because this club is nice and intimate when it comes down to it and offers you the chance to enjoy these bands up close. Perhaps it was because this was a Sunday night show or maybe it was because the week before had found back to back shows such as Katatonia/Scar Symmetry, Within Temptation, and Heaven and Hell/Alice Cooper/Queensryche all in sequence right before this performance happened. Given my seeing those same faces at those shows as well, it is hardly an excuse for any to use. Remember that bands like this don't get to come around as often as we might like them to so when you find out that a gig happening you must do your best to get a ticket in the event they don't return for a longer time. Thank you Epica, Visions Of Atlantis, Agonist and Unexpect for giving us a show that will be talked about for a long time coming. We anxiously await your return.

Ken Pierce

Visions Of Atlantis Set List:
1. At The Back Of Beyond
2. The Secret
3. Through My Eyes
4. Flow This Desert
5. State Of Suspense
6. Nothing Left
7. My Dark Side Home
8. Wing-Shaped Heart
9. Lost
10. The Poem

Epica Set List:
1. Indigo – intro
2. Obessive Devotion
3. Sensorium
4. Mother Of Light
5. Never Enough
6. Menace Of Vanity
7. Cry For The Moon
8. Linger
9. Blank Infinity
10. Crystal Mountain
11. Seif Al Din
12. Façade Of Reality
13. The Phantom Agony
14. Quietus
15. Consign To Oblivion

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