Epica @ Jaxx: unashamedly bombastic

I haven’t seen any live music since Richard Pinhas way back in July, so last night I decided to go to a show at Jaxx — a bunch of female-fronted gothic metal bands, headlined by Epica. Circumstances had me arriving late at the venue, two hours after the appointed showtime, but the first opening band was still on. I caught two or three songs of their set, both of which were entirely forgettable. After a surprisingly short changeover time, Visions of Atlantis took the stage and played a 45-minute set. This is an Austrian group on their first U.S. tour (although their singer is American as far as I can tell); they just released an album, Trinity, from which almost all of their set was drawn. It was okay; I found myself enjoying it at first but I was definitely ready for it to be over when they finished. Their singer did a lot of your typical metal stage moves (fist-pumping and the like), but also broke out some hip gyrations that wouldn’t have been out of place at a pop concert. That was weird. Female vocals on top of metal riffing I can handle. Booty dancing (even if briefly) to said riffs is something entirely different.

Epica came on and, right off the bat, played a couple songs from their own just-released new album, The Divine Conspiracy. I downloaded this album from eMusic a little while ago and it was basically the sole reason I decided to show up at this concert. Previously I had heard Consign to Oblivion and never really thought much of it, but this new one I liked. It’s much heavier than most other female-fronted gothic metal out there, with lots of blast beats and an intriguing male vocal style that flits between death-metal growls and black-metal shrieks. It’s also insanely bombastic, boasting both metal’s grandiose cinematic tendencies and prog’s symphonic pretensions.

Live, they came off pretty similarly to the way they do on record. They were great performers and vocalist Simone Simons is a striking frontwoman. Also, the male vocals were impressive — the guy really does go from low-end growls to upper-register shrieks without even batting an eye. Seriously, his facial expressions stayed almost completely blank whenever he sang, which was really bizarre when he was screaming like a banshee. Set-wise, I had hoped that more of their performance would be drawn from the new album, as they played a fair amount of the old stuff that didn’t hold my attention quite as much. Additionally, it does seem like a lot of their songs are a few minutes longer than they need to be, with many of them going through numerous instrumental sections that seem a little redundant.

My favorite parts of Epica’s set were the heavier black metal-influenced sections. This was a reminder that while this gothic metal stuff is nice and all, its totally unashamed bombast making it a great “guilty pleasure,” what I really like is the heavy shit. I enjoyed this show, but in the end it mostly made me really excited for the upcoming Enslaved show at the same venue.

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