Posts Tagged ‘Epica’

Oh, right, show reviews

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I’ve seen about a billion and one concerts since I last posted those show reviews of Caspian, Jucifer and Salome, or so it seems. I won’t recap them all but here are some highlights.

Last night I saw the Tiptons Sax Quartet and Drums at An Die Musik. I have been starving for more experimental jazz in the DC area for the last couple of years. Things are really picking up these days (many thanks to Ed Ricart and others who are putting on awesome shows at Bossa here in DC), but this was the first jazz show I’ve been to in a long time. I think Nordic Jazz Fest last summer was the last jazz I saw. This show was a great way to ease back in - super accessible, fun and eclectic stuff. I remember seeing Rova Saxophone Quartet at Twins Jazz a couple years ago, and pretty much everything about that show went straight over my head. This was totally different: the Tiptons played nothing without a solid, head-nodding beat, and their compositions were chock-full of gorgeous melodies and stunning solos. I found Jessica Lurie in particular really impressive, and it was a treat to finally get to see Amy Denio after hearing her on so many random records (my favorite perhaps being the Cuneiform obscurity The Danubians).

Before this were a couple of female-fronted Euro-metal shows: Epica and Arch Enemy. As readers of this blog know, I am a sucker for Epica. That said, I’m less than enthused by their new album. Couldn’t tell you why just yet, but it seems to be even more bombastic than previous efforts without as much heaviness or even as much of a melodic sense. Le sigh. The band’s performance at Jaxx in Virginia was the first show of their U.S. tour, and the kinks were definitely there. Energy wasn’t all that great and guest keyboardist Oliver Palotai (also of Kamelot, and vocalist Simone Simons’ boyfriend) doesn’t quite have his parts down yet. Still, there were plenty of enjoyable moments and it was nice to see Simons fronting the band again - the last time they played the States, she was ill and a replacement singer was with them.

I’ve never been a huge Arch Enemy fan, although as far as melodeath goes they’re pretty good. Like the Epica show, the show I saw was the first night of this tour. There were fewer kinks, but again the band didn’t seem to be at their peak in terms of enthusiasm. I can’t really judge this one though as I left early and am not all that familiar with a lot of the band’s material anyway.

Otherwise, there were three shows I photographed for the Washington Post, the best of which was one I never would have gone to otherwise: a bluegrass pairing of Carolina Chocolate Drops and Red Molly. The former is a trio playing traditional black string music, and they were amazing, tons of energy, tremendous chops and all kinds of catchy melodies. The latter are also a string trio, playing a mix of standards and originals, and I found their songs beautiful across the board. I picked up one of the records and it absolutely didn’t do the show justice.

The other two were Pree, a DC-area indie-rock band who are drawing comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Neutral Milk Hotel and the like; I liked them pretty well, enough to investigate further; and Otis Taylor, famed blues guitarist, whose set was way too disjointed for my taste. There were a few times his band broke out into some amazing jams, but otherwise I’d have to say it was kind of a dull night.

So that’s what I’ve been up to so far in January… I was hoping to go see Tim Berne and a new band that he’s in, Four Limones, but the show got cancelled last minute. Major bummer. Next up is Those Darlins on Sunday… not a show I’d imagine many readers of my blog would be particularly interested in.

Carmina Burana metal

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Cosmo Lee consistently has the best soundbites of any music writer out there these days, or at least it seems like it to me, because I keep linking to him. Today in Invisible Oranges, he throws out a review of Epica’s new record (which he’s only reviewing because he basically wrote a post saying “Please don’t make me review the new Epica record,” and so of course everyone asked him to review the new Epica record).

The whole brief review is worth a read but the meat is right here: “But everything is loud and dramatic, which means that nothing is loud and dramatic. I call this ‘Carmina Burana metal.’ It’s like if Dethklok weren’t a joke.”

And yet I still like this stuff. Which, I suppose, would make it pretty hard for me to get all soapboxy about, say, neo-prog, if I were still into doing that kind of thing.

Almost a year late: best of 2007

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Hey, ok, this was supposed to be done last December, but instead I was busy pulling together a best of 2008 list for the Washington City Paper. But that just means more perspective, right? So no worries. Anyway, as of now, here is my top 10 list of 2007. Next month, I promise, I’ll have my real best of 2008 list posted, on time (a year late as normal, instead of two).

  1. Do Make Say Think - You, You’re a History in Rust
    In which the venerable post-rock band explores glorious noise, rough vocals, and moments of pure beauty amidst chaos. DMST have never stopped evolving and this is easily their best album yet. It’s also to their lasting credit that they are pretty much the only post-rock band that might actually be considered somewhat unpredictable.
  2. Aranis - II
    Largely acoustic, upbeat, highly melodic, sometimes insanely intricate chamber-rock. No drums or percussion, yet this is some of the most head-noddingly rhythmic stuff imaginable. Composer/bassist Joris Vanvinckenroye is a pretty phenomenal talent, and this one is his finest hour so far.
  3. Zs - Arms
    As far as room-clearing records go, parts of this one rank just below Orthrelm’s OV. This may well be the last of Zs’ overtly progged-out records, given their recent lineup change and a shift towards more minimal, less accessible material. So, Arms is likely to remain my favorite studio album by this band, ever.
  4. Dälek - Abandoned Language
    After the brutal, no-holds-barred noise of Absence, this seemed like a letdown at first. In this case, first impressions are deceptive: the relative calm of this album masks a seething anger and hidden intensity that makes Abandoned Language my favorite album by this cutting-edge hip-hop ensemble.
  5. Om - Pilgrimage
    Not too much metal left in this stoner-metal outfit; instead, it’s a spiritual journey with Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun” as a guide. Powerful, intense, and moving, this one is short and sweet and leaves me wanting more every time I listen to it.
  6. Despised Icon - The Ills of Modern Man
    Perhaps the pinnacle of the entire deathcore genre, this album is really just awesome death metal with some breakdowns (and pig squeals) thrown in for the moshers. Catchy hooks and killer rhythmic breaks abound, and the dual growling vocalists grab your attention and never let go. Even if you hate deathcore, you might like this record.
  7. St. Vincent - Marry Me
    Understated and weird, this album from a former guitarist for Sufjan Stevens and The Polyphonic Spree took me completely by surprise with a unique, offbeat charm. Annie Clark’s guitar work is wonderful when she lets it rip, but it’s her voice and her bizarre compositional sense that carry this album. It’s indie-rock with a hint of the avant-garde, and it’s one of the more memorable debuts in recent memory.
  8. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - In Glorious Times
    So, this is a pretty solidly great album from this uniquely theatrical avant-rock band. Somehow, though, it hasn’t been nearly as memorable for me as either of the albums that preceded it. All of SGM’s albums are basically essential for any fan of heavy experimental rock, this one’s just a tiny step lower than the other two.
  9. Nadja - Touched
    I cannot describe this better than a frequent poster on the 5/8 forums: “Listening to Nadja is like swimming in a sea of declawed kittens.” Yes. So much fuzzed out bliss. Especially on this album, which is far and away my favorite of this prolific drone/doom-metal band’s many releases.
  10. Thing with Ken Vandermark, The - Immediate Sound
    This one falls perfectly into that niche of avant-jazz that I like: it’s “out,” with plenty of wild collective improv and unpredictable solos, but it’s also recognizably jazz, anchored in rock-solid grooves and accessible melodies. Also, it rocks. You wouldn’t really expect anything less from this lineup.

As always, this was hard, and lots of great things missed the cut. One of particular note is Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy. I listened to this a ton but couldn’t quite bring myself to put it on the above list. I’m sure I’ll catch some heat for liking this stuff - it’s like warmed-over prog-metal with a combination of death-metal vocals and beautiful female clean vocals. But damn can these guys write a catchy song. I don’t understand why they don’t get more love in the prog world; there’s tons of bombastic keyboards, epic lyrical themes, and general cheesiness, plus a fantastic lead vocalist and really long songs. What’s not to love, prog fans?

More things I liked from 2007:

  • Æthenor - Deep In Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light
  • Alamaailman Vasarat - Maahan
  • Alcest - Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde
  • Baroness - The Red Album
  • Between the Buried and Me - Colors
  • Car Bomb - Centralia
  • Caspian - The Four Trees
  • Cato Salsa Experience & The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend
  • Cephalic Carnage - Xenosapien
  • Cline/Parkins/Rainey - Downpour
  • The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
  • Feist - The Reminder
  • Grayceon - Grayceon
  • Carla Kihlstedt & Satoko Fujii - Minamo
  • Eric Malmberg - Verklighet & Beat
  • Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses - Manfauna
  • The National - Boxer
  • Neurosis - Given to the Rising
  • Original Silence - The First Original Silence
  • Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb
  • Scorch Trio - Live in Finland
  • Soft Mountain - Soft Mountain
  • Tin Hat - The Sad Machinery of Spring
  • Yakuza - Transmutations

If I think to do it, perhaps a couple “favorite shows” posts will be forthcoming as well (one for 2008, since I forgot to do one last year, and one for 2009). But the top 10 albums of 2008 post is definitely coming soon.

New stuff that will probably rock

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

I’m excited about all of these upcoming releases for the remainder of 2009:

  • Anti-Pop Consortium - Fluorescent Black (heard it last night and I already know it rocks)
  • Baroness - Blue Record
  • Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect
  • The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis (probably early 2010)
  • Do Make Say Think - Other Truths
  • Epica - Design Your Universe (I am a total sucker for this band)
  • Espers - III
  • Evangelista - Prince of Truth
  • Gaza - He Is Never Coming Back
  • Krallice - Dimensional Bleedthrough
  • Magma - Emehntet-Re (is this really coming out in November??)
  • Present - Barbaro (isn’t this supposed to be out already? can’t find it anywhere)
  • Sajjanu - Pechiku!!
  • Univers Zero - Clivages (technically January 2010)
  • Wrnlrd - Myrmidon

Obviously, I have very little idea about what’s going on in the prog world these days. Any other avant-prog releases I should be paying attention to? (Please don’t tell me about the new Transatlantic album, I care even less than I did five years ago.)

Epica + hired gun at Jaxx

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Epica 12

Last Saturday, I went to Jaxx in Springfield, VA to see Symphony X, Epica and Into Eternity on the last gig of their current tour. Of these bands I’m mostly a fan of Epica; I used to really like Symphony X but I moved away in large part from the prog-metal type stuff, oh, five or six years ago. Unfortunately, Epica was missing their inimitable frontwoman Simone Simons, who has been ill for some time now. Amanda Somerville, Simons’ voice coach (who makes an appearance on the We Will Take You With Us DVD), filled in, and her voice was remarkably similar to Simons’ — if not actually a little stronger all around. She seemed comfortable on stage with the band as well, which I suppose makes sense since it was the last gig of the tour. Still, Simons has an unmistakable charisma that I witnessed last year when Epica played this same venue — even though that time I was watching from afar and this time I was right up front — and her presence was definitely missed.

Epica 6

All the bands put on very good performances. The two local openers, Apothys and Tolerance for Tragedy, were solid, and the former band certainly knew their audience when they played a cover of Opeth’s “Demon of the Fall.” I’m not much of a fan of Into Eternity — singer Stu Block’s more high-pitched wailing moments just don’t really do it for me, to say the least — but Block is an excellent frontman and Tim Roth is a pretty awesome guitarist. As for Epica, well, they rocked it, although I did wish they would have played more stuff from The Divine Conspiracy. I generally find that album much more compelling than the older stuff, but of their older material they did play the best of it, so I suppose it all evens out in the end. “Sancta Terra” was a highlight for me, all cheesy bombast that’s pretty much just sheer awesomeness once you accept the nerdiness factor.

For Symphony X, I retreated to the back of the club and actually ended up leaving early. I just don’t find their music all that compelling these days, although admittedly in a live setting they are way heavier and more engaging than on record (Dave Kerman would still call it “panty-waist mallcore/prog-metal b.s.” though :). Part of my decision to give up my spot near the front of the pit was that or the last couple songs of Epica’s set, some dude who probably weighed 200 pounds more than me decided to shove his way up front and lean his entire weight into me while pumping his fists and screaming. I pretty much had to stop taking photos and brace myself against the stage railing (doing the folks in front of me a favor). After Epica’s set, he didn’t move, and I decided to find a different spot. Unfortunately, that proved impossible, the crowd was so densely packed. So I retreated to the bar and enjoyed probably half or a bit more of Symphony X from afar.

Into Eternity 6

One final note: the bands were unruly themselves, it being their final show. It was actually kind of hilarious; they were throwing food and other things (silly string, as in the above photo of Into Eternity’s guitarist) at each other during the sets, and apparently things got even crazier towards the end of Symphony X’s set, after I’d already left. It was cool to see these guys having so much fun, and in front of a very appreciative crowd to boot.

Lots more photos in the full set at Flickr. Of them all, my favorite shot of the night is probably this one, of the singer for Tolerance for Tragedy:

Tolerance for Tragedy 1

Epica @ Jaxx: unashamedly bombastic

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

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.