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Epica @ The Robin, Bilston (11/3/11)

posted 25 Jul 2011, 15:38 by Paul Woodward
Review by Woody
Photos by Rob Stanley

Apart from the odd festival appearance, tonight’s gig was set to be Epica’s first ever show on UK soil, right here in the Black Country, so I was expecting a decent turnout. But given the capacities of the other venues the band are playing I didn’t expect a near full house at The Robin with its 700 capacity! The style of the bands tonight was a bit of a departure from what the Robin normally caters for, but it seems with JBs in Dudley retiring The Robin are going to step up to the plate.

With bands like Symphony X, Vain and MSG already lined up it’ll be interesting to see who else will be playing there this year. As I was using the *cough* facilities at The Robin, I came to the conclusion The Robin is my new favourite venue with its large stage and amazing sound system, it truly is a premier league standard venue – putting other venues and indeed some larger ones to shame – also I decided I’m never having Fish again prior to heading out to a gig!

First onstage tonight were ReVamp fronted by statuesque lead vocalist Floor Jansen who many will know from After Forever. Having done no research prior to the gig, I didn’t know this little nugget until Floor mentioned this was the band’s first gig in the UK but she had been here with After Forever, which got a loud response and me going ahhhhh I know them! I’m sure my lack of research will have the Ed smacking me about with a rolled up newspaper and giving me a free ticket to see Cradle of Filth - *Gulp* NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Considering the band are relatively new they got an amazing response from tonight’s crowd who greeted the band like returning heroes as opposed to a ‘first time seen support band’. There was definitely a good crowd of people in tonight who knew the band’s music like the back of their hands and made their voices heard and threw the horns up at every opportunity. Floor was visibly pleased at the reaction received even saying how amazing the crowd was tonight with it being their first show in the UK and that they’d definitely be back! ReVamp played like seasoned veterans and Floor held her fans in the palm of her hand with a faultless and captivating performance. My photographer  tonight was really impressed with these guys too, and such is the strength of their songs that they won over two people who’d hadn’t heard a single note from the before.

Floor interacted with the crowd quite a lot and this obviously pleased the crowd! She also mentions she was overjoyed the show was going so well after a rather heavy drinking session with the members of Epica the previous night! The band got a good set length too, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head as I enjoyed the set that much it flew by but I’d be shocked if they played a set less than 50 minutes long! Of the song titles I caught, they played “Fast Forward”, ballad “Sweet Curse” (originally a duet with Symphony X front man Russell Allen), “Million”, “Kill Me With Silence”, “Disgraced” and the song that stood out for me was “Head Up High”.

I highly recommend checking these guys out especially if you dig your female fronted symphonic metal.

Epica are very aptly named - their music is epic! The band’s songs are grandiose, symphonic and multi-layered and given the structures of the songs the band NEED a good sound set-up for them to convey them to their full potential – The Robin delivers this for them!

Without a doubt the heaviest band I’ve ever witnessed at the Robin and I was unsure if it would be the right stage for band like this –  fortunately it was perfect and there was a great atmosphere, albeit very sweaty! I can’t even repeat what our tog Rob Stanley said he was sweating like! ... maybe that’s a story for another time.

Symphonic metal bands are hugely popular in mainland Europe, and bands like Epica are more used to playing to stadium size crowds across the continent. I think the Epica army that arrived tonight were glad that the band had finally gotten the opportunity to get some dates in the risky territory of the UK, where the genre hasn’t had the same impact! All the members of Epica seemed overjoyed at not only the size of the crowd but the love they were receiving from them too and maybe a sense of relief at what could have been a failed tour being well worth it! I think that if the other dates on the tour have similar turnouts the band will definitely be back as there is without a doubt an audience for them here in the UK - well at least there is here in the Midlands ;-)

Epica as a whole put in a magnificent performance, full of energy and vibrancy and for as much as they juice up the crowd their heads are banging just as hard. Coen Janssen’s keyboard swivels so he has more freedom and gives him time to be more visual and included in the bands performance - he even wanders to the front occasionally to get the crowd worked up too. Visually the band are stunning, and the light show brings elements of the songs out even more so and makes the performance even more captivating. Whilst I’m not normally one for fancy light shows and theatrics (I like the songs to do the talking) I have to admit to being a little bit dribbly and in awe of what I was witnessing! The lighting guy was also doing all the right things to help with the performance of each individual song, this wasn’t about going woooo wooo look what I can do and trying to blind the audience, but using the lights to enhance the performance – and job well done!

Guitarist Mark Jansen spoke to the crowd as much as Simone did, but I think the fact that people were standing looking to centre of the stage as opposed to just looking at the stage made me realise the importance of the role front woman Simone Simons has in the band.

Simone is an enchanting front woman whose performance can be dramatic and engrossing which draws you in and has you hanging on every note. With a classically trained voice there is no denying her ability to sing and she definitely delivers live too – for me she is one of the best singers within the genre. She may not be as commercial as others but that fits in with the almost epic-film-score-type vibe of much of the band’s catalogue. Although her performance is extremely feminine and she does come across as demure, she never shies away from Epica’s heavier moments and swirls her hair and head bangs just as much as the others and the crowd do – if you check out Rob’s photos you’ll see one that I have nicknamed “Strawberry whirl”! Simone has a very expressive face and has a siren-like ability to bring everyone into the atmosphere of the gig.

I suppose having one of the most beautiful women on your frontline helps the appeal of the band – but tonight was far from a sausage fest with at least half the crowd being women – which was nice... I have to admit to having a major crush on Simone who is the epitome of beauty to me with her long ginger hair, porcelain skin and striking blue eyes. But the band doesn’t sell sex, it’s not about what she looks like, she genuinely has a stunning voice, almost angelic – I did spend most the night wondering where and how she hid her wings?!

The band came onto their intro “Samadhi” and kicked straight into “Resign To Surrender” which just blew the roof off, the anticipation of waiting over 10 years to see this band was palpable and added a real edge to the atmosphere. Straight after this song though there was some form of technical difficulty, obviously times like this can be disastrous for bands as they try to fill time without losing the atmosphere or the crowd’s attention. Simone spoke briefly before passing the mike to drummer Arien Van Weesenbeek who she says is good at Hollywood impressions! Much laughter and to be honest a quite good impression albeit it a caricature of Gandalf, was had and I’m pleased to say there was no more interruptions for the band.

Most the songs were from the band’s latest album, 2009’s “Design the Universe” album, which of course is still the name of the current tour given the worldwide popularity of the band! They run through a head banging set including “Sensorium”, “Obsessive Devotion”, “Martyr of the Free World”, “Kingdom Of Heaven” & “Consign To Oblivion”. The first single “Unleashed” which is one of their more commercial songs went down extremely well with the crowd, and was probably my highlight of the set.

There was also a cover of John Williams “Imperial March” from the Star Wars films - it’s easy to see that the band are heavily influenced by orchestral movie pieces. The keyboard led ballad “Tides Of Times” probably showcases Simone’s voice to its full potential and was another song that seemed to hit home with tonight’s crowd. Simone asks “Wolverhampton – how’re you doing?” and that is one word I never thought anyone could make sound sexy... I was wrong... ;-)

As Epica returned for the three song encore, guitarist Mark Jansen quickly spoke to the crowd and said that they weren’t going to hang about too much as they had witnessed what harden drinkers ReVamp were and wanted to make sure they hadn’t drunk all the beer before they’d finished! So on with the show! We got “Sancta Terra” & the rather excellent “Quietus” before Simone informs us to all go nuts for the final song “The Phantom Agony”.

A very diverse crowd tonight with young and old all throwing their hair around or what little they had left! I’m sure it was a fantastic greeting for the band on their first UK tour and a great boost for the dates to follow!

I went to tonight’s gig as a casual fan of Epica’s music and mostly to catch a glimpse up close and personal of Simone (Job done! The restraining order is stated in ‘yards’ anyway and I keep telling the fuzz I only know metric, well vaguely). But I enjoyed tonight’s gig so much, I’d probably say it’s my gig of 2011 and I’ve witnessed some good bands so far, so I don’t say this lightly! I think one thing that I really took from this is the amazing atmosphere which just enhanced my own personal experience – something I’ve felt the Robin has lacked in the past; maybe I just needed to see the right band here!

Well worth catching live if you have the opportunity but remember to raise your horns high and have a neck brace handy for the morning after!