Sunday Special: Epica live at Bristol 02 Academy

This was on Wednesday last week, I was tagging along with a fan of the band who got me a ticket as I was in town. Never knowingly one to turn down a free show/meal/drink/potato I went along happily. These guys are Dutch, and refer to themselves as Symphonic metal, so that is what I shall refer to them as – think Nightwish (who they cite as an influence), and you have a pretty good starting point. I actually missed the first support act, Scar Symmetry (this is bad behaviour and I am sorry), but the second act, Eluveitie, were enjoyable enough, playing a brand of folk metal including flutes, pipes and a fiddle that had some real catchy points in amongst all the headbanging. I’m not sure about their claim that they were “the music of the Celts” though, I suspect the real Celts had a lot less electronic amplification. Then, after a short break giving us time to get down into the pit, it was time for Epica.

I get on well with some Symphonic metal – although I am finding female operatic style vocalists a bit over saturated these days. I can’t be the only one who feels like this? Discuss? However, Simone Simons won huge points from me for not just having fantastic command of her own voice but also the stage space in general – she was happy to step back and let others have a moment playing to the crowd, and she didn’t overplay her obvious vocal prowess. Okay, she needed supporting with quite a lot of pre-recorded choral parts, but it’s hard to recreate that symphonic vibe when you don’t have a full choir backing you up, and that’s an expensive thing to ship round the world. Anyway, both she and the guitarists were great fun and highly adept stage performers – they had energy, they had the looks, they blasted out their parts with gusto – but they were not the best thing about the band for me, oh no.

Although Epica have been classed as a bunch of different genres (look, I can’t help it. I find all genres a bit silly. I find metal genres especially so, and thus I will leave the job of classifying them to people better qualified than me), I found them so much more enjoyable when they got progressive on me. Look, the noise stuff, anyone can do that, but the more interesting parts were when they went full prog with a guitar solo or some bizarre musical interlude. These parts were especially fantastic because it allowed them to take their keyboardist of his leash, which was basically the main event of the night. He was the star here, and for me, he made the show. Wielding his 360 degree rotation keyboard stand and funky curved keytar, anytime the band let him get loose was an absolute freaking joy. I looked him up – dudes name is Coen Janssen, he’s been with the band since the very start, and in my humble opinion he was the best thing on stage that night, and this is in a band with an attractive lead female vocalist. Mad props to this guy, striking a blow for keyboard players everywhere.

I had a real fun time, and that’s always the most important thing at these affairs. It remains true that having a gender mix does really help a band out in a lot of ways. Epica put on a really solid performance, and they’ll happily blast out the hits and interact with the crowd all day if you’ll let them. It’s not really the sort of music I would necessarily listen to on my own time, but they have a real good live show, and if they’re in town and tickets are reasonable (ours were) I’d recommend going, finding a nice spot at the back and giving it a listen, in all its hair twirling head banging silly glory.

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