Epica + Powerwolf + Beyond The Black
@ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
February 3, 2017
Review by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Photography by Graham Hilling
Dutch symphonic metal masters Epica, promoting their most recent album The Holographic Principle, stopped by O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London last Friday. With them came two German flagships of the metal scene; the already well-established and always-fun-to-watch Powerwolf, together with up-and-coming symphonic act Beyond The Black. A line-up pleasing many, the evening was set for the bands representing The European Principle co-headlining tour to embrace us all with their presence.
Although the merciless London weather gods blessed us with the usual downpour and chill that Friday, this didn’t stop eager metalheads from lining up outside prior to the doors opening at 18:00. The beautiful Shepherd’s Bush Empire was near sold out, and with its capacity of 2,000, nothing stood in the way for a fantastic celebration of metal in the capital.
Metal-Rules also had the chance to speak with Powerwolf drummer Roel van Helden, and Epica guitarist Mark Jansen before and after their shows. Read the interviews here!
The venue slowly fills up as the set of the night’s first band approaches. It’s good to for once see an opener not forced to perform immediately following the doors opening, and the turnout is rather good when the band eventually take the stage. German Beyond The Black have in the three years since their formation released two albums, the most recent Lost In Forever via Airforce1 Records last year.
Frontwoman Jennifer Haben gracefully enters the stage as the band tears into the title track off the new album. The catchy, over the top, pop-esque chorus becomes an easy sing-along part, and it’s pretty clear that the jovial and eager atmosphere that supplemented the queue outside an hour earlier has been nicely transferred to the now almost full ground floor of the venue.
“We’re Beyond The Black and we’re so happy to be here in London!” Haben exclaims following their second song, the uplifting and borderline power metal-anthem “Hallelujah”.
It’s hard not to either nod, stamp, or clap along to their catchy music, and even the people up on the balconies seem to be participating in the party going on downstairs. The soothing ballad “Drowning In Darkness” slows the tempo down, and Haben’s tranquilizing vocal performance in the intro is soon accompanied by hard hitting riff chugs before erupting into an astonishing wall of sound.
Throughout their set, we witness formidable musicianship and showmanship, a tight performance presented with impeccable perfection and energetic stage moves. Haben shines, clearly enjoying herself, and despite recent line-up changes the union on stage seems to function almost effortlessly.
The pacing of their short and sweet five-song-set is satisfactory as well, and the balanced audio mix and overall volume has no reason to receive complaints.
“Shine And Shade”, the night’s second song off Lost In Forever, is transformed into “Running to the Edge”, another chorus driven anthem, ending their set after a mere half hour.
Although personally slightly disappointed by not getting to hear “In The Shadows” from 2015s Songs of Love and Death, their set deserves no deduction for this, and overall Beyond The Black cannot be described as anything but a perfect opener last Friday. Definitely a band worthy of praise, and one to keep an eye on as they expand their presence on the horizon of symphonic metal.
1. Lost In Forever
3. Drowning In Darkness
4. Shine And Shade
5. Running To The Edge
The crowd bursts into cheers as the lights go out 20 minutes later, and it’s not long before the name of the next band is being passionately chanted. Powerwolf drummer Roel van Helden ascends behind his workspace for the night, ominously beholding the crowd while coated in red light.
The rest of the band enters to a massive roar from the audience, kicking into “Blessed & Possessed” off their latest album by the same name. From the very beginning the German five piece serves us nothing but prime power metal, nicely accompanied by an audience seemingly loving every second.
The werewolves are immediately greatly welcomed, and their cheerfully melodic and at times rather cheesy power metal is a nice contrast to the heavier and more progressive, symphonic metal awaiting with the night’s headliner.
The self-proclaimed preachers of heavy metal have arrived to celebrate their ‘Holy Heavy Metal Mass’ with us all, tearing through classics alongside just as potent songs off their latest album Blessed & Possessed. “Army Of The Night” and “Amen & Attack” are delivered in rapid succession, before the rather (deliberately?) silly titled “Coleus Sanctus”.
Brothers Matthew and Charles Greywolf pertain a fantastic stage presence throughout their time on stage, truly looking like wolves in their distinctive face paint. Keyboard player Falk Maria Schlegel speeds from one side of the stage to the other with a seemingly endless supply of energy, eagerly taking part in the fun at the front of the stage. The Germans have indeed commenced a real metal party by now.
“London, are you here?” frontman Attila Dorn asks, prompting a tremendous response from the crowd which leaves the original question redundant. A notably funny séance commences as we are taught to sing along to the melody of “Armata Strigoi”, named the best live song off Blessed & Possessed by drummer van Helden in our interview prior to the show.
The breakdown in the middle of the song, where we’re asked to put our newfound singing skills to the test, remains arguably the most memorable moment of the night. The band seems genuinely pleased with our performance, and humbly thanks us for our participation.
Powerwolf speed through their satisfyingly paced set, rarely stepping on the brakes at all, with the absolutely grandiose spectacle “Let There Be Night” being the only exception. The setlist is made up of a good mix of older and newer material, although it entirely omits songs from the first two albums Return In Bloodred and Lupus Dei.
As during Beyond The Black, the sound quality is nice and crisp, with a well-balanced mix making the tight performance enjoyable to the fullest.
The band surely knows how to interact with and engage the crowd, with numerous sing alongs and ‘games’, most notably the aforementioned singing of the melody in the middle of “Armata Strigoi”, and the “Ho, Ha!” parts of “Werewolves Of Armenia”. Before the latter, the audience is split in two halves (“Like Moses did!”), one working together with Dorn (“Ho!”) and the other with Schlegel (“Ha!”).
“Sanctified With Dynamite”, another somewhat silly titled song, blows us all away before Dorn raises his chalice asking us all if we know what they drink. The answer obviously being blood, the band finishes off their highly enjoyable set with “We Drink Your Blood” off Blood of the Saints, leaving an audience jumping in excitement.
Judging by the number of Powerwolf shirts worn amongst the audience, a fair few came out to see the German wolves perform their ‘Holy Heavy Metal Mass’, and by the time they leave the stage, it’s safe to say everyone around seems pleased. Perhaps Powerwolf even converted some new followers to their religion of metal?
1. Blessed & Possessed
2. Army Of The Night
3. Amen & Attack
4. Coleus Sanctus
5. In The Name Of God (Deus Volt)
6. Sacred & Wild
7. Armata Strigoi
8. Dead Boys Don’t Cry
9. Let There Be Night
10. Resurrection By Erection
11. Werewolves of Armenia
12. Sanctified With Dynamite
13. We Drink Your Blood
The clock strikes 21:30 as the lights go out again, and the opening instrumental “Eidola” from Dutch symphonic metal pioneers Epica’s latest effort The Holographic Principle sounds over the PA. The amount of people making their way towards the front reveals the excitement about tonight’s headliners, who take the stage mere minutes later.
The instrumental driving forces of the band enter first, tearing into their latest single “Edge Of The Blade”, followed by the goddess herself, elegantly dressed in black as she gracefully strides onto the stage. Frontwoman Simone Simons glows as she meticulously fulfils her vocal duties, while remaining the focal point on stage.
Finally, we are served some touches of death metal, the second song “A Phantasmic Parade” sounding massively heavy, while also presenting arguably Simons’ best vocal performance of the night. The stage is then fittingly coated in red light as the night’s only song from their first album The Phantom Agony, “Sensorium”, is performed.
The three-piece Mark Jansen, Isaac Delahaye, and Rob van der Loo show fantastic musicianship, while constantly moving around to entertain the crowd. Drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek backs up the band with his impeccable precision, and keyboard player Coen Janssen slides from one side of the stage to the other.
It’s impressive how well the heavily orchestrated new material translates live, and the massive sound completely engulfs the beautiful venue in an almost mesmerizing way. “Universal Death Squad”, the first single off The Holographic Principle, gives us the band’s take on the ethical dilemma of artificial intelligence, as we’re told a story of robots suddenly wanting to kill us all.
Their set’s best succession of songs starts when we are given the highly treasured “Storm The Sorrow”, followed by my personal favourite song of theirs, “The Essence of Silence”, before the monumental number “The Obsessive Devotion” from The Divine Conspiracy is magnificently executed.
The next song “Ascension – Dream State Armageddon” hits us like a colliding meteor, bringing softening melodies on impact, showing us the band’s more progressive side. “Dancing In A Hurricane”, shows the same, and the change of pace gives their set a pleasurable flow.
Simone starts singing the lyrics to “Unchain Utopia”, the audience quickly joining in. This powerhouse of a song from their previous album The Quantum Enigma is a welcomed addition to the setlist, and works just as well as when Epica last visited London in 2015.
The soothing intro to “Once Upon A Nightmare” begins as Simone asks us to turn on our cell flashlights and raise them in the air, resulting in a somewhat interesting light show. Perhaps an odd song to end the regular set with, but the rarely played power ballad from The Holographic Principle is without doubt an emotional and moving piece of music. The band then swiftly leaves the stage, with the crowd being left chanting for them to come back.
Hardly a minute passes before Janssen returns. A little instrumental doodle gives away the predictable fact that “Sancta Terra” is the next song (also used as the first encore when the band visited London last time in 2015). Another fan favourite sparking a great reaction from the crowd, even more so when Janssen and Jansen descend down from the stage to play right among their fans.
Sabaton’s “Primo Victoria” has a serious contender in the category ‘best song to jump along to’, as proven by the reaction when the opening for “Beyond The Matrix” sounds. This merry and easy-to-sing-along-to anthem off The Holographic Principle is hopefully bound to become a future live staple.
The ground floor splits in two for a wall of death as the the 10-minute epic “Consign To Oblivion” builds up. Nothing short of a symphonic, progressive masterpiece, this was absolutely worthy of ending the evening. Jansen gets a final chance to show off his growls again, and Delahaye flawlessly executes the guitar solo.
“We love England, so we will be back!” Simons exclaims smilingly, concluding the night’s delightful astronomical journey through Epica’s holographic universe.
1. Edge of the Blade
2. A Phantasmic Parade
4. Universal Death Squad
5. Storm The Sorrow
6. The Essence of Silence
7. The Obsessive Devotion
8. Ascension – Dream State Armageddon
9. Dancing In A Hurricane
10. Unchain Utopia
11. Once Upon A Nightmare
12. Sancta Terra
13. Beyond The Matrix
14. Consign To Oblivion