With Scar Symmetry and Blackguard
The Gramercy Theater – New York, NY
November 19th, 2010
Words and pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
I acquired a taste for Epica only recently, having finally been swooned by their latest effort DESIGN YOUR UNIVERSE. What really got my attention was seeing their live show earlier this year at New York’s Gramercy theater – their music truly explodes to life when experienced in the flesh. Naturally I was utterly elated that they would be returning and that I would have the opportunity to photograph the show!
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Montreal’s Blackguard several times now. They initially grabbed my attention with their ruthlessly energetic live show over a year ago, and I’ve kept up with them ever since. Blackguard plays what could best be described as blackened folk metal with a heavy emphasis on melody – one feature I particularly enjoy are the Children of Bodom-style guitar/keyboard duels. However, keyboardist Jonathan Lefrancois-Ledu left the band in early October, leaving me to wonder how their live sound would be affected. For this tour, Blackguard has been employing a backing keyboard track to fill in for their departed bandmate, which gets the job done well enough. Mr Lefrancois-Ledu used to have some great on-stage interplay with the rest of the band in addition to some scorching keyboard solos, so I felt his absence significantly.
Lack of keyboardist aside, the remaining band does put on one heck of a show. Frontman Paul Ablaze has the energy of at least three metal singers combined, charging around on the stage like a rabid wolverine. I’m sensing a little bit of battle-weariness from Blackguard though – they’ve been playing a very similar (and short) set each of the five times I’ve seen them now, though one new song from their upcoming album FIREFIGHT did make it in. Lead guitarist Kim Gosselin seemed uncharacteristically sloppy with the tricky solos and melodies I’ve seen him effortlessly nail in past shows – I’m betting he misses having a keyboard player to duel with.
Prior to this show, I had never heard much of Sweden’s Scar Symmetry before. I liked their dual-vocalist shtick, but beyond that neither their music nor their live show impressed me much. They play a fairly standard Swedish-style melodic death metal that at least the crowd found engaging. Bah, who am I kidding? No band is going to get a fair shake with a group like Epica waiting in the rafters…
With as much fanfare as could be expected for such a great band, Epica stormed the stage and launched into the amazing headbanger “Resign to Surrender.” For whatever reason, I find bandleader Mark Jansen’s voice to be much more interesting live than on the record (where he comes off as a just passably adequate death metal vocalist) – and despite not quite being the ‘frontman’ of this outfit, he’s mesmerizing to watch on stage. But he’s nothing in comparison to the real face of Epica, the peerless Simone Simons.
I have a ridiculously huge, huge schoolboy crush on Simone Simons. If I could offer my worthless carcass to her goddess-altar, I’d have done it last week. She is probably the most stunningly beautiful woman I’ve ever set eyes on (it was all I could do to tear my eyes off her and photograph those pesky OTHER band members.) But she’s far from just a (jaw-droppingly) pretty face; she has a nerve-sizzling mezzo-soprano voice that could give a few opera singers a run for their money. Apparently Tarja Turunen of Nightwish fame inspired her to sing at the age of fifteen, but it’s blatantly apparent that Ms. Simons has surpassed her initial influence. As gorgeous as she sounds on the CD, she sounds even better live – each note out of her sterling pipes pulses with vibrant feeling and a silky, almost sensual gentleness. But all that pretty singing doesn’t mean that Simone just stands around and hums ditties like an awkward teenager at a vocal recital – she headbangs like a furious animal, even better than most grimy metal guys you’d expect to see in front of a microphone. During gentler moments, the emotion radiated from her impeccable face is blinding, and it never lets up for a single beat. She is probably the best front-woman (or man) I have ever had the pleasure to watch live.
My crush for Ms. Simons aside, the rest of Epica are hardly pushovers. The band plowed through both new and old songs with berserker gusto. These guys played a near-perfect show, nailing brutally complex passages on their more technical material from DESIGN YOUR UNIVERSE. Most importantly, it’s easy to tell how much fun these guys have playing together. With a deliriously excited crowd cheering them on, the energy feedback in the sold-out Gramercy theater was sizzling. As the final encore ended, I felt like I’d witnessed something really special. Very few bands can perform at the level of intensity and perfection that Epica can manage, all while clearly having a blast on stage. These guys have broken into the upper consciousness of the metal world, and with any luck they’ll never leave.
Resign to Surrender
Fools of Damnation
Martyr of the Free Word
Cry for the Moon
Tides of Time
The Last Crusade
Kingdom of Heaven
Consign to Oblivion