Venue: Gramercy Theatre (New York, NY)
Opener: Threat Signal, Blackguard, Cypher Seer & Phoenix Reign
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
“Design Your Universe” was the mantra being spoken by Dutch Symphonic purveyors Epica and this new album was being supported with a rousing tour and making a stop in good ole’ New York City. I was really happy to find Epica returning to the states for a tour because they have remained one of my very favorite of the whole Symphonic Operatic Metal bands that are out there and this interest of mine began with their “Phantom Agony” release back in 2004. The band has not been to this region for a tour since their last headlining gig which was in 2007 and sadly a very ill-attended event when it hit NYC. This surprised me as the bill was killer and found Visions Of Atlantis, Unexpect and The Agonist on the tour as well. Perhaps the free Ozzfest that had just been held was the cause for this, but either way that is a show long gone and now we move forward. Tonight’s gig at the Gramercy Theatre had sold out by the time the doors opened and the tour was following the adventures of Epica who were joined by both Threat Signal and Blackguard as the major bands with some warming the crowd up by local openers as they hit each city. Our gig found the likes of Cypher Seer and Phoenix Reign getting the people into the mood and here is how the night progressed for those who didn’t manage to secure a ticket.
Phoenix Reign: Phoenix Reign were the immediate vicinity openers more than the “local openers” because the band originates and hails from nearby Astoria, Queens only about a mile away and when one reviews their sound they would find that this is very traditionally styled Power Metal with a solid female lead vocal. There is no growling done by singer Theresa Gaffney, nor does she seem to soar to the stratosphere like your Simone Simons or Floor Jansens and yet she handles herself well and seems comfortable on the stage. Musically the band is tight and their stuff a little more interesting than some of the other local Power Metal bands I have seen in the recent past. If they play their cards right perhaps this business will shine some positive light on them. They have a CD out entitled “Destination Unknown” and while this bears the same title as the classic Missing Persons tune, it has nothing to do with that kind of music and is instead a great display of Power Metal prowess with some good lyrical content. We wish them the best of luck on their own climb to the top.
Cypher Seer: I had seen Cypher Seer a few months ago and while I kind of enjoyed them, that particular evening I had to say that I also kind of didn’t. I am not sure why because they plays a brand of Metal that is one of my favorites. Tonight they would deliver and impress me quite a bit and I was also surprised when I looked up on the stage and saw keyboardist Mike Khalilov. I’ve known Mike K. for a couple of years around the Metal scene and enjoyed his Empyreon band which we covered a few months ago at their gig down at Lit Lounge. He did great bringing the music of Cypher Seer to larger life tonight and they were very impressive with what they were doing as I had said. I view them as classic Power Metal, but one that employs quite a bit of technical diversity to the mix. To my knowledge they have two albums available out on Sentinel Steel Records and we will try and get around to reviewing them sometime in the future. After their set they hit the merchandise stand and had a lot of people talking to them. The same applied for the just performed Phoenix Reign. It was nice to see two local bands knocking the audience for a loop instead of having them hit the bar or go out for a cigarette. Folks who remember Arctic Flame might appreciate the fact that guitarist Rod Mariani is now a part of this lineup. Blackguard was up next.
Blackguard: It’s amazing to realize the amount of gigs that Blackguard has been on recently, and they have all been excellent shows that find the band getting better and better on the stage in front of this no longer new audience to their sound. Watching Blackguard is a treat because they are a very exciting group in the live sense and from the moment they hit the stage, lead singer Paul Ablaze is a burst of energy that seems to explode as he bounds around the stage. Tonight the band would deliver a short but effective set and it was clear that all of these past shows had built up a larger fan base for them and the manner in which they do things. If you’ve not seen them before then you should know that your first go at the band should be expected to be a treat because it’s just such a “live” thing and makes any band that just stands around start to worry about their own stage presentation if Blackguard is on the bill before them. Musically I really enjoy their brand of Folkish meets Battle Metal and think that all of the members of the band keep this interesting in the concert sense. I mentioned that Paul is like a maniac up there but that does not mean that Kim, Terry or Etienne just stand around while he does his crowd rallying. The band delivered tonight with exceptional fashion and of course did their soon to be signature synchronized hair twirling. Since I have seen them so much in so short a time I do admit that I need to see them a little less so their sound remains as interesting as it does to me. They would be wise to not be on almost every bill like Warbringer ends up being and yet at the end of the day they appear to be more musically diverse than the young Thrashers so it doesn’t get too repetitive when they do play. This was an amazing tour to see Blackguard take part in and I am sure that the members agree. Kudos to you Mes Amis for another job well done.
Threat Signal: I’ve only seen half of Threat Signal before and while I am sure this confuses you, it makes perfect sense when you realize that half of the bands roster is also a part of the band Arkaea. That outfit finds bassist Pat and singer Jon Howard delivering a very Industrial Metal kind of vibe with Fear Factory’s Ray Herrera and Dino Cazares but in Threat Signal the guys are delivering a very straight ahead type of Metal. Tonight this band was the second newest to my Metal ears and while I was enjoying them and thinking they were delivering a solid set, I was getting very excited about the return of Epica to the New York stage and was essentially counting the minutes until they finished. I have to give them credit though for being a very aggressive outfit and one that successfully mixed it up musically tonight and by doing so gave the audience a little bit of difference as opposed to being a similar sounding group. Their Nuclear Blast Records debut is entitled “Vigilance” and four of the seven songs performed tonight while the remaining three hailed from their 2006 recording “Under Reprisal”. If you like bands that come off as the offspring of Pantera or along those lines then you should look into Threat Signal. They did a powerful and very aggressive set which I felt kept the audience interested and now, the moment we were all waiting for – the return of Epica.
Epica: The Dutch Symphonic Metal band did good tonight by selling out this venue and while I felt that it should have been held at the larger B.B. King Blues Club or Fillmore NY, I was happy to see an inch to inch packed scenario for this incredible band. As mentioned I have been into them since their “The Phantom Agony” release and I am responsible for turning a number of my Metal friends into fans long before I got into this aspect of life. Having enjoyed them in concert on those few occasions that they came to visit us in the past I expected this evening’s show to be a good one. Their last visit found them delivering “The Divine Conspiracy” and some of their older tunes, but since that time they have released two more recordings with “The Classical Conspiracy” and “Design Your Universe” which is their very latest and hence the premise of the overall tour. There were other differences since that last time and the first was in how then “for hire” drummer Arien van Weesenbeek was only a temp, and was now a fulltime official member of the band. The second big change was the departure of guitarist Ad Sluijter who has since been replaced by Isaac Delahaye. Interestingly enough, now there are two former members of Dutch Death Metal powerhouse God Dethroned and while I like that band quite a bit think these guys made the right career move. There was another change but not a permanent one as keyboardist Coen Janssen would not be taking part in the tour and in his place for these USA jaunts would be Oliver Palotai who many know as being a member of Kamelot and having played with Doro Pesch for some time. It was great to see Ollie handling the boards because he is such a capable player, and also a dude who has a new group of his own called “Sons Of Seasons”. I have not heard them yet, but as soon as I do we will present you with some views on them.
As the dramatic introduction music began the musicians hit the stage and kicked it into overdrive. For me a band like Epica works well with that over the top flair sort of intro, while bands like Arch Enemy who did this not a week ago struck me as cliché by doing it. I think the overall presentation of Epica is what makes this be the case as it works much better with their brand of Metal than many others who choose to have that lead the audience into the night. As the band played, lead singer Simone Simons joined them and as expected was just radiance put into female form. I know it sounds cheesy to harp on the beauty of a singer because there is so much more to her than this, but she really does have this whole goddess appeal to her and the audience was just hypnotized by her smile and warm manner of delivering this Symphonic Metal. She was also dressed for success in NYC and sporting a lovely skirt and top that brought out her looks. Clearly she was not going to make a fashion faux pas like Anette Olzon did with Nightwish last year. Fans might recall that the outfit seemed to find every blog narrative offering up their own Mr. Blackwell’s viewpoint on her. Of course the key to Simone is the amazing and explosive power of her voice and she really makes your head spin with just how incredible it is. They would open up with material from their “Design Your Universe” release and take a breather by giving us a little taste of “Consign To Oblivion” before jumping back into the new stuff. I had to say that I was surprised to find so many new tunes this early in the set and while I had enjoyed what I heard from the new album, I surely didn’t want this evening to be a full presentation of it. Simply put, there are far too many songs that I like by Epica to find me being able to tolerate an entire new album show. This does work for some bands but those acts are often doing two to three hour shows.
They would mix it up a little more after playing “Martyr Of The Free World” and play the favorite “Seif Al Din” and lead us into the “Imperial March” or “Darth Vader’s Theme” from “Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back”. Having been a long time Star Wars fan I really loved how they delivered this one. It would appear to be the only inclusion in their set from “The Classical Conspiracy” in terms of how that album flowed but I was ok with that. For the most part it was Simone who spoke to the crowd and it was always commentary that flowed with appreciation for the fans and how well this city had treated them, and hence remained a special place. That kind of stage banter always seems to get a rise out of the hometown crowd and everyone in the venue was responding with positive energy back to the band and it was so strong that you could feel it. I was surprised to not hear the “hit” from the previous studio recording “Never Enough” because its just such a great song live, but that was okay since they were making up for it by treating us to other songs that they don’t always manage to play. I had to say that Oliver was fitting in well on the keyboards this evening, and Isaac appeared as if he had been in the group for years. All of these positive stimuli this evening were keeping a smile on guitarist and band found Mark Jansen’s face and it had to feel good to be in his position this evening as he observed just how much his band was appreciated but the Metal faithful.
As the show closed out, Epica would do a three song encore that ended us with “Consign To Oblivion” which is the title of their second release and a very hard album to find. The audience was saddened by their departure but they appeared to play almost two hours this evening if my timing of it was correct and that was not a bad thing to find happening especially after four other bands played. Overall this was an incredible night of interesting Metal and a great way to start the weekend. Tomorrow me and friends would be attending the Between The Buried and Me show over at The Fillmore NY only a couple of blocks away and while the mighty Behemoth was originally scheduled to be at this same venue tomorrow, that show had been scrapped so the crushing Polish outfit could team up with Devil Driver in NJ. Epica’s tour will run for a couple of more weeks and one can only hope that the response received tonight make them consider a not too far off return visit. Thanks for the great show Epica, you make me and many others proud to be your fans. Let’s get a live DVD happening ok.
Blackguard Set List:
1. The Sword
2. Scarlet To Snow
5. This Rounds On Me
Threat Signal Set List:
2. Through My Eyes
3. A New Beginning
4. Beginning Of The End
7. Rational Eyes
Epica Set List:
2. Resign To Surrender
5. Martyr Of The Free World
6. Seif Al Din
7. Imperial March
8. Fools Of Damnation
9. Tides Of Time
10. The Obsessive Devotion
12. Design Your Universe
13. Cry For The Moon – encore
14. Sancta Terra – encore
15. Consign To Oblivion – encore
The dramatic backdrop of the Epica stage. This is the cover of their brand new album “Design Your Universe”.