Epica at O2 Forum Kentish Town

Support: Myrkur| Oceans Of Slumber
April 13, 2018 at O2 Forum Kentish Town
Promoter: Contra Promotion

Dutch symphonic metal veterans Epica returned to the UK in support of their first EP The Solace System, which was released at the end of last year. This particular show at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town also happened to be the band’s 999th live show of their 16-year history. Though that obviously is not quite as special as the big 1000 (which was to take place in Tilburg), Epica were not going to pass up this opportunity to make a big deal out of it. Supported by two acts in Myrkur and Oceans of Slumber whose sounds offered a real element of diversity from Epica’s trademark symphonic metal sound, the sight of the crowd snaking around the walls of the Forum upon arrival confirmed my suspicions that this was going to be something special.

The night was something of a slow burner however, as Texan band Oceans of Slumber opened proceedings. Their progressive doom style does make for some interesting listening on record, however they did not do a particularly great job of translating this into a live setting. The band were distinctly lacklustre in their performance, failing to engage the crowd at any point during their five-song set. The band were on tour to promote their most recent album The Banished Heart, but I am not sure they did themselves many favours as the performance sadly meant that no part of their songs stood out or were distinctive enough to stick in the memory. Oceans of Slumber are clearly talented musicians, and their frontwoman Cammie Gilbert in particular put in an excellent vocal performance on the night, but they seem to lack the stage presence and showmanship to do their songs proper justice in a live setting.

Showmanship was certainly not something that was lacking from Myrkur, however. The black metal singer (whose real name is Amalie Brunn) provided an encapsulating presence onstage, helped by her band who immediately provided intrigue with their dark costumes and bowed guitars. This introduction set up a performance which did an excellent job of creating and maintaining an incredible atmosphere throughout. Brunn kept the audience’s attention supremely well and had the vocal performance to match the stage presence. Myrkur’s set was as interesting as her stage persona; with an intriguing blend of Nordic folk music and incredibly dark black metal influences, it is no wonder she was able to captivate her audience despite the fact that most were there to see a band of quite a different nature. This was as good a performance from a support act as I have seen for quite some time, and certainly the quality of the sound and the atmosphere created was of the standard of any headline set.

Epica were not going to be outdone however, and when it came to their turn to enter the stage they did so explosively; launching into ‘Edge of the Blade’, the lead single from their most recent album The Holographic Principle. The fast-paced nature of the song and the enthusiasm with which it was delivered set the tone for the rest of the performance, and the incredible energy that Epica brought to proceedings did not waiver throughout the next ninety minutes. The Dutch symphonic metallers treated their fans to a set spanning their whole career, following up by going back to their first album for a rendition of ‘Sensorium’ before playing ‘Fight Your Demons’ from their latest release The Solace System EP. In truth, it was a slightly unusual set-list, with some of the old favourites being replaced for longer album tracks, such as ‘The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality’ and ‘Design Your Universe’. This may not have been ideal for the more casual fans, but it is safe to say that these seemed to be in the minority on this occasion, and I have no doubt that those more devoted fans appreciated the varying of the set-list, particularly in the case of a band which tours as frequently as Epica. There was still room for some crowd-pleasers however, such as ‘Unleashed’ and ‘Cry for the Moon’ which garnered an especially enthusiastic reaction from the crowd.

After almost 1,000 shows, it is fairly safe to say that Epica are an experienced live act by now, and they showed it. Both Simone Simons’ and Mark Jansen’s vocals were excellent, which made the band’s signature sound of combining harsh growls with female melodic vocals all the more successful. The musicianship was of a fantastic quality as well, especially during the band’s longer tracks which gave the likes of guitarist Isaac Delahaye a chance to show off perhaps a little more than usual. Despite such a long time on the road however, what must also be said of Epica is that they still bring a great freshness and energy to their live shows. The years have not weathered them down, but instead appear to have invigorated them even more so than ever. Keyboardist Coen Janssen is the one who embodies this most of all as he charges about the stage like a child during the school holidays, either with his arched keyboard around his neck, or else chasing after his keyboard stand, which he has on wheels on a track behind the drum kit. The amount of fun he, and the rest of the band, appear to be having is delightfully infectious.

It continues throughout the encore too, as they celebrate the fact that the show was taking place on Friday 13, combined with the fact that it was their 999th of their career (which, of course is 666 turned upside-down – because they’re “so evil”). Once the joking was put aside, Epica still had a few songs left to entertain us with before departing. ‘Sancta Terra’ brought the heaviness back to proceedings, and allowed Mark Jansen to go back to a more standard form of crowd interaction for a metal show as he led the calls for mosh pits and walls of death. This was before Simone Simons played her part as a frontwoman getting the whole crowd jumping for ‘Beyond The Matrix’. They end proceedings with ‘Consign to Oblivion’, which bears a final excellent example of how well this band works as a unit onstage. Each member of Epica is engaging, talented and ready to put on a good show for their fans. Epica departed London that night to head back to their home country of the Netherlands for their thousandth show, and with performances like this, it is really no wonder that fans keep coming back for more.

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