LIVE PHOTOS: Epica, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arkona
Review by Jeff Maki
Epica’s North American Principle Tour made one of its last stops of its month-long trek at Baltimore Soundstage, and judging by the energy of the band and its fans, this show should go down as one of the strongest of the tour. According to Epica’s official Instagram, Soundstage won the “award for most crowdsurfers” of the tour, as hundreds of fans came to see the Dutch goddess Simone Simons lead the symphonic metal masters, who are supporting their new album, The Holographic Principle. The tour was an international affair, with Epica from the Netherlands, Italian symphonic death metallers Fleshgod Apocalypse, the Russian pagan tribe Arkona and The Agonist, which hails from Montreal, Canada.
The Agonist is known by many at this point as the former band of current Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, but it seemed to have a strong showing at Soundstage. We arrived literally just in time to hear new vocalist Vicky Psarakis bark vocals over some furious double bass and say, “Thank you, good night!” After the set, fans lined up at the merch booth for a signing, and I saw a few dozen people leaving with autographed vinyl copies of the band’s new album, Five. I was surprised The Agonist was the opening band and not Arkona, but then I found out why.
Arkona took the stage wearing cloaks and leather armor in near darkness. After a fantasy-like intro, a woman with long blonde hair emerged, barking death metal vocals over a frantic blast beat. The blast beats then turned into folk melodies, accompanied by a flute and bagpipes, choir parts, then back to blast beats all over again. The woman—Maria “Masha Scream” Arkhipova—sang everything in Russian and spoke little English to the audience. It didn’t matter, because the fans, including me, ate it up. Arkona’s music and lyrics are influenced by Russian folklore and Slavic mythology, in the same way Eluveitie’s are influenced by Celtic mythology. Eluveitie is Arkona’s closest comparison, but if anything, Arkona embraces its heritage in an even higher capacity in its music. It may be pointless to list my favorite songs from the set, but here they are anyway: “Na Strazhe Novikh Let” and “Zakliatie.”
Arkona set list: “Kolo Navi,” “Na Strazhe Novikh Let,” “Zakliatie,” “Goi, Rode, Goi!,” “Vozrozhdeniye,” “Stenka na Stenku,” “Yarilo”
Next, we took a trip to the Renaissance period, albeit an alternate scary death metal version, with Fleshgod Apocalypse. The Italians donned fancy clothing akin to that era, and the stage setup looked like it could have been out of Interview with a Vampire. A large piano, painted black, sat stage right. Vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi has described his band as “orchestral music,” first and foremost, and it was accompanied by an opera singer wearing a masquerade mask, Veronica Bordacchini. The band is supporting its new album, King, which was released in February on Nuclear Blast.
Riccardi has the vocal intensity of Nergal of Behemoth and the stage theatrics of Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir, and fans of those bands should take a liking to Fleshgod Apocalypse. Musically, the band sounded tight. Each band member plays an integral part, with lots of double bass, swirling orchestral arrangements, tempo changes and operatic vocal parts, all while Riccardi growled his lyrics over brutal guitar riffs. Not only did Fleshgod Apocalypse serve up its own metallic pallet, but it served as a great opener for the headliner, Epica. Highlights of the set were “Pathfinder” and “Cold as Perfection.”
Fleshgod Apocalypse set list: “Marche Royale,” “In Aeternum,” “Pathfinder,” “Cold as Perfection,” “The Violation,” “Prologue,” “Epilogue,” “The Fool,” “The Forsaking”
During the intro, “Eidola,” Epica’s band members took the stage, and it was evident many in attendance had been waiting a long time to see the band, including me. Shorty after, Simone Simons made her entrance as they opened with “Edge of the Blade,” the first single from The Holographic Principle. Simone wore an above the knee, silver dress with black stripes and high boots. She looked more like she was going out to a club rather than fronting a metal band. I think, like me, many were in awe to be in the presence of such a beautiful, talented singer. She was glowing onstage.
Epica breaks the mold for female-fronted metal bands. The symphonic pieces and opera singing are a huge part of its sound, but Epica is one of the heavier, more popular worldwide metal bands out there. It’s also equal parts thrash and death metal, which has increased with recent albums. This is in many ways due to newer members, lead guitarist Isaac Delahaye and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek, both formerly of death metal band God Dethroned. Guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen is the driving force of the band, and it was his vision. I could see the eagerness for the fans approval in his eyes while playing the new material, and he seemed genuinely excited for it.
Six songs from the new release were included in the setl ist. I was a bit surprised the album was this heavily represented, as Epica has six previous albums to pick from. (By contrast, two weeks earlier, I saw In Flames, which only played two songs from its newly released album.) The new material stood out well, and The Holographic Principle may be Epica’s most diverse and heaviest album yet. The symphonic death metal of “Universal Death Squad” and the mystical “Dancing in a Hurricane” sounded grandiose. Both are destined to be live cuts for many tours to come. But it was “Beyond the Matrix” that Simons declared as the “Epica workout,” and had the band and the entire floor jumping in unison throughout the chorus. A deeper cut off the new album, the song reminds me of Within Temptation’s “Deceiver of Fools.” Other standouts were “Design Your Universe,” which Simons said was a fan favorite, and “Storm the Sorrow,” standout no matter where it shows up in the set.
Epica is not a band you’re going to see playing Baltimore (or North America, for that matter) too often, so it was a special occasion at Soundstage. Fans bought up the merchandise, from shirts to banners to CDs and vinyl.
Epica’s new album explores the world of virtual reality versus reality, but what is a reality is not only has Epica survived a fading subgenre, it has grown into an absolute powerhouse band in the studio and live. I know that was reality for anyone at Soundstage this night.
Epica set list: “Edge of the Blade,” “A Phantasmic Parade,” “Sensorium,” “Universal Death Squad,” “Divide and Conquer,” “Storm the Sorrow,” “The Essence of Silence,” “The Obsessive Devotion,” “Ascension — Dream State Armageddon,” “Dancing in a Hurricane,” “Unchain Utopia,” “Design Your Universe,” (Encore) “Sancta Terra,” “Beyond the Matrix,” “Consign to Oblivion”