Metal Female Voices Festival VII - Wieze, Belgium, October.17.2009
|Event:||Metal Female Voices Fest VII|
|Written by:||Jason W.|
Metal Female Voices Festival VII - Wieze, Belgium (Day 2) by Jason W. (30)
Metal Female Voices Festival VII - Wieze, Belgium (Day 1) by Jason W. (43)
Sometimes, certain things in life really are worth waiting for. This year marked the seventh and possibly the strongest lineup of the annual Metal Female Voices Festival in Wieze, Belgium. For fans of female vocalists in metal, this is the place to be above all others during the year, and as someone who has never attended the festival before, the organization of it is excellent. A chance to meet numerous band members for signings, quick yet memorable hellos, and an atmosphere that expresses what followers of the attending bands wish could happen at every gig. Oktoberhallen is a large hall with a high ceiling and sound acoustics that are accurate, and the techs did an impressive job balancing the more symphonic and softer sounds with the aggressive and darker elements.
On a personal side, this was my first of hopefully many visits to this two day festival. With a single main stage and the first band each day playing before eleven in the morning, it was truly a full weekend of metal, with just enough time between bands to socialize and meet fans from all over Europe, the Americas, and as far away as Japan. For those like myself willing to pay a bit more for special VIP tickets, the perks were well worth it. In addition to access (and a place to sit) in the exclusive VIP area, there were no crowds for drinks and food, and opportunities for winning a professional photo shoot with the bands each day. And in what seems to be a traditional for the festival, there were special guests and over-the-top stage performances that awaited the attendees.
Pinky Doodle Poodle:
Quite an interesting opener, Pinky Doodle Poodle began the Saturday and the festival with a genuine Japanese spirit, and a punk edge. For me they were the only unknown act and were the subject of curiosity for many of the festival goers at the hotel I stayed at in Aalst. Their performance surprisingly entertaining, even if it's not something that appeals to my tastes in music. Vocalist Yuria was excessive in a good way on the cute and feminine side, and relentless enthusiasm for her band added some smiles and the band's set surely represented their music well. If you have any interest in upbeat, female-fronted punk or Japanese heavy music, I'd say they are worth a visit. In regards to the festival, they were the least metal act, but they were a smart addition as an opener, and helped set the mood.
Now supporting their first full-length CD, "From The Brink Of Infinity," France's symphonic metal hopefuls sound even better live than on the studio recordings, and added what I feel is almost necessary in a live performance: some active movement that reflects the spirit of the music in a visual level, not just a sonic level. This being a female vocalist festival, most eyes were on Telya Melane's singing, and not only did she deliver, but her occasional dancing was sensual yet harsh. Reflecting on their performance while listening to their debut, this is precisely what Whyzdom is trying to exude in their music. With some entertaining showmanship by Vynce Leff and Regis Morin on guitars as well as the presence of the Dark Whispers choir, I found myself thoroughly impressed by Whyzdom's set. Some of the highlights for me were debut CD opener "The Witness," and what is their big hit off the new album, "Atlantis." The band closed with fan favorite "Daughter Of The Night" from their debut EP, and with a few more tracks like these, the band will have a strong setlist every time they perform in the future. They already possess a warm and professional attitude on stage. Looks like the festival was well on its way to making a lasting impression on me...
Announced by the MFVF hostess as a new direction and challenge for former Vader member and guitarist Mauser, Polish newcomers UnSun played the most straightforward set of any of the bands of the weekend. After such a lively performance from Whyzdom, UnSun were enthusiastic and true to their studio sound, but lacked much movement or visuals on stage, and the setlist seemed a bit random to someone who knows their CD "The End Of Life" thoroughly. Some of the songs included "Blinded By Hatred," the video track "Whispers," "Closer To Death," and "Bring Me To Heaven." It was good, but as I had high expectations for everyone, I'd have liked to have seen a more dynamic performance.
Hailing from right in Belgium next came Manic Movement, who in 2006 made the switch to female vocals and their new melodic metal direction. The band's 2009 release, "Dark Glitter," featured Nina Van Hecke on vocals, but quite awhile back, Virginia Fantoni took over the lead duties and has since filmed their video "Russians" (a Sting cover) with the band. So I was curious how the band would be live, as switching vocalists in any female fronted band is often a difficult undertaking, what with the vocalist being such a central figure in the band's sound and image. But the band pushed away any reason for concern.
With a lengthy instrumental opening of album closer "Maze Of Shadows," Virginia burst onto the stage with a commanding smile and the band led into "Army Of Agony" and didn't look back. Some other tracks the band hit on were of course "Russians," the uptempo "Vanity (Pride's Paradox)," and my personal favorite, "Sleeping Beauty." What I already thought was a classic guitar solo in this song just exploded at the festival, assuring that this song will be my favorite for a long time to come. The band seems to not be as high on the radar as many of the other female fronted bands out there, but I overheard a lot of positive comments the rest of the festival about them. I can't say enough about their set, except to follow up with the wonder of how long it will be before we can hear this lineup on a recording.
Folk metal is always a hard sell for me, but Kivimetsän Druidi are a glaring exception to the rule, as I was overwhelmed by their video "Jaassa Vartunut" on first viewing last year. And the chance to see them not once but twice (they made the trip to North America in just a few weeks after) in a short span is a rare opportunity. The Finns were the only folk metal band at the festival, so some nearby audience members took advantage of their loud and aggressive set with some random dancing, while I of course began enjoying some well-deserved beers by this point.
Opening with "Blacksmith" and also checking in with the great "The Tyrant," both of which easily book-ended the hit "Jaassa Vartunut." It was a bit more raw live, but the band's best known song made use of every part of the Oktoberhallen's sound system. They also performed for the first time ever, a newly created song, "The Sea Witch And The Sorcerer," which bassist Simo Lehtonen claimed they only "fucked it up once" after it finished. From my perspective as a fan, it sounded just killer by me on first listen. Leeni-Maria Hovila took advantage of the large stage and provided us with plenty of spontaneous folkish dancing, and her vocals soared above Joni Koskinen's abrasive growls. A strong set, and the first of a few more aggressively oriented female fronted bands of the weekend.
It was great to hear what I think of as Amberian Dawn's most hypnotizing song, "Lionheart" so early to start off their set. The band played true to their studio sound, with the piercing edge of the main chorus filling the venue with a wall of symphonic power metal. Heidi Parviainen's vocals and Tuomas Seppälä's synth are like their own version of dueling guitar solos here. And speaking of guitar solos, after a rousing performance of "Kokko - Eagle Of Fire" and "The Evil Inside Me", in "Incubus" the fun really started with the first of the trade off solos between Emppu and Kasperi, something's that's been an easy sell for me ever since I began my interest in metal. No matter what road the lyrics may travel, Amberian Dawn is a relentlessly upbeat band, with smiles all around, reflecting the consistent direction that Tuomas, who is the main songwriter, is aiming for in the music. And with another round of classy trade off solos in "Hollow Heart," they finished it out with their first hit, "River Of Tuoni" to a crowd surely in better spirits than before the band began.
After a lot of chats with fellow festival attendees, even with another American at the festival, Autumn had already grown to be one of the higher of my anticipated bands of the day. Their latest album, "Altitude," is a bit more rock and less metal than their "My New Time" release on the studio version, but you wouldn't know it live, with the mix of songs of those albums showing a strong connection. Their setlist included: "The Heart Demands," "Skyscraper," and then once third song "Paradise Nox" was in full force, vocalist Marjen Welmen opened up what must be an inexhaustible supply of facial expressions throughout her verses. What for me is a band that I listen to in very pensive, reflective moments, Autumn also has a playful side that Marjen has brought to it that is best served to remind us all that a humorous expression is enough to pull you out of even the deepest nostalgic moments when you forget to breathe.
The band continued with "Closest Friends Conspire," "Synchro-Minds," and my personal choice in "Blue Wine," which has one of those rare guitar solos in music that can bring me to tears and evoke a hidden memory listen after listen. Let's just say live it was all of that and more, and it took me the rest of the song realize I was still at a metal festival and not lost in my own mind again. They rounded it out with "Satellites" and closer "Altitude" which helped bring me back to the cool atmospheric mood I enjoy most in Autumn's music. I had a few words with the same fellow American afterwards, and his only comment was "it was worth the 5000 mile trip just for that set." So yes, it lived up to my hopes to say the least.
The German band's album "Jade" came out quite awhile back, in 2000 to be exact, and upon ordering that disc back then I've been hooked. Nine years is a long time to wait for a gig but after Flowing Tears's set, let's just say I'm a confirmed fan for life. Helen Vogt is a powerful lead female vocalist, and while they aren't necessarily an aggressive band, Helen gave the festival its first taste of some much appreciated female aggression and darkness with her singing style. After kicking it off with the opening track of their 2008 album "Thy Kingdom Gone", they turned to the title track to their "Serpentine" album. This being my first time hearing Helen sing the older, Stefanie Duchêne-fronted Flowing Tears songs, Helen's style was equally as satisfying, with her own heavier touches. Founder and guitarist Benjamin Buss was driven, and thoroughly impressive to watch, the mirror image of the band's hard rock and gloomy gothic metal.
Also in the set were "Undying," "Grey," and Helen's favorite song of the era before she joined, "Swallow" (which coincidentally is the song that made me by the "Jade" album). It was refreshing for me to listen to a vocalist show so much respect for her predecessor during her set, as it reminds the fans that each era of Flowing Tears is equally as special. "Justine" as well as "Unspoken" filled the middle portion of the set, after which the band led into an abrasive performance of "Thy Kingdom Gone". And if you are familiar with the song, you'll know it includes guest lead vocals by Samael's Vorph on the album. Since he was not there, of course, Helen sang it herself, not only doing justice to it, but making me wish there was an alternate version with her taking the growling vocals all to herself available. They gave us an admittedly abrupt change to the romantically somber "Sistersun," and rounding out the set with one of their fan favorites, "Merlin." I can only hope it's not another decade before I see them again now, as after all those years of wondering how they'd be live, all my thoughts are still in the positive side of the scale.
Krypteria, at least their two recent releases, are a bit of mixed bag for me. While I hadn't cared much for their "Bloodangel's Cry," which seemed to have a lot of promotion even in the U.S., I find myself enjoying the new disc, "My Fatal Kiss" much more (which has near zero availability in the US oddly enough). So I approached the band's arrival to the stage with a cautious ear, wondering which band I was going to see and how I'd react. Well, while the band's music doesn't challenge my jaded heart much, watching lead vocalist Ji-In Cho run all over the stage, stealing all the attention effortlessly, I remain pleasantly satisfied. In fact, I can't remember much outside of watching her singing the entire time. The music and stage setup was unabashedly feminine, reflecting the themes of the latest album well. In the end, I am glad they were added to the festival's lineup this year as they appeal to my less demanding side of musical tastes.
I'd taken a bit of a break in the VIP area earlier, and had the chance to pause for a hello with vocalist Carmen Elise Espenæs, and heard the disappointing news that she'd come down with a virus of sorts. But considering the band missed last year's performance due to other unfortunate reasons, I'm sure she wanted to perform irregardless. I could hear it in her voice more during her conversation with the audience, but singing she was just fine to these ears, particularly considering that musically Midnattsol sounded crisp and inspired. Some of the more memorable moments for me were "Konkylie" and "Haunted". And by the end of the set and with a lot of coaxing from the audience for help, Carmen's voice had improved and sounded best by the time they arrived at "Skogens Lengsel". There, I could hear her deep tones clearly, and that atypically special sound I'd wanted to hear live finally had come through.
Okay, I'll admit that one of my biggest annoyances at any gig is volume, or sound quality as a whole. I'm not sure what the reasoning for the volume drastically increasing at the start of Delain's set, but out of all the bands of the weekend, I really didn't expect to feel my chest vibrating as they walked onto the stage. After taking a few pictures of vocalist Charlotte Wessels, I had to take some steps back to enjoy the music properly again. Outside of this, Delain gave the feel of a very commercially successful band, very polished and professional, with some compelling versions of "Stay Forever" and "Go Away" among my choices. Charlotte seemed to have even more range than I've ever noticed on either of their studio releases, particularly with the debut's songs like "The Gathering." I can't say I'm much interested in all the "jumping" the band insisted upon the audience doing, as it's never been my style, but for those who like a mainstream element in their metal, Delain are surely at the top of the list.
I'd not heard a single song of Epica's newest album, "Design Your Universe," besides the video track, "Unleashed," so this was a unique experience for me when it comes to Epica's music. I found the songs a bit less accessible upon first listen, and really wish the disc had been available before the festival so that I could have appreciated what turned out to be the most over-the-top performance of the entire weekend. If I recall, vocalist Simone Simons went through at least 3 outfits, and was blessed with the chance to wear an unusual torch-tipped helmet as she sang the middle songs of the evening. Besides "Unleashed," the band performed "Fools Of Damnation," and "Sensorium," as well as "The Phantom Agony" and my favorite Epica song, "Sancta Terra".
Mark Jansen provided the more down-to-earth interaction with the attendees, asking the somewhat trick question of "How many of you know the new songs?" Of course, considering the album was not released until the festival, Mark made the smart observation to all those who'd cheered to the question as an affirmative reply by informing them that they were "the downloaders!" Considering we're talking about people who were thrilled to see the band and who paid for the festival, Mark seemed to take the whole subject in stride with a large grin. And then, with an impressive performance of what may be the most ambitious track of the new album in that of "Kingdom Of Heaven," Epica were an expectedly quality finish to the first full day/night of female-fronted metal of my concert-going experiences. Oh, and did I mention the guest appearances of not only Floor Jansen, but of former guitarist Ad Sluijter? Yes, I'll admit all the non-musical related bursts of fire on the stage and Simone's get up was a bit lost on me, but those things seemed to go over well with the majority of the crowd.
Considering the day had started for me with a bus ride at a prompt 9am, I was fully spent, and ready for the trip back to the hotel. A special thanks goes out to the couple who roused me from a deep sleep to get me off the bus, because if I'm not mistaken, it was a different one that would take me back to the second day of the festival from Aalst to Wieze. And I knew I'd need the hotel's full breakfast the next morning to prepare for the second half of the weekend...
||Written on 01.12.2009 by Music and the written word are two of my passions in life, so I figured, why not combine the two?|
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