The Female Voices of Metal Festival 2005
Trisomy| Valkyre | Legions of Hetheria
Lacuna Coil | Leaves Eyes | After Forever | Asrai | Epica | Mercury Rain
Midnattsol | Skeptical Minds | Elis | Legions of Hetheria | Autumn | Anachronia
Production © Russ Elliot 2005 | Last updated: 26 November 2005
The Female Voices Festival, hosted by the Belgian Metalorganisation is now in its third year, and has expanded for 2005 into its largest venue, the aircraft-hanger like Oktoberhallen in Wieze, about 20 miles from Brussels. The larger venue has with it brought a bigger line up, both in terms of volume and star quality, with Lacuna Coil headlining, and both After Forever and Epica placed high on the bill.
But first, there was the little matter of the pre-show gig to attend, in the rather less impressive surroundings of the American Poolbar in the attractive town of Dendermonde. With neither headliners Trisomy nor main support Valkyre playing in the main festival, it was the perfect opportunity to get in the mood for the main event and see some new bands at the same time. First up, however, was Mexican band Legions of Hetheria, in Europe supporting Epica on their recent tour. They looked nervous, but despite a few problems with a rudimentary PA, played well in an operatic manner, reminiscent of Nightwish. Alongside the decent original material, they played rocked up version of one of the better know arias from Mozarts' "Magic Flute," a clever idea which worked very nicely, and prompted the thought that bands should try that tactic more in operatic metal. Maria Victoria Perez provided the operatic voice, while Ricardo Garcia backed these up with grunts and some impressive clean vocals .
Dutch band Valkyre were the most interesting band of the evening and possibly the entire weekend. Playing atmospheric metal with prominent keyboards, the band have some rough edges but plenty of ambition, making good use of Mieke Diependaele’s excellent vocals, and the voice and French Horn (yes, that’s French Horn) of Marcel van Montfort . On the other hand, Trisomy are a straight Gothic metal band, fronted by the lovely Martine Thijs, who has a fine voice. Though the band clearly has some experience, and played with plenty of professionalism, they seemed to lack the quality of material of the other two bands on the basis of one listen .
On, then, to the main event at the Oktoberhallen. The format was to be simple, with twelve bands playing on two stages placed next to each other, so that there only need be short gaps between bands. The more mainstream bands were to be found on the larger stage, with the quirkier, more unusual bands on the smaller one. However, with the doors opening almost 90 minutes late, and as a result the entire festival trying to catch up, the breaks between bands were reduced to almost zero. This was great for the continuity of the festival, but made for a long, intense, and it has to be said, occasionally gruelling experience.
Filling in late for Lithuanian band Diluvium, who had visa problems, French band Anachronia proved to be worthy replacements, playing a 30-minute set of brooding, faintly progressive metal, fronted by the delightfully elfin Fay, who has a surprisingly powerful voice for a small woman . First up on the main stage were the up-coming Dutch band Autumn, already winning some rave reviews having recently toured with Within Temptation. I was impressed, particularly with their song writing and their obvious professionalism, and in Nienke de Jong they have a front woman with charisma and a strong, surprisingly bluesy voice . Back to the small stage again for the same set as the previous night from Legions of Hetheria, who seemed to gain confidence from the bigger crowd and larger stage, putting much more mobility into their performance .
Next up on the large stage were Elis from Lichtenstein, one of the hits of the event for me, with their excellent material and charismatic singer, Sabine Duenser proving what an excellent and varied voice she has. The band can certainly write a decent hook, and Sabine sang with a delicious mixture of operatic and Kate Bush-inspired pop stylings. With the quality of the material on their first two albums at their disposal, and Alex Krull of Leaves Eyes producing, the future looks very bright for them .
The smaller stage tended to host the quirkier acts, typified by Skeptical Minds from Belgium who were up next. Combining alternative metal with electronica, the band made excellent use of the samples and strong, driving synths of wheelchair-bound Vincent. Indeed, they were the only band of the festival whose sound was not principally driven by guitars. Singer Kristell provided the melody, and though her voice was certainly not the strongest of the festival, its rough edges were entirely appropriate for the style of music being played. Overall, the band turned in one of the more memorable performances of the day .
It was back to the main stage for the first appearance of one of the Norwegian Espanaes sisters, as Midnattsol took their place on the main stage. With big sister Liv clearly to be seen offstage, encouraging both the band, her sister and the audience, the band certainly rose to the occasion, and turned in a rousing, beautifully performed set of folk / metal. Carmen’s striking white latex dress was one of the more unusual garments worn during the festival .
The only British band of the festival were up next, the efficient Mercury Rain, fronted by striking French singer Sonia Porzier. With two guitarists, and practically no backing tracks--which can be an irritating feature of modern Gothic metal--they certainly came across as one of the hardest-edged bands of the festival, a refreshing change to the more formulaic bands on the main stage .
Much has been written about Epica here, and despite a longer-than-usual wait for the band to arrive--due to a poorly-hung backdrop; in the end they just gave up trying to hang it properly and played anyway--it was clear that they were one of the highlights of the day for many of the audience. To these ears, their massive, full-on choral music, heavily influenced by Carl Orff is just a little too over the top. But then, of course, that is the point, and there can be no doubt that pieces like “Consigned to Oblivion” have an undeniable power to them, leaving the audience happy .
The second stage next hosted the bizarre Dutch band Asrai. Whereas the word Gothic tends to be somewhat overused in metal, there can be no denying that this band are the real deal, in a sort of cartoonish. vampyric way. Fronted by the amazing Margriet, and including the astonishingly attired Rik on guitar, the band played music strongly rooted in 80s Goth, but with the guitars turned way up. Though their music did little for me, there can be little doubt about the dynamism and commitment of their performance .
Second to last on the main stage were the superb After Forever fronted, as always, by the charismatic Floor Jansen. This was a very different set to that played at Bloodstock (review) in the UK six weeks earlier, and though their cover of Europe's "The Final Countdown" seemed a little cheesy to these ears, this was balanced by the delicious ballad "Touch," which provided the most touching moment of the entire festival. With the grunts of Sander Gommans much more in evidence, this was an excellent, harder-edged set .
I had been looking forward to seeing a longer set from Leaves Eyes, and I was not to be disappointed, with the beauty and beast pairing of Liv Kristine Espanaes Krull and Alexander Krull once again impressive, and the band mixing up the set to play the beautiful acoustic piece “Leaves Eyes” alongside the metallic pieces. The bands’ anthem "Elegy" was particularly well received by an enthusiastic, but tiring audience .
By the time that headliners Lacuna Coil came on stage, the festival was still running one hour late, and a reasonable portion of a tired audience had left. However, those remaining were pleased to witness a searing set, with the unique vocal duo of Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro on top form. There is a star quality about this band, which is not just about the beauty of Cristina and the turned in a brilliant, intense performance .
While it is easy to see why the festival organisers opted for twelve bands this year, the festival was well attended, and the bands were well chosen. The event was slightly hampered by a tight schedule that was unable to cope with such a late start. The organisers might like to consider a couple of bands less for 2006. That said, the sound and lights were excellent, and the dual stage approach worked exceptionally well. This was a remarkable day of rock music, and next years event should be something to savour.
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