Metal Female Voices Fest III – Review

12/12/2005 § Leave a comment

Ah yes, the Metal Female Voices Fest. Or The Female Metal Voices Fest. The Female Fest of Metal Voices. There are only so many combinations of the name and I didn’t seem to be able to get any of them right over the course of the months before the event. It is, ostensibly, a festival whose name is variable, interchangeable and customisable depending on what you think makes the most sense. I pride myself to be very good with names, admirably good in fact. The amount of times I’ve met people at parties and have then been able to recall their personalities, faces, jobs and tie colour from somewhere inside my mental rolodex has been at the best of times, bewilderingly accurate. However, if the Metal Female Voices Fest were at a party and afterwards I had to remember what drinks it had and what kind of peanuts it favoured, I could still do that all the way down to the sheen on its spats, I just couldn’t remember what the hell it was called.

The Metal Female Voices Fest, for all its glory, has been hailed ever since its inception as the main Gothic Metal event of the year. The one event that all the bands want to play in. That doesn’t matter whether you’re the smallest, most obscure black metal band with female vocals sampled somewhere in your turbulent mix or whether you’re the biggest thing in femme metal overall. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. And what a pie it is. To be precise, a pie that can fit in 5000 people and play you twelve bands of the highest calibre in the space of a day.

I say a day, well, it wasn’t really a day seeing as the doors were cued to open at 1pm. However, for some reason known only to the management, they were open at 1pm but the doorway itself was pitifully small. The venue was a giant aircraft hangar of a structure, a semicircular tin which looked like a prop out of Full Metal Jacket, and though there was going to be plenty of metal going on inside it, the queue movement was not exactly of regimented efficiency. The queue trailed off somewhere remote and forgettable into the distance, a long thin trail of black insignificance. With the Oktoberhallen swallowing it up piecemeal it looked like some horribly fattened predator devouring a mamba.

We went up to the press queue which was incredibly small in comparison to the main line and it wasn’t too long before we were able to acquire our passes. There were sixteen million types of these available. Blue ones, red ones, yellow ones, and that was only when they’d exhausted the primary colours. In fact, there were so many colours that the organisers had to start identifying them by hex codes. Out of the lucky dip, John, my erstwhile manager, managed to get himself an AAA pass, otherwise known as an Access All Areas pass, which gave him the ability to do everything with the bands that he liked, whereas I was given a festively green photo pass which didn’t give me quite as much access, but then God only knows that I would be wanting to fiddle about in the band’s dressing rooms for.

It was at this stage that the Oktoberhallen had decided to open two doors, the second one as small as the first. Those people who were not British had decided that they could actually leave their queue and go along with everyone inside the venue while everyone else stood on their toes, peered over the long-haired heaps in front of them and then flopped back down dutifully into position. I, on the other hand, saw a coupe of people [I still don’t know who they were] beckoning us into one of the side entrances in which we bustled along with the roadies and runners and entered the venue proper without so much as a squeak from any official.

What an inside the venue had. It was properly huge and all we could see was a black stagelike blob in the distance shrouded in an unnecessary amount of dry ice. It wasn’t clear whether this was actually intentional or whether there was some poor roadie behind it tearing out what little hair he had left and pleading to the gods to sort out his dry ice machine before anyone got wind of the fact that it was buggered as the entire venue started to resemble one of the swamps from Krull. Still, it had a certain Middle-Earthly appeal to it and I did happen to notice in the midst of it all a hamburger stall which become very useful as the day went on. These people had either brought with them a scarily large amount of hamburgers or they were recycling them from somewhere. Either way, it didn’t bear thinking about, it’s just unsettling when you have to measure the amount of hamburgers on offer in cows rather than in packets.

It was at this stage that it became clear that the present arena didn’t offer much in the way of entertainment so we decided to make use of the passes that we had and go to the backstage area. There was a small cattle grid at the side of the stage through which the organisers clearly intended to separate the press riff-raff from the audience riff-raff, and after I had waved my laminate at the rather glum looking official, I was waved through to an area which gave me a good view of the back of the stage and all the roadies panicking at the last minute with their equipment.

The backstage area itself looked like the dressing rooms in Marks and Spencers. This time round they had divided it into two distinct areas. One, the press backstage area which was only admissible though a photo pass, and the band’s backstage area, which you were only admitted into if you were, well, a band, or someone who was important enough to have the privilege of joining the bands and irritating them. Those with press passes could not, in any way, go through to the band area [through an ominous red curtain] since there was another burley-looking gentleman who crossed his arms and would tell you in an overly-thick French accent that you couldn’t pass through, though if you spent long enough quizzing him as to why, he couldn’t really answer. However, they had thought of all the needs of those press agents who got hungry since there was, thoughtfully enough, a small window at the side through which the canteen area could sell you drinks. Yes, business was everywhere here, but we were going to find out that we were not going to conduct as much of it as we wanted.

By 2pm the show hadn’t started yet and many of us were wondering what was going on. People were starting to fill the main section of the hall and there didn’t seem to be a lot of noise coming from the stage apart from people rolling boxes on and off. It was clearly time for something to happen, so rather unceremoniously some scruple decided to let the bands free from their leashes and the first band, Anachronia, came onstage.

Unlike last year I got to watch an awful lot of the show, plus the size of the hall gave me the opportunity to wonder round and have a look at what was going on from every side of the stage, as well as being able to buy a few too many of those hamburgers which I had to pay for, again, with ridiculous currency. This year I had to hand money over to a small white man in a small white privy-esque booth who would give me paper tokens which I needed to exchange for beer. I would wonder over to the beer section where there were men trying to distinguish who, out of the clamouring multitudes baying for alcohol, they should serve first. It wasn’t difficult to make the choice for them and shout an order while holding on orange token. They would then turn round and pick a pre-poured plastic cup from a trestle and hand it over with the forced smile of someone who knows that the rest of their day will be just as unfulfillingly dull as the moment just passed.

I missed quite a lot of Anachronia’s set and buzzed back and forth between the press area and the crowd, waiting for an interview to be scheduled. Last year we were given a timetable at the backstage area but this year nothing of the sort seemed to be happening. Instead, there was just a general kafuffle without anyone really being able to tell what was going on. I took this opportunity to browse through some of the useless merchandise stalls and wonder whether I had spent €40 on a new microphone for no reason.

The first band who I paid serious attention to were Midnattsol, who I had been looking forward to seeing live for a while. I realised that technically I did have a camera in the form of a phone and could take pictures while John hogged the main unit. At the beginning of each new band’s set all the photographers would congregate at the front areas of the stage. However, due to the ‘three-song rule’ we couldn’t stay past three numbers, though it wasn’t hard to push my luck and stay beyond the allocated three songs until the Metal Organisation crew had to physically usher me away from the front of the stage which they must have got quite tried of doing.

By now the hall was quite seriously starting to fill up and I kept checking the backstage area to see what was happening about the interviews. There was a Metal Mind scutter wandering around with a large piece of paper and marker, a la Rolf’s Cartoon Club, hastily scheduling interviews. However, none of the interviews ever seemed to materialise. Nearly all of the bands spent most of their time in the “band’s area” with only occasionally a few of them daring to venture beyond the dreaded red curtain. I had a brief opportunity to talk to nearly everyone, as well as being responsible for Carmen Elise missing a portion of her sister’s set, but as to where the interviews were was anyone’s guess. My only guess was that because certain bands were not having too great a time of it backstage in the dressing-room area, things were veering quite seriously off the scheduled plan.

However, it did give me the opportunity to catch the marvellous sets for Epica, Lacuna Coil and After Forever, who played the best set of the evening by a long way, also being fortunate enough to hear the strains of Leaves’ Eyes and Midnattol in the background, who had taken to sitting on the carpet in the backstage area and busking with an acoustic guitar.

By the time that Lacuna Coil had wrapped up their set, the majority of fans were making their way to the wings of the venue. I have never seen people leave a place so quickly with 4000 people swiftly dwindling into a paucity of Goths sweeping up bottles. The entire venue area was now a pitted scar of plastic, with various bottles and wristbands left all over the place. A lot of people had actually left towards the end of LC’s set, rather than waiting for it to complete.

I sat and watched people clear up for about an hour afterwards, waiting for my ‘ride’ back to the hotel. I watched people sweep and hydraulic trucks take sections of the stage apart. It was very strange to see something which had taken so long in its planning being dismantled so easily.

I went outside and stared at the Oktoberhallen which nobody seemed to need or care for anymore – there was just a small group of people waiting on the ground and a closing canteen who were kind enough to sell me a bottle of Vittel between scowls. There were no cars, no lines, no people, but what was left was the memory and the knowledge of a fantastic evening had by all. Metal Organisation had outdone themselves again. MFVF3 was a triumph over last year, with a fuller array of bands, more quality music and a superior venue. This festival goes from strength to strength.

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Lumsk – Troll

11/12/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Tabu
8 Tracks
Norwegian Lyrics

You have to worry sometimes when venturing out of your home territory. Down my road, after about five minutes, is the wonderfully bleak and foreboding Highgate Woods. You would never, in your right mind, go there after dark. Well, you wouldn’t, unless you wanted to meet Strange People. Strange People come in many different shapes, sizes and noises, their overriding feature being that they are, indeed, Strange. They have beards, they vibrate, they hang about in woods, they hide behind trees and make noises and they spend a lot of time making other people feel uncomfortable, even though all they’re trying to do is ‘talk to you’. However, they’re all over the place and it’s a good idea to try to avoid them when you can. The last thing you should do is something crazy like give them a record deal.

I discovered Lumsk purely because people were telling me to avoid them and when people do that it’s always a good idea to try to disprove them. One way you can do this is by listening to the albums which you think people hate because of their outrageous ignorance and then you can point out that they are in fact incorrect and have no real sense of patience or duty towards music. It is at this point when you will be called ‘arrogant’ and sometimes even projectiles will be launched at you. Serves you right too. Such is the problem that picking up a Lumsk album will burden you with, not least because they make folk metal. Nevertheless, though I thought folk metal was only made by rebellious Morris dancers, Troll is a fantastic album and for many different reasons.

Lumsk released their first album, Åsmund Frægdegjevar, in 2003, which was another fabulous work offering many progressive, deep and chunky sounding songs with violins, haunting vocals and heavy guitars. Troll follows more or less in that fashion, however, this time there are fewer tracks and there is a far heavier folk element present. Gone is the guitar distortion in every song since this time only three out of the eight tracks on the album feature it. Whether this is a disappointment or not comes down to what you expect from the music – and what you will expect to like out of it.

The first thing that should be mentioned are the amazing vocals of singer Stine – and this is no exaggeration. Considering the ranks of poor female metal singers out there, when a good one comes to the fore it is nothing short of a relief. However, Stine is not merely a good vocalist, she is a natural talent with a wonderfully clean colour to her voice, she is note perfect and a total joy to listen to. The music given to her is very well fitted to her sound since it shows off what she can do with the greatest of ease: indeed, numbers like Dunker and the sensational Trolltind pierce through to a part of the mind that only the purest forms of sound can – this music is so clean and perfect it could almost purge anything it comes into contact with, in fact, it’s so good that if it were a schoolboy it would have ink pellets fired at it through envy and hatred by all that came into contact with it.

Troll, in the now signature Lumsk style, retains a heavy portion of progressive influence with quite a few tempo changes and yummy time signatures dotted about when you’re least expecting them. By far the best example of this comes in the enchanting Allvis, by far the most creative song on the album which begins with a three minute long happy folk section filled with major chord progressions only to deftly dissolve halfway through into a gorgeous instrumental with clicking guitar sequences which builds until it is beautifully smoothed over by Stine’s vocals. It really is a total pleasure to listen to and feels like striking oil in the otherwise barren wilderness of boring metal released in 2005.

The inventiveness permeates every song and Blæster, the longest track on the album, is eight minutes long with everything packed into it that the band are capable of. This includes, sadly, the male vocals, which are the thing that really lets this album down. They’re not that bad but there are times when Eben slides just under the note, and against the vocal perfection of Stine his imperfections are blindingly stark and rob her of her much-deserved limelight. Not only this, but one gets the feeling that the male vocals are actually quite unnecessary since they do nothing for the songs themselves and are only there as a token gesture towards the Gothic genre which also is quite a notable influence in Lumsk’s sound. The male vocals make themselves apparent in a couple of the other tracks too, but this time they are slightly more suited – there is the short but punchy Perpålsa, laden with violin and down-tuned guitars, and by far the strangest song on the album, Åsgårdsreia, which doesn’t feature Stine at all, and though there is plenty of good guitar work and enjoyable head-banging moments it still sounds strange – too strange to be enjoyable and strange enough to wonder if the band have all their mental screws fully tightened.

Troll really had the ability to be a perfect 8-track wonder. There is some divine musicianship, songwriting and vocalwork here and the sound production is undeniably of a very high class. However, on repeated listens it becomes clear that though Lumsk are a very clever and talented lot, they’re not clever enough to draw the line between folk innovation and what is actually enjoyable to listen to all the way through an album. The more ‘difficult’ sections are not so much an acquired taste, but an awkwardness waiting to be forgiven since if they can be overlooked then Troll really is a tasty package. Lumsk certainly can produce some very good folk metal indeed, its just a shame that some of it gets subsumed under the mire of the poorer sections. However, once you overlook this niggle, it’s nothing short of an amazing piece of work.

8.5/10

After Forever – Remagine

11/12/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Transmission Records
12 Tracks
English Lyrics

No one should know more about running away from themselves than After Forever, who, for as long as I can remember, have been desperately trying to rid themselves of the stigma inherent in being described as Gothic Metal. These have been difficult times for the band. Not only have they been trying in any ways possible to get rid of those crushed velvet garbs that seem to have haunted them since Decipher to the point where they feel the necessity to don spandex Star-Trek style suits, but now they have gone one step further by looking like a reunion of the cast of Tremors within an advert for Marlboro Classics. And as for what Floor is doing with her hair, God only knows. AF are so desperate to have people not concentrate on their image that things have got the point where image management has become a seriously vital issue to the way this band transmits themselves.

And not every form of transmission has been good for them. The band have got themselves in quite a few spats with their label of late to the point where they would quite likely not want to have anything to do with the other again. So what a surprise this is – Invisible Circles was released at the beginning of 2004 and hot on its heals comes Remagine, 18 months later. The band’s reasons for releasing this album so quickly are their own, needless to say that it will be interesting to see who they sign with next. However, as was the case with Leaves’ Eyes, who released Vinland Saga terribly quickly after Lovelorn, to the album’s detriment at to the detriment of the album itself, Remagine actually benefits from being written and released so quickly. The problem with Invisible Circles was that there was too much effort in it and too much to prove. The over-complex playing, the deep song topics and the idea of a controversial subject for a concept album was way too much, the entire edifice was too bogged down with significance to be free-flowing.

This is not the case with Remagine. The difference between Remgainme and Invisible Circles, apart from the quite atrocious cover artwork, is that AF have tried a lot less with it, which actually works well. Gone are the 8-minutes songs, the complex riffing, the poignant subjects and the soap-opera soundbites. Instead After Forever have laid down 12 shortish, easily-digestible tracks, most of them being just three to five minutes long. Each song has a different subject, though they have, being After Forever put in the obligatory children-are-dying-in-war-isn’t-it-awful song and the you-can-make-your-own-way-in-life song, they seem to have some sort of philosophical Tourettes in this way. Nevertheless, the upshot of all of this is that the songs are not bad at all, and by the time Being Everyone hits your ear systems it’s apparent they have come up with something of a winner here. A lot of the songs are easily-likeable, but at the same time manage to carry across their meaning without being too forgettable or shallow. There’s certainly enough here to keep the casual listener and the After Forever fanatic happy, unless you were the kind of person who liked the long songs and the self-indulgent complexity. For the rest of us though, we can breathe a sigh of relief and realise that this band were maybe not as dead as we had thought they were.

Though there are some good parts to the album, there are some equally bad ones. Two songs in particular – Attendance and No Control – are just terrible, Sander’s vocals on Attendance coming across as some attempt to mimic Bryan Erickson from Velvet Acid Christ. The feeling, along with the slightly squishy keyboards which sound as if they’re being pumped through a kazoo, are just not pleasant to listen to. There is also one moment in Face Your Demons when Floor’s vocal line sounds like something that would be belted out by an army platoon while doing physical training for manoeuvres. Floor’s vocals themselves here share the same problem as on Invisible Circles, inasmuch as her stint at the Rock Academy has taught her to sing strongly and in tune but her voice lacks a certain passion and colour that it had on the earlier releases. In this way, and seeing as Remagine as their curtain-call to Transmission, After Forever still have a little bit to prove, and I imagine that this won’t stop since their next album will be on a new label.

Remagine still is a success, though not an immense one. In spite of the fact that songs like Being Everyone, Come and Boundaries Are Open have some very good parts to them and while Strong, Free Of Doubt and Only Everything are the best songs that the band have produced in a long time, there is still something lacking about Remagine which fails to make it something special or truly good. The problem partially lies in the fact that the songs are all too similar. After Forever are an established band and they know the score so it’s a shame that some of the numbers feel like they could have been written in ten minutes down the pub. It does, however, pave the way for their future and it was important that this album showed that the band had not totally lost it. It’s certainly an improvement on their last album and gives me some hope that the best from this lot, since Mark’s departure, is yet to come. Ideally they should spend a lot of time concentrating on their next work and at the same time not try to make it such a poignant opus that it doesn’t need to be. The freedom of leaving Transmission should hopefully give them the ability to do this and we can all look forward to a follow-up album which could, if pieced together correctly, be a resounding success on all levels.

7.5/10

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