After Forever, Nightmare, Crimson Tears Gig

26/02/2006 § Leave a comment

The Garage, London
31st January 2006

I had been waiting for this one for a long time, planning everything in advance in order to get passes and a half-decent camera to take some blurry shots of the event. However, on walking up to the Garage at 7pm and expecting to see a long blackened slug of a queue oozing round the corner I was purely greeted with a small smattering of people looking cold and wondering why there was someone at the front of the queue in a green sporting jacket.

I walked up to the front gate and demanded my pass off the very clueless bespectacled Pole behind the desk who promptly gave me one from the large pile she had next to the desk after five minutes of questioning. I then realised how easy it would be to get into gigs free. All you have to do is turn up wearing a suitable large piece of machinery and say you’re waiting for a pass from the promoter. If the venue is simple enough not to hold passes in peoples’ names then you’re laughing.

Crimson Tears

When I got inside Crimson Tears had just started playing and it was obvious that the sound had been turned down quite a bit since they were the support act. This didn’t do them any great favours and the absence of any real light show just felt like we were watching them play in a village hall on a Saturday night. Even some flashing disco globes from The Gadget Shop would have gone down well.

It was also clear that this is a band who have not done very many live performances since there was very little movement on stage and though they were more or less tight musically, it was hardly a thrilling routine since they all stayed bunched up on the right side of the stage and it was a static show in spite of Gina’s various contorted facial expressions. Six songs is hardly a long set but it was a nice starter to this evening. The sound might be miles better on the EP but they seriously need to work on their live routine.

Setlist
Gardens Of Sorrow
My Plea
Gothica
Razorblade Serenade
Moon Child
Eternity

Rating
Music 7
Performance 4
Light 3
Sound 5
Total [4.75]

Nightmare

Nightmare were a far more professional and polished act who had clearly done a lot more live shows. This was also helped by a good light show and the fact that the sound was turned way up for them. No female vocals here and the music was generic power metal in the same vein as a thousand other bands but I actually found it very enjoyable, as well as the band’s great ways of communicating with the audience and bringing them into the show. It might have been a little bit annoying being forced to sing ‘here we are in the circle of the dark’ over and over ad nauseam but I was still transfixed throughout their eleven song set.

Set list

Intro
Trust A Crowd
A Taste Of Armageddon
Secret Rules
Messenger Of Faith
Cosmovision
Invisible World
Circle Of The Dark
Power Of The Universe
The Watchtower
Reprise

Rating
Music 8
Performance 7
Light 6
Sound 8
Total [7.25]

After Forever

After Forever finally took the stage at about 915pm. AF were not really a band that I was all that keen on after Invisible Circles – actually I was downright cynical about them. However, they totally stole the show at MFVF III last year and I was wondering whether they would do a similarly good job this evening.

Needless to say as soon as Floor entered the stage the crowd went crazy and I was totally struck by the onstage presence that she had. She was totally in her element and had full command of the music in hand. After Forever made their way through eighteen numbers in all, including a cover of Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls while Floor went to have her ‘break’ and Iron Maiden’s The Evil That Men Do at the end of the evening. Once again I was thoroughly impressed by how tight they were and what a fantastic front women Floor can be. This is definitely a band who have rocketed up in my estimation and who can put on the best live show out of any female-fronted act out there.

Set list

0. Enter
1. Come
2. Boundaries Are Open
3. Living Shields
4. My Pledge Of Allegiance I
5. Beyond Me
6. Attendance
7. Monolith Of Doubt
8. Strong
9. Free Of Doubt
10. For Whom The Bell Tolls [Metallica]
11. Only Everything
12. Yield To Temptation
13. Face Your Demons
14. Being Everyone
15. Digital Deceit
16. Forlorn Hope
17. Follow In The Cry
18. The Evil That Men Do [Iron Maiden]

Rating
Music 9
Performance 9
Light 7
Sound 8
Total [8.25]

You’ll Never Walk Alone

24/02/2006 § Leave a comment

“The end comes when we no longer talk with ourselves. It is the end of genuine thinking and the beginning of the final loneliness. The remarkable thing is that the cessation of the inner dialogue marks also the end of our concern with the world around us. It is as if we noted the world and think about it only when we have to report it to ourselves.” – Eric Hoffer

There is something altogether abhorrent about people who do not push themselves to get results. If there is one human virtue that any of us should master, it is the need to look after and fend for number one as our overriding and primary concern.

1900 hours this evening and I find myself, for the second time this week, in a large sweat factory of a room rammed with bodies pumping and heaving all around me. There’s something terribly amusing about gymnasiums, in fact there’s something terribly amusing about physical activity in humans overall. It’s strange to see groups of people stuck together doing all manner of ridiculous movements over prolonged periods of time in aid of, let’s me honest about it, sex. That’s what it’s all about, after all. This is one of the reasons why gyms are like libraries, there is an immense sexual tension in the air. Everyone is pretending not to eye up the person next to them and how could you not when all around you are bodies, some of which are toned to near physical perfection, writhing on metal and rubber machinery. Surely this is some kind of metal fetishist’s dream, and we should feel privileged that we only have to pay £50 a month for the pleasure of indulging ourselves in it.

However, every gym has its token fat person and the size of said glutton differs from establishment to establishment and from city to city. I imagine that in LA the slightest amount of puppy fat would be thought of as some kind of physical travesty whereas over here my corneas have to stretch to the very limits of their physical abilities in order to take in the berth of the gargantuan woman who has just blobbed in to shed a few pounds on the treadmill before her, which is almost quaking in trepidation that this whale with legs is going to be bouncing up and down on it for the next thirty minutes. I find myself adopting the same mental stance as the frequent air traveller who fears, aware of the empty space next to him, of some oversized oaf sitting down there, dribbling and bubbling into his earhole for six hours’ cruising time, only to be met by something altogether more terrible, the greatest and ugliest abomination ever to be emitted from a womb, plopping itself down with all the grace and poise of a corpulent hippo.

But it can’t be all that easy being the largest person in a gym full of ant-height women creatures, their Kappa size 8s stretched over their bodies like sausage-skins. In fact, it takes more mental stamina to walk into such a room than that of a lot of other people here. This is, indeed, making a personal effort, and pushing oneself to the point of discomfort is a very important philosophy to live by because nothing good came through living an easy lifestyle. But what music is our ears harangued with hour upon hour in this church to arrogance and athleticism? On the walls are attached six TV screens, displaying run after run of Sugababes, The Ordinary Boys, Pink and Friday Hill on MTV Hits. This is the kind of music that your average, unthinking exerciser has impressed on them and this is the kind of music that your average, unthinking media-gobbler gets fed every day if they choose to pay attention to what is being forced, à la pâté de fois grois, down our modern-day gullets.

The easiest thing to do is hoover this up like it’s the only useful or enjoyable thing on offer, but the hardest thing to do is to go your own way and discover what music suits you personally. As teenagers, there’s a lot of emphasis on listening to the same music that your friends do, and a lot of people tend to like things on appearance, style and the notoriety that it will give them. I remember walking around Camden as a 16 year old, sporting a Sepultura t-shirt, thinking that I looked the tits when I did, in fact, just look like a tit, and I was only one tit among a sea of pretentious mini-breasts hording the Camden streets any non school-day of the week available.

When one gets older it’s more important not to be influenced by the pressure from others. However, following a personal musical path can be quite an isolating experience since metal and Gothic music are still thought of as more than a little strange by all and sundry in the mainstream musical scene. Moreover, all the serious fanatics that I have met in the Gothic Metal industry have not come as part of a Gothic or metal peer group but have found their way personally from another source. This is, in itself, a real expression or true interest and individuality, when what matters the most to us is not some principle fashioned from what we think we should be interested in, but the result of a personal journey tailored from our own pursuits. To break away from the opinions and judgments of others is no mean feat – it requires a determination and, most importantly, an ability to listen to oneself and follow what is really important. It has been said that music is a religion to some, and annoying and clichéd as that can be, it does make sense to look at it in this way when it’s followed with vehement devotion.

Making an effort is not only about going out of the way to do something different, but it can be sometimes the necessity to follow a different lifestyle to everyone you know. It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, whether this expresses itself as an eyesore attacking a gym machine or just someone choosing to disassociate themselves from the rest of the crud that is blasted through our television sets and radios at all hours God sends. The most important way to identify oneself is through individual expression, and though it may initially seem lonely to follow a niche interest away from the multitudes, the results at the other end are far from friendless and certainly rewarding.

Sengir – Sign of Devotion

24/02/2006 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2006
Buzzville
11 Tracks
English lyrics

After three years of ups and downs, sacrifices and concessions, Sengir have finally managed to put out their second album through not going to their day jobs, recording in 72 hour shifts and then posting on their blog about how dreadfully easy it was when we all know that they were banging their heads against the studio walls and lobbing hardware at their producers through frustration. That, ladies and gentleman, is a sign of devotion: being able to throw everything at an album and to walk out of a recording studio with no homicides having being committed. Maybe we should send these people to the Middle East to negotiate on the peace process: however, they wouldn’t fit in so well since none of them have got silly beards. Not yet anyway. But in a couple of years Bruno could go that way, I think he’d look pretty fetching in a kaftan.

So what does Sign of Devotion offer above their debut? Well, quite a few things – firstly, no-one mentioned that the reason Sengir’s first album was called Guilty Water was because it sounded like it was being played in a swimming pool, that’s how stodgy the production was. It’s clear that this time round, Buzzville have spent a lot more money on getting the sound right and have given Sengir the opportunity to be one of their flagship bands rather than just another label minion. The sound quality is sharp and even the front cover is rather nice. I can’t actually work out what it is but then what the hell is the cover of Moonlight’s Audio 136 about? Who knows.

I always had the idea that Sengir had the ability to make a much better album than Guilty Water and Sign Of Devotion shows that they have the nouse to write very good, accessible numbers that you’d want to listen to time and time again. They may make stock, standard Gothic Metal but they manage to do it without the wafer-thin flowery flair that makes bands like Elis so terribly dull: there’s a certain punchiness to the guitar, a certain sincerity in the lyrics which means that you can actually relate to what they’re talking about when a lot of time I couldn’t care less for what Gothic bands have to say. Songs like Back To Reason, Close To The Bone and Conscience Awake certainly have some kind of very personal centre to them. Still, what is difficulty for if not to produce art and Sengir seem to have adopted this philosophy very well since Sign Of Devotion has been very much a cathartic work for them.

The album starts off with Calling’s powerful synthed chord structure that dominates the song, as it does in Time, and this is widespread on the album – there is a large use of synth which really beefs up the songs and gives them some depth. In this way it’s just as well that the sound production is better since if it weren’t it would be like listening to an album being piped through a casserole. Another new element that Sengir have employed on the album is the extensive use of backing vocals which elevates Time and Conscience Awake to an altogether higher plain. Every song on the album is strong and pleasurable, though it is the final two, Prove Me Wrong with its fantastically simple and effective guitar outro and Lose The Moment, a four minute whinge about walking home in the rain, that makes the album something a little bit different.

Ellen’s singing has come on leaps and bounds since last time and one gets the impression she’s rather proud of this fact, especially in numbers like Day You Take Me Over in which she seems to be able to sing with spot-on perfection. However, unfortunately this doesn’t hold throughout the entire album since there are a couple of moments where she goes seriously off, one notable example being in Time where she hits a note so wayward that I actually flinched when I first heard it. As a listener, how you take moments like this depends on whether you think it adds to the honest and genuine humanity of the album or whether, like me, you think it spoils an otherwise rounded and wholesome work. Not only this, but though a lot of the songs are very well written, the vocal lines ride the chords too perfectly and predictably, following the root notes quite often. This makes it a very unchallenging experience at times since it’s easy to guess where the next song section is going to go.

As interesting as the lyrics can be though, ideally Sengir’s next album should not be so full of personal laments since Sign Of Devotion tends to be written for everyone but the audience. It’s this fact that detracts from the listening enjoyment since the highly personal nature of the songs creates a screen between the band and the listening demographic ending up in some kind of projected therapy session. This is not a band who are communicating through music but communicating with it, and as beautiful as that can be it does tend to weigh down and stifle the songs in places. In a sense I feel like Tantalus – being able to see and hear the music but I’m not quite allowed to reach out and touch it because it’s not for me. A little more lightness in sentiment would have made Sign Of Devotion an even better album, though it’s a very enjoyable and well-produced offering.

7.5/10

Unloved – Killersongs

24/02/2006 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2006
Self Released
5 Tracks
English lyrics

Unloved describe their music as Blackberry rock – sweet and prickly. Someone should really tell these people that blackberries aren’t that prickly: maybe paw-paw rock would have been a bit more of a fitting name. Nevertheless, they do have one thing correct and that is that their music is not really metal. The band have been around since 1999 and have had a number of demos since then, Killersongs being only the second one that they will dare allow the public to hear since samples of the rest have been removed from their site due to the ‘poor sound quality’ which they doubtless feel is unreflective of their present state. Though that’s the polite way of putting it.

The years since 1999 have certainly given the band time to marinate their sound and come up with something quite different and though Killersongs is only five tracks long, it shows quite a bit of depth and variety. The EP kicks off with Your Greed, which starts with the soft strains of Shya‘s vocals on their own before the somewhat jazzy backing instrumentation comes in. This is something that becomes prevalent as the EP progresses – there seems to be a heavy jazz influence – but not in the fast, acid-jazzy kind of sense, but more in the mid-tempo bouncy way that leaves you feeling unavoidably jostled by the buoyant hoppiness of the clean guitar and springy drumming. Your Greed is probably the best song on the EP and in this way the disc peaks far too early, still, it manages to pack a respectable amount of variety into four minutes with quite a delicious distortion riff finishing the number. I love it when bands are able to mix jazz elements with metal properly – it seems to be quite a rare occurrence these days.

The next song, Heading Nod, is doubtless the strangest on the album with many more different sections to it, dominated by a clean plucked guitar line that seems intentionally out of tune with the vocals. It’s certainly a strange experience, maybe a little too strange for comfort, though later in the song a more accessible section appears which comes as quite a relief and feels like being allowed to catch your breath after a short sprint through some quite uncomfortable territory.

The accordions come out for the third track, Pandora, which is one of the more melodically pleasing songs, whereas Come Posing has some wonderfully honest lyrics the like of which I’ve only heard come from The Provenance. Indeed, Unloved seem to like toying with us musically and lyrically since Come Posing stops and starts all over the place: some passages run along with vigour only to stop a second later which leaves the listener feeling a little displaced and mildly shocked. In this way Unloved enjoy letting us get comfortable only to upset the balance a second later, a device which, though it may reflect some song’s subjects quite fittingly, is not always easy to take in or appreciate. The EP finishes with Drifting Away, a nothingy jangly-guitared song the likes of which you’d expect from a 90s indie band like the Bluetones.

Overall, Unloved certainly have a direction, which is not something that can be said for a lot of bands starting out, if you can call a band that’s been together for more than seven years ‘starting out’. There is a lot of vision and talent here but the progressiveness of the songs is quite misplaced – it’s certainly interesting to hear songs go awry in places but not to hear them collapse the next. Unloved may be trying to make us reconfigure our thoughts on what we liked to hear in female-fronted rock and metal but at the same time one has to ask why we need to further ourselves in this way, indeed, why we need to be bothered. And bothered we would be if their music were more interesting, and though it is worthy of note in places, there’s nothing here to keep you coming back for more.

Unloved certainly hold the key to making some very enthralling music and if they could concentrate on trying less hard to be innovative and different and could become more attuned to their own natural creative flow, they would be making very good music indeed. However, quite a lot of the time the numbers on Killersongs feel forced and much like the band is trying to jam a sub-genre into another sub-genre which results in quite a messy musical make-up. If Unloved could untangle their song structures a little bit and concentrate on the writing process rather than the musical overview of the final project, we could be in for something delectably and satisfyingly outlandish next time round.

7/10

Midnattsol Interview

23/02/2006 § Leave a comment

Midnattsol Interview 2006
Band Interviews – Band Interviews
Written by Sam Grant
Thursday, 23 February 2006

Midnattsol Interview 2006
By: Sam Grant
With: Carmen Elise Espanaes of Midnattsol

Interview Info
By: Sam Grant
With: Carmen Elise Espanaes of Midnattsol
January 2006

Sam: Carmen, congratulations on the new album, it’s a fantastic debut. How are you finding working in the metal scene in general at the moment?

Carmen: Thank you very much, very kind of you to tell me this! First of all I have to say that I can’t believe all the things that are happening, it is really amazing. I never expected to have the opportunity to do this, so as you can imagine, I am very, very happy and thankful to be in the metal scene. Just to see the response from the fans, the look in their eyes, to read their nice words, that alone is enough to make me a happy person. Still, there are things that I don’t like, e.g. the falseness of the music business, especially from the journalists. I am an honest person, and I can’t stand people pretending liking me and the band, just because they haven’t the guts to say what they mean face to face. But the good thing about it is that I learned a lot about human being in general! The other thing that I don’t like is how the music business is running in some ways. Money, money, money! It just does not fit to the things that I think is important. But I think this is a general problem in the world, not only for the music business.

Sam: Do you find, having Liv as an older sister, that the two of you are always compared and do you mind the frequent comparisons, not only between you as vocalists, but between Leaves’ Eyes and Midnattsol?

Carmen: The fact is that we get compared all the time, so if I should worry about it, I would be a depressive person I think, hehe. At the very beginning I thought it was a bit annoying not being seen as Carmen and Midnattsol as the individual as we are. But the fact is that I can’t change who I am, and I and the people who know me, know that I/we don’t make music because of Liv and that she doesn’t have any influences of the music that we make, so it has no use to worry. Then I have to say that this comparison is most of all beneficial for us, we get automatically promotion, so we can’t complain about that!

Sam: How did you come to be in Midnattsol, and now that you’re in the band, do you see it as a big part of your future?

Carmen: The funny thing is that Midnattsol did not exist before I came to Germany in 2002. Christian Hector contacted me only a couple of weeks after I moved here, and we met and talked about founding a band together. Music was and is such a great part of my life, and I came to a point where I wanted to make music together with other people, to make songs out of my melodies. So we two wanted the same thing and we founded Midnattsol, and we were a complete band shortly after that. I knew from the first rehearsals that it would be a big part of my life, we are like a little family. But the main thing was not the musical career for me, it was the great possibility to make the music that I wanted to together with 5 other great people. Record deal or not, music is my life, nobody can change that. So I don’t make many plans for the future, what comes comes!

Sam: Midnattsol obviously has a heavy folk element to its sound. What was it that made you decide to create music with a folkish vibe? Has folk music always been an interest of yours?

Carmen: I would not call it a decision, during the first rehearsals, the type of music was getting more and more clear. The musical direction is a mix from all the different influences that the sixth of us are bringing into the music, and by the way, we all have a very different kind of musical influences. And this is the result. But yes, folk music has always interested me, I was always very interested in the history, culture, traditions and songs of my country. I often heard and sang typical folk songs at home or in school, and I think that influenced me in my musical direction. But when it comes to metal, I hear a lot of other stuff to, especially melodic metal, I love melancholic melodies, especially from Antathema, Opeth and Amorphis.

Sam: What ideas did you want to explore in Where Twilight Dwells before you wrote it and when it was finished, was it the debut album that you wanted it to be?

Carmen: To be honest, I didn’t have many expectations or plans what do to. The only wish I had was to let the music be real, to let the emotions into melodies and texts. I wanted to this for a long time, and it was kind of burning inside me to let my ideas inside out. After the record was finished I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe or realize what happened, because beside the music, what I was more than satisfied with, I didn’t only let a part of me in it, I grew a lot with is as well, personally and musically. So I have to say that the musical process and the music itself gave me so much more than I expected. And I think the other ones think so as well. What I didn’t expect was the less time that I had to sing. It all went so fast, and we all felt a bit stressed at times. So that’s the thing what I definitely want next time: to have enough time to record.

Sam: One of my favourite songs on the album is the wonderful Tårefall. Could you explain to us what this song is about?

Carmen: It is the most personal song for me on the album, I cry inside when I hear or sing it. I have many times experienced that I think that now is the storm over, now you are going to be fine and so on. But every time something is happening again and I have to fight strongly to find solutions. And the frustration and helplessness in these situations is what I sing about. Don’t get me wrong, I love and values my life, that’s why I most of the time smile, hehe, but I sometimes ask myself how much I have to experience before it is enough? But in fact that makes me to a better person and not at least to a fighter 😉

Sam: What are your interests outside of Midnattsol? What do you choose to spend your spare time doing?

Carmen: Spare time, what is that? hehe! I use my time on music and interviews, studying, working and teaching, so after that there is nearly more time left. That is the reason why I answer these questions on Sunday morning 2 weeks later, it was the first possibility, sorry for that by the way! My biggest interests are nature and languages, I love them both. But I also like to do exercises like yoga, dancing, all kind of winter sports and I read a lot.

Sam: What other paths would you take in life if you weren’t a musician?

Carmen: Okay, this is perhaps a bit pathetic to say, but I really mean it. First of all, I don’t think that I would be the same person without music, to make and to hear music was always was a great part of my life. But if I was forced not to make music I would give all my power to try to help animals and protect the nature, I have very strong opinions about this, and I many times I can’t stand to think about what shit is happening to this world. The people are so egoistic, I can’t believe it! The only thing what matters are money, power and materialistic things. So often I think that I don’t fit in in this modern world, I try so much to understand what is going around in people’s heads, but…I can’t understand. And when you have such strong different opinions about general things, the possibility to feel different and un-understood is very high, hehe.

Sam: It’s becoming more and more common these days to have female-fronted metal bands. Are you pleased with the way the metal scene is developing and how do you think the greater inclusion of women will change the scene in the next few years?

Carmen: To be honest, I don’t care much about if the bands are having female or male voice, I like the music or not. But of course, I think it is good that also women take part in the metal scene- with success as we can observe! Women belong to metal equal much as the men do!! What the future brings- we have to wait and see.

Sam: We haven’t seen a lot of you on the scene so far, so tell us what other bands you like at the moment and what other musicians you would like to work with.

Carmen: My absolute biggest inspiration is Anathema, they give me so much. And like I said as well, Amorphis, Opeth and bands like Paradise Lost, My dying Bride. At the moment I listen all day long the Spanish band Savia, I love the Spanish language and the voice of the singer. Non-metal bands like Dead can Dance is also so amazing, the emotions in the music is unbelievable. But hehe, I don’t think that we have the possibility to work with these bands, but hoping is allowed, hehe.

Sam: Have you started work on a new album and what can we expect from Midnattsol in the future?

Carmen: Yes, we have started and we have quite a few ideas and songs. it is so great to make music again, wow! The only thing is that the process is going a bit slowly, because of the fact that all the band members (besides Christian Hector) are having the final exam in 2006 at different point of time. What you can expect? At least a new album that is a bit more heavier, hopefully with some folky instruments and some few parts with clean male vocal. I also think that we are going to make a video for the next album and of course some concerts!

Sam: Thank you very much for the interview and do you have any last words for your dedicated fan following?

Carmen: I have to thank you, it was a pleasure to me! Thank you so much for your support, you give me and the band so much! Take good care of yourself, I hope that all your dreams come true in 2006!

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