Metal Female Voices Fest V – Review

03/11/2007 § Leave a comment

By the end of the festival we had probably become the people the organisation wished they hadn’t let in. And, unfortunately enough for those with me, sometimes I remember most things about an evening, maybe it’s something to do with the strength of the beer. Flowing Tears had left and Leaves’ Eyes had shut up shop. We screamed “Val” several times as she walked pass us, pretending to ignore the drunken Brits who were cluttering up the backstage areas. The festival, to her, probably seemed like less of a problem than the native English speaking nerds who were lolling about at the table mere feet away. We had become the very thing that most people leave the country to avoid.

The crowd numbers hadn’t been bad at all and looking at the gathering of those who still remained in the venue, most people had thoroughly enjoyed the headline act. I’m not a massive fan of Leaves’ Eyes and I wasn’t overly keen on the prospect of a humongous MDF Viking ship accompanying them on stage for the DVD shoot. The whole thing lacked a serious amount of irony and I have a feeling that the Viking theme may be prevalent with them for a good while to come. However, what I actually caught of their set was impressive – really quite impressive. I’ve seen them live twice before and only because they were on the same bill as other bands, but I couldn’t doubt that they put on a very decent show.

And good for them, since they didn’t have the easiest act to follow. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Epica now. They plaster themselves all over so many country’s gig schedules that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Portuguese fado fans had stumbled across one of their events on the way to seeing the latest Christina Branco. This was the fifth Metal Female Voices Fest they’ve done. But I don’t know. As much as I love the new songs and I’m very impressed with The Divine Conspiracy, something was missing for me. Live-wise, it may be a case of over-egging the pudding and though I’m more than aware than this band can cut it in front of an audience – Simone making us aware twice and thrice a song that they were indeed playing “new material” – it had lost its pizzazz for me and no amount of pyrotechnics and confetti could help it. Stage pyro? This wasn’t Rammstein and the only reason I could possibly think for its inclusion was because…. it was possible. As The Divine Conspiracy’s title track wended and dragged its way to its lengthy conclusion, I was much more interested in listening to Miri from Distorted talk to me about her toy cow in Israel. It certainly sounded better than what was coming out the PA.

Mind you, the PA was probably recovering from the awfulness of the set that had just preceded it. Sirenia were a band I started out respecting a lot when their debut, At Sixes and Sevens, was released in 2002. It remains one of my favourite Gothic metal albums, and one of my favourite albums in metal overall. However, something seems to have gone seriously awry after that. Their next album, An Elixir For Existence, was Morten Veland’s first example of how he was losing his focus, and their most recent effort, Nine Destinies and a Downfall, contains some of the most horrific numbers ever to be committed to a Gothic metal disc. And, lucky us, we were about to experience them first hand. A lot of them.

I really don’t know what has gone wrong with this lot but from the first chord the set was laughable. In fact, it was too embarrassing to be laughable, it was just a farce. Monika Pedersen, the new singer, stumbled around like she’d had had a few too many Hoegaarden backstage, which I hope was the case and she hasn’t got a condition. Seeming to have absolutely no idea about how to get the crowd going, she slapped her hands together like a seal and didn’t look too different from one, trussed up as she was in all her netting and leather. Her vocals were something else. Literally. Whenever she moved the microphone away from her mouth and stopped singing, her voice would magically come out of the speakers. I was almost proud of her for being so totally blind as to how ridiculous the whole thing looked. And Morten, for his part, looked permanently bored and pissed off throughout the set. Strangely enough, there were some people who came away from the set praising it, but these were probably the same people who had been standing next to the gargantuan speakers for way too long, their sense of hearing shot to buggery. If I’d played them a tape recording of white noise mixed with orders for cab pickups in Willesden they probably would have liked it.

A band who I was very keen indeed to see were Flowing Tears. Having missed their set in 2004 due to interviewing other bands, I predicted seeing them this year as being one of the highlights. Having had other things to concentrate on of late meant that this was the first time that the band had been onstage for 18 months, but they still managed to put on an excellent show. The biggest surprise for me was just how comfortable and natural Helen was with being in front of an audience and she even managed to get the crowd involved during the difficult minidisc and sound problems the band experienced. With Ben and Stefan running round like madmen and the band playing some of the best songs from their catalogue, they certainly put on a very strong exhibition, and it will be good to see more of them now they’re back on the scene.

The start of Flowing Tears’ set fortunately heralded the end of two bands who I’ve never really been a fan of, and their sets didn’t do anything to change my mind about them. I’ve never really been keen on Delain and Elis due to their watery, bland style of Gothic metal with paltry, middle of the road vocals. I stood there, in awe at the insipid music pouring out of the speakers once more questioning why these bands are as popular as they are. Maybe it’s because they’re accessible, maybe it’s because the pander to what a lot of the younger Gothic demographic like to hear, but I can’t really find anything musically credible in their sound. Seraphim, the band before them, were even less entertaining and probably the weakest band of the festival. Forty-five minutes of twiddly, homogeneous power metal with banshee-esque high vocals seemed to set quite a few peoples’ teeth on edge. I walked around. I did some shopping. I went outside to have some conversations. I even received text messages from people saying, “when are they going to stop?”. All I knew is that their set seemed to go on for ever, and quite a few people were pleased when they finally gave the stage a break.

The first few bands of the day are normally the ones that get the least attention and crowd numbers, though those people who were fortunate enough to see Distorted may well have argued that they should have been higher up the bill. Since I first heard Memorial I was in awe at the professionalism and dynamics and I was pleased to say they excel in a live setting. They worked their way through their debut album with flawless expertise and vigour, with Miri sounding note perfect throughout the set. The large stage was clearly undaunting to them and they were in their element, so natural and fluid was the performance that they put across. Interria also managed to put on a good show, and though the music was more rocky than I’d normally appreciate, they were certainly a promising band. Unfortunately I missed the majority of Valkyre’s set due to their early start time, but if Mieke could learn to be a little less static onstage their performance would have improved markedly, in spite of opening a festival not being the easiest thing for a new band to do.

When we arrived at the venue a little after 10am, the crowd numbers looked very promising indeed. I was told that the presales for the festival ran into something like 3000, much better than last year’s. It was obvious than the line-up had enticed many people, and a lot of people were justified in their enthusiasm about the show. The MFVF remains the keystone in the female-fronted metal scene with a lot of very decent bands already lined up for next year. Not all the bands will be to everyone’s tastes on each occasion but spanning the majority of a day certainly most tastes are catered for. With bands falling over themselves to play it, and the talk and anticipation that yearly surrounds it, it keeps the femme metal scene refreshed in everyone’s attention.

Metal Female Voices Fest IV – Review

01/11/2006 § Leave a comment

It’s 4pm and I can hear the couple in the room next to mine having sex. Muffled gasps emanating from the other side of the flock walls. God knows what some of these people get up to but it sounds rather painful.

I start to imagine them using all kinds of advanced, custom-made sexual machinery. Some industrial monster with ropes, levers and pulleys for limbs and an intricate ball bearing system for organs. A few rivets off Deep Thought, grey, trunk-like cables humming on the short-pile. This whole place is some kind of Bohemian knocking-shop. Orange lamplight bathes most of the rooms, cradled by Athenian-esque bronze statues. The doors are fortress-like, there’s free porn on the television and the decrepit hag at reception was surprised that I’d checked in alone, not that she’s had any in years. Who knows, I might be wrong, she’s probably being seen to by some local navy three nights a week or some desperate young with a frightening fetish for living relics, probably her cousin or nephew. Much, much stranger things have happened.

Saint-Pieters, Ghent in Belgium and I‘m in a hotel a short distance from the station. It’s a place for secretaries to go at lunchtime for half an hour of white-collar coitus, and the décor, though not entirely naff or sleazy still manages to knowingly skirt the boundary of seediness, throwing one or two hankering glances in its direction. I’m recovering. The Metal Female Voices Fest was only last night, the biggest and most ambitious in the series and I have left Weize and Brussels, having been briefly abandoned in Aalst and wandered lost round the industrial eccentricities of Gentbrugge. The train ride alone was like some safari park jaunt through a Henk van Rensberge portfolio. The conductor should have shut out the lights, slowed the engine and piped some Lustmord through the intercom. The would have had the passengers clawing at the windows to get out. Catch-22 hell.

The festival comprised of eleven bands where there had originally been twelve scheduled, though Theatre of Tragedy couldn’t attend for one reason or another. This didn’t seem to be a huge disappointment to everyone since most people realised by early evening that the prospect of going home early wasn’t entirely unappealing. As the festival wore on some people had already taken to passing out among the beer bottles and burger off-cuts, still managing to shoot a critical glance in your direction if you kicked them by mistake en route from one side of the hall to the other.

The hallpsace itself in the Oktoberhallen was less than last year. The management has brought the stage further forward into the arena so as to diminish the gulf that would have been created by fewer tickets sales than last year. We arrived at about 11.30am by which time any queue had disappeared inside the guts of the venue. Having attained our Access All Areas passes kindly given to us by the management we made our way inside to catch the tail-end of Macbeth’s set and headed straight for the backstage area to check it out. The set-up was more or less identical to last year’s. Two large rooms, one for press and a changing room area beyond it for the bands, separated by the dreaded red curtain and semi tough-looking doorman. The whole backstage area was very large for what it was though I don’t know how many people used it for interviews, there was certainly nothing of that going on that I saw, unlike two years ago when the Ancenne Belgique was a hive of whirring recording equipment and ricocheting questions.

The first band on were Anachronia who didn’t give a distinctly ‘metal’ impression since though Fay looked quite stunning in her corset, Aymeric looked as though he’d just walked in from his living room wearing a polo neck and blue jeans. They put on a more confident show than last year but failed to ignite the crowd since everyone was still warming up by this point. Skeptical Minds were met with a similar reaction later on and they played a couple of new numbers which didn’t have such an electro feel as their older stuff had. In fact, most of the music they played had seriously toned down on the electro front which was a shame since the electro was what set then apart in an often bland and repetitive genre. However, a lot of metal fans are known for disliking electro so this may have had something to do with its removal, unfortunately forcing the band to blend in with the other acts of the day.

One band who did not blend in for the better were Theatre Des Vampires who for me were the band of the day. Even though I’m not a huge fan of their music, they certainly know how to put on a live show. Their set was not only about music but image. The whole band started the set wearing masks and Sonya a long trench coat, which later she removed to reveal the scantiest outfit yet at the festival. Her control of the band and the music was impressive as well as her use of the stage and I was struck by how few other bands in general put effort into making a show of their live performances. Most other artists only play their own music and shuffle about, whereas the Italians came across as sexy, energetic and above all, different. Naio Ssaoin were the other best band, and though their jumpy music may not have been to everyone’s tastes, they still oozed confidence and it was interesting to see peoples’ confused looks when they said they were from Slovenia, a country which some people clearly didn’t know how to place, or had even heard of.

The biggest disappointment of the day for me was Forever Slave who cemented my opinion that they are one of the worst band in this category. Even though I dislike both their releases I kept an open mind in the hope that I may enjoy some parts of their set. Unfortunately from the start it was clear that they have very limited potential since not only do they play diluted, forgettable Gothic metal songs, but Lady Angellyca can’t hold a note for toffee while the other musicians in the band have the unenviable skill of being able to play their instruments with no flair, feeling or artistry. I came to the conclusion that this band only want to be in the scene to be noticed since they offer nothing of worth musically. Lady A’s pretention that she was being considered for Nightwish couldn’t be further from the truth since she has no talent in this area. Still, some people were – amazingly – singing along to some of the songs so they have some fans somewhere.

Bands that had both positive and negative influences to their performances were Delain and Midnattsol, who shared the same problem inasmuch as both their singers lacked onstage animation. I can almost excuse Delain since Charlotte is new to the scene and probably hasn’t performed in many live shows. One thing is clear though, and that is that she has a fantastic voice, especially live. Every note she sang was smooth and beautiful and she will doubtless become a star over the years to come. Whether she has a background in metal hangs in the balance for since she didn’t seem to carry much of an adoration for the sound she was projecting but I imagine this will come over time. Midnattsol had a strange time on stage since though most of the band were more or less in the music, Carmen acted almost drunk, drugged or depressed, being very quiet for most of the set and hardly moving at all. The faulty microphone at the start may have shattered her confidence [the same problem that a couple of other bands also had] but something intangible seemed a little awry which put a crimp on the set for me.

Since Theatre of Tragedy couldn’t put in an appearance, the biggest band of the festival were Tristania who, thanks to some tweaking from the staff, got the best sound and light show of the lot. The set didn’t get off to a great start with Østen also suffering from the faulty microphone problem which led him to only stare meaningfully into the crowd while we couldn’t hear anything coming out of his mouth. However, Vibeke’s onstage movements were deliriously transfixing and her vocal capabilities proved that she really can cut it live. The band took us through a tour of all their albums, including a couple of tracks from Illumination. Still, the highlight for me was the wonderful Angellore and it was wonderful to see a track from one of my favourite albums being displayed in a live setting. To me Vibeke, more than anyone, deserves the accolade of the Queen of Gothic metal. Though some may disagree in favor of Cristina, Floor or Sharon, Tristania come across as entirely Gothic in structure whereas other bands further up the tree haven’t retained their Gothic roots over time. Tristania’s show was both about looks and music, so it’s a shame that their two male vocalists didn’t hold the same conviction or magnetism which detracts from the otherwise perfect air the band might have given off.

After Tristania’s encore and after they’d gone offstage without saying goodbye to anyone, the crowd were left with little to do but negotiate their way through the plastic bottles and leftover token used to purchase beer. Honestly, I have no idea how much of the stuff I drank over the course of 13 hours since it was so ridiculously cheap. In spite of this, at the end of the evening I was feeling remarkably lucid which was a bit of a disappointment when I’d consciously made an effort to feel like I was going to eject my innards by midnight. The evening wasn’t to stop there though, since two younger Gothettes set upon us needing a lift back to Aaslt even tough they had no idea which part they were going to. On the way back I had time to muse once more over what had been another greatly enjoyable event with a further one already in the planning stages. Hopefully that one will be even more successful, one or two lessons having been learned all round.

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]

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.

Metal Female Voices Fest II – Review

07/02/2005 § Leave a comment

November 2005 will see what will undoubtedly be the gig of the year for any femme-metal fan, the Metal Female Voices Fest in Belgium. With a spectacular line-up already confirmed, it should be another unmissable event. Sonic Cathedral had the good fortune to go behind the scenes last year, meet the organisers and interview the bands. Sam Grant looks back at a truly phenomenal occasion, and anticipates many more in the years to come.

The queue wasn’t quite as long as I’d expected it to be, but the residents and tourists of Brussels still had plenty to glare at as the line of shrouded fanatics snaked its way through the streets, its members looking appropriately out of place on a bright Sunday afternoon, like participants in some deathly masquerade ball. Queuing is a very British thing to do. Even on plane flights where people have allocated seat numbers you can notice the Brits, they’re the ones that line up an hour before boarding even though they could nonchalantly swan on the plane a few minutes before the cargo doors are shut. I remember my brother joined a queue once and he didn’t even know what it was for, it’s that kind of sheepish mentality we share, but while the members of the UK home counties had taken to politely forming a line outside the venue, judging by the strictly adhered-to dress code, everyone had a good idea why there were there. All the other Europeans, on the other hand, had taken to swarming round the entrance and nudging their way in, while people further down peered over other’s heads, appraised and accepted the situation in a second and fell back obediently. Allocated places or not, everyone was pretty desperate to get in.

And so they should have been. The Metal Female Voices Fest II was the Gothic Metal event of 2004. Metal Organisation had managed to cobble together quite a staggering line-up in one building, with many of the greats at the top of the scene making an appearance on the same stage in the course of a good few hours. Not only were Nightwish on the bill, arguably the biggest Gothic metal band of the moment, but Epica, Flowing Tears, Darkwell, and a whole host of others. Tickets to this event had sold out months before the date itself. Since August there had been none left and some people were selling them for over five times the original asking price. Having battled my way through the slovenly crowd of uber-Gothics I managed to find the cosy help desk and acquire the passes that Charlie and I needed in order to take photographs, interview the bands backstage and steal some of their beer. As a result of having to pay no entry fee I had some extra tickets to hand and I had no trouble flogging these to a few desperate teens outside the hall who, at the thought of seeing buoyant sprites like Tarja, Simone and Helen bouncing around on stage, had more than the music in mind as a reason for cramming their hormone-fuelled bodies into a room of 2000 at the tail-end of a weekend.

We made our way through the turnstiles and were greeted by a large black blob of people milling around looking for sandwiches and beer before the first act, Syrens Call, came on. Those who were not shelling out for merchandise had made their way over to the bar area only to be told that they weren’t allowed to pay with real money, but had to go over to a booth occupied by two burley but morose looking gentlemen who would give them tinny little tokens in exchange for real cash [or Euros at least] which they could then use to by the wares. It was an unusual, and seemingly pointless system, and at the end of the day it did nothing for me but highlight the farcical nature of currency, and prove that the only value that anything has isn’t intrinsic, but that which we attach to it. Even now, a few months on, I have a few of these tokens sitting upstairs along with various other shrapnel, which I won’t be able to exchange for anything in the average shop, whereas some leftover Euros would have been more useful. I’ll give them back their funny money this year only to find that it’s outdated and the venue is employing a new system necessitating the exchange of food for tokens, which then get exchanged for food. Or lost family members. You see, in the 21st century we haven’t moved on as far as we’d like to think.

I managed to catch about two minutes of Ashes You Leave before I had to leave the happy revellers, many of whom were still trying to bunk down somewhere comfortable for the next few foreseeable hours, in order to commence the interviews. I had, on entrance, acquired the phone number of a young gentleman called Julian [this isn’t as dodgy as it sounds] who would be part of the Metal Organisation entourage to take Charlie and me backstage to conduct the interviews. We were ushered through some discreet side door and down the back cavity of the venue, phalanxed by items of old stage equipment and various roadies sitting on piles of cabling looking as though they’d accepted that they were going to be staying there for a good while. Fans or crew, a lot of people were privy to the need to find their niche in the arena.

The backstage area itself looked like something out of a school canteen. There were lino tables thrown artistically around the room along with red plastic chairs. The myth and romance of the concept of ‘backstage’ swiftly lost its mysterious essence, and it wasn’t long before we found out that this was actually a dining room after all, but filled up with random band members and journalists fiddling with their audio equipment nervously. A member of the Metal Organisation crew came up to me, greeted me with a French accent and showed me the interview schedule that would strap us in over the next few hours. However, it was now that it occurred to me that a great deal of organisation had gone into this event and that this day was the culmination of a huge amount of work which most punters would be blissfully unaware of, walking in, filing out, and having very little idea about its intricacies.

The interviews themselves lasted for about 30 minutes to an hour each, in which time we were able to talk to Syrens Call, Darkwell, Flowing Tears and Epica, as well as quiz Ellen Schutyser on various things too inappropriate to write in an interview. All the bands were extremely cooperative and cordial in spite of their busy schedules on the day and we came away, a few hours later, with a bundle of very good interviews. Tired but strangely fulfilled, we came downstairs and negotiated our way through the empty foyer which had now become a cemetery for plastic beer glasses, just in time to catch the last few minutes of Nightwish’s Ghost Love Score. On entering the hall at this point, I was reminded of how good the sound in the hall was. I don’t know if it’s something about the UK, but I’m used to quite mediocre, over-trebled sound quality oozing its way into the audience from somewhere approximating the front of the stage, but this wasn’t the case at all here. The sound really was incredible, and in the moments I had snatched of the Epica set earlier, it was extremely powerful and really did the music justice, which is all too often a rarity.

However, it was not only the music that made the experience so special, or indeed the line-up of the bands. By the end of the Nightwish set, the crowd had worked themselves up into a whirlwind frenzy, giving the event one of the most supreme atmospheres of any gig I had been to. No-one in the hall was indifferent, and the sheer jubilation felt when the confetti rained down at the end of Ghost Love Score was unmatched by anything else I had seen in a gig to that date. The emphasis had clearly been not only on getting the bands in and out successfully, but putting on a damn good show for the audience as well, and judging by the reactions, this was certainly appreciated.

At the end of the event I had the good fortune to meet Philty, the event’s main organiser from Metal Organisation, who seemed tired but glad [and probably relieved] at the way the event had gone, and to no surprise. We talked about the success of the event and how well it had been received, the overriding concentration being that the event is one of its kind and in its own league. No other festival does more to bring so many quality femme bands into the limelight at the same time and to introduce new fans to many more. Not only this, but after the event and during the performances, many of the bands came into the main foyer area to mingle with the crowd and talk to them, therefore doing away with the protocol rigid crowd/artist divide, which is hardly likely to be something you’ll see at Glastonbury or Reading.

All in all, I was struck not only by how smoothly the event went for the fans and for those of us backstage, but by the sheer professionalism of the crew and the organisers, some of whom appeared to be younger than I was. Metal Organisation were a class act, in addition to those that played on the stage that day, and I am thoroughly looking forward to the next event. For those that missed it last year, do everything you can to go along in 2005. Beg, borrow or steal money to get tickets. If you don’t, you’ll not only miss out on seeing some of the biggest names in femme metal on the same day, but you’ll be reading reports like this in 2006 rubbing it all in again.

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