Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
So Covid and its scheming ways forced many bands to reschedule or even cancel gigs and tours over that cursed couple of years when life was plunged into the dark world of uncertainty and skin of your teeth leadership.
Tonight, I’m hurrying back to Nottingham’s sacred Rock City, a MECCA of a venue for any band worth it’s’ salt, to catch the rescheduled EPICA and APOCALYPTICA gig, one that was fouled by the recent pandemic.
It’s an early doors again due to the dreaded curfew, there is a club ‘all-nighter’ on so the bands and fans need to be clear for the student drinking games that follow. Tonight, we have Finnish Progressive Metal band ‘WHEEL” added to the line-up. These are timed to hit the stage at an ungodly 18:10, doors are 18:00 and we’re still waiting to get in as the guest list is late coming down to the poor girl in the box office. It’s great to see Arta Gailuma is here waiting to get in too, we’re joined later by Alina Salihbekova another regular to this hallowed ground.
Getting in it’s a case of grab the camera and dive into the pit. The steady drone is resonating around the hall as the band are welcomed by the early doors crowd, a respectable one I might add. WHEEL kick off with a dark brooding number full of off-beat drum snare crashes and a drop tuned riff that sounds like its rattling the very fillings from your teeth. Lascelle’s vocal is pure to this dirty sound wall.
He stands arrogantly, arms outstretched before riffing on a stunning green bodied lefty LP style guitar. This is the new single from the Rumination E.P. dropped in 2022. It twist and turns as Jussi Turunen’s, guitar leads scorch through the apocalyptic sound scape. The lack of lights further enhances this brooding number.
A quick change as the beats thuds out from Santeri Saksala’s kit. The bass is ruthless as ‘Movement’ builds. This is from the album Resident Human, from 2021. Another aggressive guitar driven belter, the strange harmonies and time signatures flow and ebb as Lascelles softly addresses the microphone before it all breaks down. Drummer, Saksala, is getting a great work out here as be pounds away, the guitars soar over the top as the song finally comes to an abrupt end.
Lascelles takes a moment to address the crowd, saying that they’re from Finland in a perfect in English accent. He’s from London, so I’m informed, someone who followed his dream of going to Finland were, jokingly they say there are 28 bands to each person, an unbelievable amount but Finland is prolific in producing some excellent bands, Von Hertzen Brothers, Turmion Kätilöt and Battlebeast to name a few.
‘Vultures’ continues this experimental sounding musical expression, so far, it’s been damn good and I’m ashamed to say this is the first time I’ve seen or heard of the band. I shall be rectifying this later.
The dark beats slam out as the song builds. The heads are down as they grind out the off-beat riffs. The vocal is again at odds with the wall of sound but works brilliantly. Throw in the frayed vocal and it stitches together like a 1,000piece jigsaw. The short set is finished off with ‘Wheel’ from the 2019 debut album, Moving Backwards.
Starting off we get thudding drums and weeping guitars bringing this, the last number, to life. The tribal beats being pounded out on the kit rush forward as the guitars scamper along as this 10minute epic comes to life. Watching the crowd, they seem to be enjoying this reveille, with its scorching light and shade, Laschelle eventually adds his gentle vocal to the proceedings.
The frayed voice adding to the song, as it drops into one of many breakdowns. Aki Virta’s bass is bouncing along as Turunen’s guitar screams a pure riff over the maelstrom of devastation being laid down by his band mates.
The song has great instrumental passages that build into migraine inducing phrases of off-beat triumph, a stunning piece, well worked and delivered to great cheers from the crowd. This band are awesome, I’m smiling to myself stood at the bar, yet again, getting in to a venue early has delivered a band that I will be following up. Give them a go, they have just played a terrific opening set.
The obligatory set change follows, a slightly lengthier affair tonight as we have drums to remove, each band has their own kit on stage tonight so it’s not a simple snare and cymbal swop that you see so many multi line up bands do to save time.
EPICA are next. They are co-headlining this tour, so tonight they get to play at 19:00, so back in the tour bus, parked outside for tea and cake by 21:00. This Dutch Symphonic band have a huge draw, and tonight is no exception. Rock City is bustling with excitement which turns to screams and cheers when the lights go off and the steady beats start to once again flood everyone’s aural cannels.
Blue and white lights strobe as the band come on stage and start into ‘Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity’. This is a romping intro that erupts with destructive growls from Mark Jansen, the purity of Simone Simons vocals soars over it as she joins the band on stage, her red mane of hair flowing as she moves around the stage.
Already the crowd are singing along to this one from the 2021 album Omega. The breakdown has the lights pulsing dark as the band smash out the dark riff, Simone, front and centre working her hair as it flows around her face. The song builds to a climactic finish.
Her stunning voice is already lifting the roof as we go into ‘The Essence of Silence’. Its percussive violent intro has, again Jansen on the gutturals. The band are full of smiles and windmilling hair as they slam this one at you with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Meanwhile Delahaye is on the riser pulling faces with Coen Janssen who is spinning his keyboard around to annoy him. This 2014 tune has the crowd fist pumping and head banging along as the lights pulse around the hall. The guitars are screaming as the drums thunder like a stampede of horses.
Thundering kick drums slam into your chest as the keys and guitars build into ‘Victims of Contingency’ another from the 2014 album The Quantum Enigma. The gutturals are flowing fast answered by the angelic offerings from Simone.
The mic stand has been moved out of the way for this one as she prowls the stage like a supermodel. Rob Van De Loo and Isaac Delahaye are pulling the shapes over on stage left. Locked into the groove, their smiling faces show they’re having fun, as Simone’s voice soars with the eagles. ‘Unleashed’ is up next from 2009’s, Design you Universe. Another timeless classic full of harmonised vocals, blast beats and orchestral keyboards. The vocal cuts through with the sharpness of a filleting knife, an incredible voice that is joined by the crowd, as they all sing along.
Tonight, has a greatest hits theme running through it, looking at the set list we have a songs spanning all the albums. Up next is a song from 2022’s The Alchemy Project, a 7track spinner, featuring guests such as Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) & Phil Lanzon (Uriah Heap) on Wake the World, Charlotte Wessels & Myrkur on Sirens – Of Blood and Water and Norwegian rock legend, SHINING of this next song ‘The Final Lullaby’. This being the first song written for this offering. It’s fast and full of dirty riffs and soaring vocals, as it blasts out, if only Shining had made an appearance, just to complete the night.
‘Fools of Damnation’ from 2007 has the honour of following on from this ‘epic’ new number. The middle Eastern influences builds once again, as Simone adds her voice to further enhance the sound stage. Heavy drums and growls lead on from the angelic voice.
The crowd are head nodding along as this crunches forward with an almost mechanical prowess. The kick drum is flying as the strings build the soundstage to one of immense proportions. Hard hitting, the snare pulses along like the heartbeat of a Geordie in a spelling test, its furious. With hair swirling around in the dark, the growls and guitars howl along with the keyboards again filling in all the blanks effortlessly with a big church organ sound. It’s a monumental song from yesteryear, which finishes with a Jansen guttural scream.
We now journey forward in time to 2021 and the latest album, Omega. We now have the angelic vocal of Simone as she brings ‘River’ to the table. Coen Janssens keyboard playing is subtle as this gentle ballad builds, the orchestral sound is swelling gently, low in the mix at first, a perfect balance to this soft passage. Bathed in yellow spots Simone walks from the back of the stage as she laments beautifully, her head voice is stunning. Rock City is in awe as the band join in gently book ending this incredible talent. The gentle keyboard tinkles as the song finishes and the crowd erupt.
Simone asks for people’s, phones, flashlights be turned on for this next one, ‘Code of Life’ the third song from Omega tonight. Again, there is that familiar middle eastern sound which, this time has an almost Viking chant staccato’d over the top as the guitars join in. The ‘symphonic’ sound is massive, Simone is front and centre behind a single mic stand, bathed in several spots, the rest of the band are hidden in the shadows. The band join in, and there are growls a plenty as Simone makes faces at Delahey.
‘Cry for the Moon’ takes us back to the debut album, The Phantom Agony, with its more gothic vibe. Simone asks for the crowd to help out by singing ‘forever and ever’ before she riffs the intro as the band play marching music.
The choral voices follow Simone’s lead as this huge orchestral piece romps along. Lights flashing and hair flying, Jansen drops into a round of guttural growls while the keys pop along in the back ground. A round of “oi oi oi” has the crowd punching the air. Simone’s haunting vocal takes over and provides the light to Jansen’s dark. It’s a great addition to the set as it shows were Epica have come from, but in saying that it fits in perfectly and the crowd agrees with the huge cheers as the song concludes.
A sporadic couple of fills on the drums follows before we go into the marching ‘Beyond the Matrix’, from 2016’s The Holographic Principle. With this one the band are bouncing along on stage, as Coen spins his keyboard around, to the crowd’s delight, while the song ramps up. ‘Open Your Arms’ is sung as one by the crowd as the song propels its way full of growls, harmonised chorus’s and thundering footwork.
Before the last song ‘Consign to Oblivion’, Simone asks for a Wall of Epic, which is duly formed but she encourages a bigger one. There’s a count down from 3 and then the frenzied attack begins. Guttural guitars and Thor’s hammer on the drums, the sides hit each other with the same impact as the wall of sound that threatens to rip your face off.
Once again, with more “Hey Hey Hey’s” and fist pumping which help keep this number moving along, whilst Simone’s voice soars, she makes the heart sign with her hands as she sings along. This long player is full of screams and more sober angelic offerings as the band thank the fans for turning out on a Wednesday night.
The hall erupts when the song dies, the band bathed in blue light salute the crowd, have the obligatory pics and hand out signed set lists in the form of paper aeroplanes. They eventually leave the stage to huge applause.
The guys are clearing the stage around them as it’s another set change for tonight’s headliners APOCALYPTICA. A Finnish Symphonic Metal band formed in Helsinki in 1993. Probably best known for they’re humble beginnings as a Metallica tribute band played on Cello’s.
Their debut album being called ‘Plays Metallica on Four Cellos’ in 1996, it was re-released in 2016 with bonus tracks Battery, Nothing Else Matters and Seek and Destroy. The album was followed in 1998 with Inquisition Symphony which included the Sepultura cover. They have gone on to adopt the neo-classical style and have produced an impressive 9 studio albums the latest being Cell-O in 2020. The band consists of classically trained cellists Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen and Perttu Kivilaakso on the Cello’s and Mikko Sirén on drums.
We kick the set of with a smokey stage bathed in red light as Mikko gets behind the kit. The Cellists walk on to the stage to huge applause.
A steady almost Jaws theme draws out, this slowly descends into a sound that isn’t too unfamiliar, I play it at home and the GHOST vibe is there when the drums kick in. This is a serious bit of music which breaks down into a righteous onslaught of dirty riffs and pounding drums before settling down again. The lead breaks have you looking for a guitarist, the wah-wah pedal is great.
Hair is flying from Lead Cello Perttu, as he throws it on its side and rocks out. Eicca is throwing down the ‘bow’, his blonde locks flowing as he does so, Paavo is stood there grinning at the crowd filling in the bits left yet unfilled. A solid start to the set and leaves you somewhat gobsmacked to what these guys are doing to an Instrument that’s deemed only suitable for classical music.
The bouncing grate of bow across strings brings us into ‘Grace’ from Worlds Collide. Classical meets pounding metal head on as this slow boiler starts off with a back curtain of thunderous drumming from Mikko. Perttu is in front of the drums as he brings this one to life, its steady vibe, eventually has all three Cellos rocking out, the high-pitched squeals ring out when called upon. Eicca is staring out from behind his blonde bangs as Paavo wanders about grinning away.
The skills of Frankie Perez is called upon for the next one, ‘I’m Not Jesus’, he tells us he’s been singing with the band since 2015, This is another from Worlds Collide and originally featured Slipknots, Corey Taylor. He proceeds to know this one out of the park, hitting the shapes as he delivers, Eicca and Paavo watch on as Perttu over onstage right solo’s away, his bow action is scorching.
‘Not Strong Enough’ follows and is yet another song that featured a guest vocalist, this time Shinedown’s Brent Smith, when it was released. This is from Cell-O and is a dynamic song perfectly suited to Smith’s charismatic vocal. There’s a couple now from the Cell-O album. We get the lads comfy on stools as they kick off with ‘Rise’ and its plucked intro.
The heartbeat in the background allows the sweet sound of subtly bowed Cellos keep centre stage. This is a beautiful piece about awakening and rising up, the video features some great cinematography and is worth a look. ‘Enroute to Mayhem’ carries on with songs from the 2020 album. This one has a little more grit and determination. The drums smash out as the Cellos slowly weep seductively around the back beat. The distinctive string on string vibe gives it a haunting feel as it kicks up a gear and we know have some fast elbows as the drums flash with lightning-fast cracks of light.
Heads are down as the song plays out getting faster as it does. The kickdrum and snare are now combined into blast beats before the whole song opens into an expanse of cymbal crashes and screaming strings, before dying down and finishing how it started. The crowd loved it and are cheering and clapping to hearing this one played live.
‘Shadowmaker’ follows on, after the cheers eventually die down. Frankie is back on stage. Once again thanking the crowd and saying they’re all so happy to be playing live again. This is the title track to the 2015 album of the same name. Standing, the Cello strings are plucked, as Frankie gives an emotional performance.
With the Cellos swapping sides Eicca and Perttu rock out, both the Cellos are screaming most un-classical like. The talent of these guys is phenomenal, as they get the “hey hey hey’s” going from the crowd. The drums are now getting a good beating, as Mikko stands and plays the large cut pipes, Frankie has taken over throne as keeps the beats going with some deft playing. Lights drums and Cellos, crash and thump as the song climaxes with a flurry of ‘Killing in The Name Of’ by Rage Against the Machine, again to whistles and applause from the great crowd in tonight.
Worlds Collide gets another visit with ‘I Don’t Care’. This to has a gentle start, it’s another song that has a guest singer on the album. Adam Gontier, for those of you unsure, he’s the Canadian frontman with Saint Asonia but formerly with the band Three Days Grace. Again, his part is done by the super talented Frankie Perez. Clad in a black cut off, his bare arms covered in Tattoos, he’s now front of stage singing to the crowd, gently at first, the angst comes out as the song propels forward.
Up next is a sequence of covers which I expect most of the crowd have been waiting for. The steady sound of chamber strings being plucked very quickly takes on the familiar tones of James Hetfield and the boys. In fact, the voicing of the lead Cello doesn’t sound unlike Hetfield himself. This was released by Metallica in 1992 and appears on the 2016 reissue of the debut 1996 album, Plays Metallica by Four Cellos and on 1998’s, Inquisition Symphony along with the next track, the title track, Sepultura’s ‘Inquisition Symphony’.
Perttu starts the droning by drawing his bow across his Cello, this is quickly joined with Eicca finger plucking his strings, a flash of blast beats and we away, heads are nodding as this Sepultura classic is slammin’ into the crowd.
Hair is being wafted left right and centre as we go, Mikko has sweat pouring from his head as he smashes his way around his drum kit, he’s had quite the night drumming ruthlessly. Distorted Cellos aplenty totally killed that number, but before the crowd have finished clapping, we get treated to another Metallica classic, this time ‘Seek and Destroy’ again on the re-release of the first album. Perttu delivers a stunning display of Hammett’s solo, his Cello is screaming blue murder as the crowd are singing along.
Miko, at times has taken to hammering the kit stood up, the lights are flashing as Perttu strikes up the Angus Young intro to Thunderstruck. A great section of the night and to be honest gets the biggest response from the crowd.
The night finishes with ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ a cover of the Edvard Grieg masterpiece but with a bit of Finnish sauce. Distorted strings aplenty tied into thundering drums, what a great way to finish a stunning night. Feedback cuts through the steady droning Cellos of Paavo and Eicca. We’re off on a tangent with some baroque before finally getting down to business, it pauses while the band tease the crowd. Paavo takes over plucking the intro to Peer Gynt Suite No1 the afore mentioned ‘In the Hall of The Mountain King’.
The Cellists bring Greig’s piece up to date with some frantic bow work and audience participation, ok hand claps, as the tune gradually speeds up. They first played this back in 2000 and has become a staple in the set. A stunning display of musicianship and a great end to the night. Brilliant.
With just three more nights on the UK leg of the tour left, it’s definitely one to try and get too. WHEEL are a great new discovery so worth getting there early to catch them.
EPICA are up there with the likes of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Evanescence and APOCALYPTICA show you that Classical music doesn’t have to be stuffy and should be accessible to all.
Another stunning night of live music, enjoyed and spoken about with glee as we leave the venue and venture out into the cold, Live Music, Nothing Else Matters, for the time being anyway.