EPICA / FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE / ARKONA
Date: 08th November, 2016
Venue: Concord Music Hall
Ticket: $25 (€22)
Having EPICA in town to promote their awesome LP “The Holographic Principle” was a very good reason to battle the Chicago evening commute and get to Concord Music Hall on time. This deal was made sweeter with the addition of FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE, ARKONA and THE AGONIST on the billing, so getting there early was must. Unfortunately, there was not enough time after getting off work to catch THE AGONIST but the METAL KAOZ team was there just before ARKONA hit the stage. However, there was a mix-up with the press list, so the photo-passes had not been cleared and we had to patiently wait along with other photographers to get the appropriate credentials which was a pain listening to the Russians kicking off their set.
Anyhow, things like this are always a possibility and there is no better was to fix one’s mood than some heavy-dancing-around Folk Metal. Yeah, ARKONA were in the middle of “Vozrozdenie” and there were already people dancing (in the Metal way, of course) along in front rows. As expected, the language barrier (all the lyrics are in Russian) prevented some to enjoy the on-stage happenings but if you’d ask me, it was their loss because ARKONA were on fire. Masha “Scream” Arkhipova was growling/screaming/singing with the trademark Russian accent which I think fits like hand-in-glove to the primitive Folk Metal ARKONA are delivering. “Thank you friends! Are you ready?” Masha asked with her heavy accent and then let the accordion do the rest with “Stenka Na Stenku”. That’s a must-dance-along song alright and watching around I think I saw some of the hard-to-convince metalheads were at least foot-tapping along and then joining the “lai la lai” part. “Yarilo” continued on the same momentum and really left us craving for more being the last song of the setlist. It was like ARKONA left us after warming us up and after having broken through the always tough shell of the US metalheads who are not doing so well with non-English singing lyrics. I hope we’ll get soon another chance to get a bigger setlist from them.
Next on the billing was Italy’s Symphonic Death metallers FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE whom I had the chance to watch live once more some years ago, so I was already prepared for their onstage theatrics. And yes, building an atmosphere and having some semi-rehearsed onstage moves are two things the Italian Metal bands know best to do. The stage clothes, the keyboard-looks-like-a-piano setting and the makeup fit perfectly the band’s pompous Death Metal and I think appeals to the US audience. Yeah, the moment Veronica Bordacchini showed up wearing a mask, a renaissance outfit and holding (if I am not mistaken) the caduceus (Hermes Trismegistus’ staff) did trigger a most enthusiastic response from the band’s fans who seemed to know the lyrics of “In Aeternum” which followed the “March Royale” taped intro. The music of FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE comprises many layers from orchestral parts, samples and, of course, the fast tempo and the heaviness of Death Metal, so having a balanced and “clear” sound is a prerequisite. In this case, the sound was a bit overwhelmed during the double bass-drum bursts, so part of the atmosphere was getting lost in the mix.
Bassist Paolo Rossi and - of course - singer/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi were the two “main faces” of the band, supporting the Gothic aesthetics with their poses, facial expressions and general appearance, and quickly established a strong bonding with the US audience. I shouldn’t leave out of this equation the keyboardist Francesco Ferrini who played really well his “pianist-from-a-'70s-Horror-Movie” part like a professional. “Healing Through War” sounded killer (especially the groove part) and I think during “Cold As Perfection”, the sound got a bit better, even though the faster “The Violation” got (again) buried under the abundance of the double bass. The instrumental “Prologue” saw the band leaving the stage but only a minute since the following “Epilogue” got everyone back to headbanging/moshing. “I want to introduce you to a friend of mine; he is always smiling and wears the mask of laughter. He is called the Fool” said the band’s frontman in the most theatrical way as the proper introduction for “The Fool” with the awesome opening keyboard melody. “The Forsaking” was dedicated to the FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE crew and was also the song that dropped the curtain for the Italians’ performance who managed to support the complicated song-structures and the overall atmosphere, something that is difficult to achieve. Because there is a really fine line separating the ‘looking theatrical’ and ‘being cheesy’ aspect, but FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE lived up to the Italian bands’ legacy on this.
FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE setlist:
01. “Marche Royale”
02. “In Aeternum”
04. “Healing Through War”
05. “Cold As Perfection”
06. “The Violation”
07. “Prologue” (taped)
09. “The Fool”
10. “The Forsaking”
(click to enlarge)
It took around 30 minutes to prepare the stage for EPICA and the result was quite rewarding despite the fact that the lights were too challenging-bright for the photo-shooting part of the task at hand. Coen Janssen had a brand new keyboard stand and he was able to glide it on top of tracks occupying stage-right. In case you have never seen EPICA live (this is your loss), then you should know that the stage is not set in the traditional way with the drums at the center. The drums and keyboards are on the two sides in the back leaving enough space in the center for other band members to stand something that - I believe - showcases how balanced is EPICA in terms of time spending on spotlight. What I am trying to say is that this is not the typical female-fronted band where the rest of the band is just occupying the space around the singer who is almost all the times good for the eyes. Anyway, I am digressing but I think you got my point.
“Edge Of The Blade” was the first song of the night and, as expected, Simone got the loudest cheer of all, the moment she stepped onstage. Watching the band taking over the stage with that level of energy, felt like it was in the middle of the set having skipped any warming up period. One thing that I always notice in EPICA shows is how every band member looks like he/she is having the best time onstage. This kind of energy and attitude spreads like wildfire, especially if the audience is of a young-on-average age like it was that night. When there is such an audience, then the energy coming from the stage bounces off it and gets multiplied. Yeah, the riff-lead break in the middle of “A Phantasmic Parade” sounded ten times better because of this and it was impossible not to headbang along. After this explosive start, it was time to calm things down a bit: “Good evening Chicago, it is awesome to be back here. Are you ready to go back in time?” Simone rhetorically asked just before letting her goosebumps-sending singing for “Sensorium” do the rest. I have no idea if this is due to her pregnancy but I think that in the last two EPICA albums her voice has gained a lot in terms of singing range and depth.
It was Mark’s turn to introduce the next song and with a wide smile he did so; “Are you guys having a good time? This is from our latest album” he said just before “Universal Death Squad”. On the record, this is a killer song but gets even way better live where you can feel the riffs hitting your right in the face. By the way, the sound mix had nothing to do with the way it was for the previous bands; everything was distinguishable and loud as it should, so there are absolutely no complaints on that matter.
That was a special night in the US because it was Election Day and it was extremely hopeful seeing young(er) metalheads checking the vote-counting with their phones during the breaks. “This is a weird day in America because you casted your vote today and that’s important” said Simone acknowledging the indeed strange setup of having a concert in the evening of the national elections. I just hope there will be nothing prophetic in “Divide And Conquer” that followed. The sing-along and mid-to-slow(er) tempo “Quietus” gave us some time to gather our strength for “The Obsessive Devotion” which “requires a lot of energy” quoting Mark’s words. Despite that the show was on a working day and it was already getting late, the audience did not hold back and matched the band’s onstage energy.
EPICA did not play it safe when selecting songs for the setlist and they mixed the old with the new stuff, so aside from the tracks from the latest albums, we got songs like “Mother Of Light” which made it to the set after a really long time. As the EPICA tradition has it, Coen Janssen got his carry-over keyboard for “Dancing In A Hurricane” and moved to the front of the stage having fun with this bandmates and even though this is happening in every show, it had the kind of spontaneity I always like in concerts. It gives you the sense that you are not watching a rehearsed performance but a genuine Metal show where anything can happen. “Are you staying hydrated?” Simone asked before taking a sip of water; “I am saving the beer for after the show because otherwise I would forget the lyrics” she joked before getting back to Metal business with the fast “Unchain Utopia”, with the absolutely fantastic main melody, and “Once Upon A Nightmare” which ended the pre-encore part of the set. It was a nice touch watching one by one leaving the stage during the closing part of this epic tune.
There were some who left the show during the break, something that was justifiable considering that it had been a long show (with a killer billing) and the next day was a working one. I guess this is why Coen asked “Are you working today?” and then joked by changing a bit the well-known motto; “let’s make America epic again”... “Storm The Sorrow” was the first of the three-song encore that had the chant-along “Beyond The Matrix” and the equally awesome “Consign To Oblivion” with the powerful antithesis of growling and soprano singing.
Once more EPICA delivered a tight set with songs from their entire back-catalogue and never dropped the ball in terms of keeping the energy at a high level with minimum between songs breaks, fitting all the music they could in the time given. The US audience did its part feeding from this energy surge and then making it even stronger. In other words, this was a great Metal show that managed to take our mind from the elections and all the turmoil associated with them.
02. “Edge Of The Blade”
03. “A Phantasmic Parade”
05. “Universal Death Squad”
06. “Divide And Conquer”
08. “The Obsessive Devotion”
09. “Mother Of Light”
10. “Ascension - Dream State Armageddon”
11. “Dancing In A Hurricane”
12. “Unchain Utopia”
13. “Once Upon A Nightmare”
14. “Storm The Sorrow”
15. “Beyond The Matrix”
16. “Consign To Oblivion”
(click to enlarge)