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Gig Review: Epica + Voyager, 20 March 2016, Melbourne

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Epica + Voyager
170 Russell, Melbourne
20 March 2016
Review by Karl Lean
Photos by Jess Miller

It’s been three years since Epica’s first Australian tour. Plenty long enough for Aussie fans to be primed and ready for their return, a near sell-out crowd has turned out on a warm Autumn Sunday evening to welcome them back to Melbourne.

Kicking things off is Perth’s Voyager. Things start a little slowly but persistence and a rock solid performance eventually pay off and by the end of their set Voyager have done their job, well and truly warming up the crowd. Always a feature is the performance of guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay, although they feel buried in the muddy mix at times, with the sound often being dominated by the drums. Sound issues aside, the band deliver their brand of progressive metal with fifty minutes of style and class. It’s the last night of the tour and singer Daniel Estrin leaves the stage after their final number with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a promise to “get f*cked up”, along with an invite for the crowd to join him, which produces a final roar of approval from the crowd.

Twenty minutes later the house lights dim and the intro music begins.  The members of Epica walk onto the stage one by one, each acknowledging the crowd and taking their place before the next enters.  It’s a great way to start, giving the fans a chance to greet the band while the stirring intro builds. Finally, Simone Simons sprints on and the band launches into, The Second Stone.  It’s the first of many tracks they will play from the latest album, The Quantum Enigma, although as the night progresses they will eventually play songs taken from each of the other five albums in the band’s catalogue. Long-time fan favourites such as, Storm the Sorrow, Cry for the Moon and Design Your Universe all make an appearance, it’s a well-balanced set that runs for almost 2 hours.

It’s hard to find a more aptly named band than Epica. Everything about the band is exactly that – epic.  The music is bombastic, rich, heavy and layered.  The sound is near perfect with each instrument clear and distinct within the overall mix, and loud enough to make you feel the music as well as hear it. Despite having to scale down their full stage production for the trip Down Under, the lighting is still a standout, plenty of moving spotlights giving a lot of motion in the light show.  It’s all integrated into the music so well, the stage awash in greens for, Chemical Insomnia, for example.  During the second song, The Essence of Silence, Simone retreats to the middle of the second ‘row’ of the stage, the riser holding the drums and keyboard podium, and a dozen spotlights from around the light rig all converge on her, surrounding her in a corona of white light. Head thrown back, arms extended, she stands there as the perfect visual focus while the song reaches its climax.  It’s just one of many epic (!!) staged scenes.  The crowd’s appreciation of the moment is obvious from the large number of phones that suddenly appear in hands as the fans scramble to capture the image.

Despite the orchestral trappings, this is very much a metal band; a point driven home when you see them live.  Guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye, along with bassist Rob van der Loo, spend a large part of the night with hair flailing wildly.  They prowl the stage relentlessly, clearly enjoying every moment.  At times the guitarists stand on small risers on each side of the front of the stage, creating yet another great visual as they stand silhouetted by the stage lighting behind them.  The interaction of the band members between themselves and the audience is fantastic throughout.  During one track keyboardist Coen Jannsen reaches into the crowd, takes a phone from a fan, and proceeds to take selfies of himself and Issac Delahaye before returning the phone to a very happy owner.

As the final notes of, Design Your Universe, ring out, the band leave the stage for the first time.  Jannsen is the first to return for the encore, weaving the tried and true ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ chant into the keyboard intro of, Sancta Terra.  Before the rest of the band returns he takes a moment to grab a microphone and single out Voyager, labelling them world class and urging the audience to get behind them whenever possible.  It’s a ringing endorsement of home-grown talent.

Epic in name and nature, it’s a night to remember for those who came along. Their return to Australia after the release of album number seven later this year can’t come soon enough.

 

 

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