Monday, 17 October 2016

Stream of Passion - Bristol Review

I have been into Stream of Passion for quite some time now, having been turned onto the band by hearing frontwoman Marcela Bovio's wonderful voice in Ayreon's 2004 progressive rock opera The Human Equation. Bovio, and Ayreon mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen, then formed Stream of Passion the following year with a debut album and a live DVD following in quick succession. It was this DVD, Live in the Real World, that was my first exposure to Stream of Passion. At the time I was a subscriber to Lovefilm and the disc came in the post and I played it through a few times before returning it as I loved it so much. I then got the band's debut album Embrace the Storm, and bought the second album, 2009's The Flame Within, on release. By this point the band had changed drastically, with Lacassen abandoning the project as he seems to like to do, and a more stable line-up formed around Bovio, which has remained largely intact until this day. I somehow lost touch with the band sometime after The Flame Within's release and it was not until 2012 when I saw them supporting Epica in Nottingham that I really gave Stream of Passion much thought. There was no real reason why I stopped following the band, I think they just got lost in my never-ending quest for new and exciting music - unfortunately there just is not time for everything! Their set with Epica was great, but then the band once again slipped from my radar. It was not until earlier this year when they announced a short run of UK shows, which then later on became the band's last ever UK shows after they announced they would be breaking up at the end of the year, that I finally caught up on the band's catalogue. I bought a ticket for the show in Bristol (which would become gig number one of a three gig marathon!) and gave all of their albums a good listening to in preparation. It is a real shame that the band are calling it a day, but I suppose they have always been in the shadow of so many other bands in the symphonic/gothic metal worlds. Their dense, yet ethereal sound is not always easy to listen to, and they are less catchy and instantly memorable than many of their peers. The band will be missed though that is for certain, and Stream of Passion have a sound that is quite unlike any other band I know. I had not been to the Bierkeller in Bristol before, and was surprised by how big the venue was. The sound was fantastic throughout the evening too, with a huge amount of clarity and separation of instruments. It was one of the best-sounding shows I have been to in a while! The only disappointing thing about the night was the very low turnout. There cannot have been more than 100 people in the venue at any one time, which is a shame for a respected band's farewell tour. It is little wonder that bands of this type usually opt to only play London shows in the UK when turnouts can be this low, which just shows how relatively unpopular melodic, European metal bands are over here.

Bristol's own Triaxis opened the evening with their powerful brand of melodic metal. I saw the band at Bloodstock Open Air last year, and was impressed with them, but never really followed up this interest. I was looking forward to catching them again here to reacquaint myself with them. They made their half an our on stage count, with a few uplifting and heavy numbers that got the small gathering crowd going. While they were good, they did not seem as inspired or as good as their set at Bloodstock last year, which was a shame. The songs did not seem as catchy this time either, so maybe a different selection was chosen this time around? While I have enjoyed Triaxis both times I have seen them, I cannot help but feel they are one of the many bands out there who have plenty of potential and all the right ingredients to be a great band, but lack the certain indescribable spark that makes good bands into great bands.

Awake by Design, who were the main tour support for Stream of Passion's four UK shows, are a band I seem to be destined to run into every so often. I first saw the band back in 2008 in Ilfracombe of all places supporting Touchstone, and then again a few years later supporting Sonata Arctica in Wolverhampton. Each time I have seen the band they look vastly different (record numbers of line-up changes it seems!), with the exception of founding frontman Adrian Powell (bassist Dave Favill was definitely in the band for the Wolverhampton show, but I could not say either way for the Ilfracombe gig!). Part soaring melodic metal, part gothic melodrama, Awake by Design have always impressed me. Powell's voice is wonderful, much deeper than many of his peers but the emotion he can carry with his delivery is almost second to none. I have had the band's second album Carve the Sun since release, but I have yet to actually play it! Awake by Design are also victims of the sheer amount of music problem it seems! After this performance though, I shall be rectifying that immediately. Keyboards play a bigger part in the band's sound than before, with Janson Sissons' melodic lead lines and swirling atmospherics making the band sound bigger than ever. Luke Hatton is a great guitarist too, with lots of shredding solos and simple, but powerful, riffs. Powell stole the show however, and shows that he is one of the most underrated singers in the country.

Despite playing a venue with a small stage, and with a pretty small crowd, Stream of Passion really owned the night from the minute their set started. The small crowd made up for their size in volume, and the atmosphere was pretty good throughout despite the poor turnout. For a band with four albums under their belt who are coming to the end of their run, the band decided to give us the best of all their four albums - a 'greatest hits' set if you will. Bovio was in fine voice throughout, with her angelic voice having an edge to it that many other frontwomen in the symphonic/gothic world possess, and she led her band through 75 minutes or so of dynamic music. Monster and A War of Our Own, both from the band's latest album, provided a great start to set. Jeffrey Revet's (keyboards) piano and synth playing certainly drives the band's sound, with guitars providing crunching rhythms. Stephan Schultz (guitar) does get plenty of chances to shine too however with some excellent guitar solos, and he spent the entire set constantly switching between 6, 7, and 8 string guitars! In the End was an early highlight, which has one of the band's best choruses, and a short violin intro from Bovio. I have always thought it was a shame that Bovio never played more live violin, but I suppose this would restrict her movement on stage and might end up hampering her vocal performance. There were many highlights throughout the band's set, but the ultimate high point has to be the striking performance of Out of the Real World, from the band's debut album, that is easily the band's most memorable and catchy song. The chorus is wonderful, and shows the band could write a catchy 'hit single' if they tried. That is not really the band's way however, opting more for heavier brooding gothic anthems: 'We like drama' as Bovio quipped during the show. Their cover of Radiohead's Street Spirit is vastly better than the insipid original, and the band have turned it into a heavy power ballad that sounds like one of their own songs - the recipe for the perfect cover! The main set came to an end with The Endless Night, another soaring song that sums up what Stream of Passion are about perfectly. A three-song encore followed which included another cover, this time of Sonata Arctica's I Have a Right. That has to be one of Sonata Arctica's worst songs, but Stream of Passion's version is great and gives it the bite the original sorely lacks. The evening came to and end with the dynamic Haunted which perfectly mixes piano-led sections with all-out metal workouts. The setlist was:

A War of Our Own
In the End
When You Hurt Me the Most
Don't Let Go
Out in the Real World
Street Spirit [Radiohead cover]
This Endless Night
I Have a Right [Sonata Arctica cover]
The Curse

Overall, this was a bittersweet evening of live music. Stream of Passion's performance was fantastic, but it was tinged with sadness as this will probably be the last time I ever get to see them live. I am glad that I managed to catch one of their headline shows before the call it a day however, and they have a DVD coming out at the end of the year from a show they filmed recently in their home country of the Netherlands. I shall look forward to adding that to my collection!

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