Sunday, 29 April 2018

Leaves' Eyes/MaYaN - London Review

All too often I seem to find myself at The Underworld in Camden when going to see European melodic metal bands live in London. Symphonic/power metal has never been massively popular over here, and The Underworld is often their stop off of choice. I was pleased then, yesterday, to find myself somewhere new - The Dome slightly to the north in Tufnell Park. Going somewhere new is quite rare for me these days, but for whatever reason I had never had the need to go to The Dome. I was surprised how big it was, maybe too big for the show I was there to see, but I was impressed by the space and the sound which was, mostly, pretty good. I was there to see a co-headline show by Leaves' Eyes and MaYaN, the duo's only UK stop on a greater European tour which sees the former promoting their latest album Sign of the Dragonhead. Leaves' Eyes are fairly regular visitors to the UK, so I had seen them live three times prior to yesterday's show, but MaYaN are not a bad that regularly play live. I believe that this show might have been their first on UK soil, so that in itself was a reason to make it up to the capital from Devon for the night. Having the two headliners was probably what prompted the pairing to book the larger venue, and that was a good move. While the place was not full, there were certainly more people there than would have comfortably fitted inside The Underworld. The more confined space of the O2 Academy in Islington might have been the perfect venue for this show, but The Dome suited too. There was a good-sized crowd gathered for a Saturday night of melodic metal, but the place was not so full that you could not easily get to the toilet/bar/merchandise. This is always welcome, as being tightly packed together is not always very pleasant, but it still would have been nice if a few people had showed up!

Support came from Almanac, also performing their first ever UK show, who entertained the growing crowd to forty or so minutes of heavy power metal from their two albums. Formed in 2015 by Victor Smolski (guitar) after leaving Rage, Almanac take the no-nonsense approach to metal of Smolski's former band and mix it with more bombastic symphonic elements. Fronted by veteran metal frontman David Readman, along with Jeannette Marchewka, Almanac were strong vocally and I mostly enjoyed what they had to offer. Smolski's riffing drove everything, with the symphonic elements consigned to a tape in the absence of a keyboard player, with Readman and Marchewka, often singing in tandem, singing powerfully. My main issue with Almanac however was their choruses. Power metal songs should be built around big choruses, but most of Almanac's songs have simple choruses - which mostly consist of a single word or phrase repeated. This approach works for bands like Rage, but bands like Almanac need something more. As a result I feel like Almanac are still a bit of a 'work in progress', and need more time to develop. There are hints of a great band fighting to get out, and with some more emphasis on melodic delivery I think they could become something quite special.

Being a supergroup with a large amount of moving parts, it is unsurprising that MaYaN do not get too many opportunities to play live. I think this is probably their first full-length tour since forming back in 2010, and I had been waiting for a chance to see them for a while. They had about an hour on stage, and the ten-piece band managed to get through ten songs in that time - the bulk of which came from 2014's Antagonise. Devil in Disguise got things underway, with stand-in clean vocalist Adam Denlinger the first of the band's five vocalists to make it onto the stage. His powerful delivery was a great contrast to the harsh vocals of band-leader Mark Jansen and George Oosthoek, and the mix of styles is a big part of MaYaN's sound. An early highlight was the fast, death metal-influenced Bloodline Forfeit which saw Jansen and Oosthoek taking the limelight with  crunching vocal performance. Metal fans will know Jansen from Epica, but Oosthoek is not a regular on the metal scene anymore. He helped to pioneer this whole scene however with his old band Orphanage, so it was great to finally see him live. Vocalists Marcela Bovio and Laura Macrì also offered a lot throughout the band's set. At times they acted as backing vocalists, whereas during some songs they took the lead. The beautiful ballad Insano was a good example of this, and Bovio further shone during The Power Process - a new song from the band's upcoming album Dhyana. The two new songs played seemed a little more overly melodic than much of the band's work, with less of a death metal influence and more cues taken from power metal. MaYaN's sound is very diverse however, so I expect to see some heavier songs included on Dhyana too. Given the heavy nature of the band's songs, crushing riffs from guitarists Frank Schiphorst and Arjan Rijnen drove everything, with Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums) turning in a devilish performance behind his kit. I had only seen Jansen and van Weesenbeek a few weeks ago in Bristol with Epica, so it was great to see them again so soon performing with MaYaN. Despite the technical music on display, the crowd really seemed to get behind what MaYaN were doing, and by the time the set closer Bite the Bullet was played, it seemed that the vast majority of the crowd were MaYaN fans - even if they were previously unfamiliar with the band's work. When they finished, the band took their bows to large cheers and I even managed to catch Rijnen's plectrum - something I have not done for a while. The setlist was:

Descry
Devil in Disguise
Drown the Demon
Bloodline Forfeit
Burn Your Witches
Insano
The Power Process
Human Sacrifice
Faceless Spies (National Security Extremism - Part 2)
Tornado of Thoughts
Bite the Bullet

Leaves' Eyes are a well-established band now, but this was their first show in the UK since former frontwoman Liv Kristine's rather messy departure from the band in 2016 so they seemed to know that they had something to prove. Elina Siirala (vocals) has been fronting the band since then however, and her performance on the recently-released Sign of the Dragonhead assured me that she was the right woman to take the band forward. Unsurprisingly many of the songs from the new album were performed, with older numbers thrown in fairly sparingly. Sign of the Dragonhead and Across the Sea got the set off to a good start, and Siirala immediately showed that she is a real talent. Kristine, although possessing a great voice, was not what you would call a consistent live performer - and it seems that in Siirala the band have found a reliable hand who will continue to deliver. The first song in particular really stood out, with Siirala really belting out the chorus, ably backed by Alexander Krull (vocals) who chipped in with his harsh vocals as and when required. An early highlight was a stunning version of My Destiny which proved, if it needed proving, that Siirala could handle the older material. Guitarists Thorsten Bauer and Pete Streit churned out the choppy riff with ease, and the band were cruising. Despite some great older numbers being played, the standouts were often the newer songs. Jomsborg was another highlight, which saw Krull encouraging the crowd to join him during the gang-vocal heavy chorus and, while I feel the crowd could have been louder, he mostly succeeded. Krull also did most of the between-song talking too, with Siirala only doing this occasionally - usually for the songs which did not feature Krull's vocals such as a dramatic oldie Farewell Proud Men. The set focused on their catchier material, with older singles Hell to the Heavens and set-closer Edge of Steel mixing in well with bouncy newer tunes like Riders on the Wind. The grindingly heavy Fires in the North proved to a be a good chance of pace towards to the of the main set however, and allowed Krull to bark out the chorus while the atmospheric strings swirled around him. Two encore sections followed the fun Edge of Steel, and the first was the more symphonic epic Spirits' Masquerade, which saw Siirala singing alone as the band played through the dynamic, progressive piece around her. This vibe was continued with Blazing Waters, the last song of the night, but this time Krull - dressed in full Viking garb - was included too as he took the lead during the heavy verses and Siirala sung the choruses. It was a powerful song to close on, and the crowd let out a big cheer as it came to an end and the band took their bows. The setlist was:

Sign of the Dragonhead
Across the Sea
Take the Devil in Me
My Destiny
Swords in Rock
Jomsborg
Shadows in the Night
Farewell Proud Men
Like a Mountain
Hell to the Heavens
Riders on the Wind
Fires in the North
Edge of Steel
-
Spirits' Masquerade
-
Blazing Waters
Haraldskvæði

Co-headline tours are always good ways for bands like Leaves' Eyes and MaYaN to play bigger venues and reach more fans by sharing costs, and it seems to have payed off for both on this tour. The London show seemed to be a success, and I am sure the rest of the shows on the tour have been too. I will be seeing Leaves' Eyes again in October as they have been announced as one of the support acts for Kamelot's London show, but who knows if and when I will get to see MaYaN again. MaYaN were probably the band of the night by a small amount, but that should take nothing away from a passionate and powerful performance from Leaves' Eyes.

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