What is the collective noun for a group of guitarists? In this case, may we proffer forth the description ‘an audience’ – as nearly every other person assembled for this Belfast stop-off on Firewind’s ten date UK and Ireland tour appeared to be a six-string slinger from one local metal band or another…
Opening tonight’s truly international bill, Norwegian/German folk metallers Leaves’ Eyes take to the stage amid swirls of smoke and bagpipes to welcome us to the atmospheric ‘Spirits’ Masquerade’, the electronically-triggered folk elements contrasting with the heaviness of the rhythms – although the guitars are extremely poorly mixed and all their subtleties lost… to the extent that, later in the set, you only know Thorsten Bauer is playing a solo by the fact that he’s standing astride a monitor and his hands are moving…
Above everything soars Liv Kristine’s absolutely beautiful voice, like a dove released majestically from the depths of the musical fury. Husband Alexander Krull takes to the stage for ‘My Destiny’, his bulk towering over his now diminutive-looking other half and his long mane unfurled and flowing in the breeze from the onstage fans, as he encourages the audience to get off their seats, throw their horns and fill the gaps in front of the stage, while at the same time showing off the band’s distinctive ‘Beauty and the Beast’ singing style and stage act to full effect.
There is brief lull in the proceedings as Krull introduces the set’s showstopper, ‘Emerald Island’… Fittingly, Liv is wearing an emerald green corset, which matches the very Celtic theme to tonight’s set: in fact, I had always thought the Eyes’ use of Irish instruments and melodies a bit strange out of context, but tonight it all makes sense as he tells the story of the band’s roots in the couple’s Irish honeymoon a decade ago… dedicating the song “from our truest hearts to you, my friends”, the Clannad-esque intro is quickly replaced with a blasting deathroll, which coupled with Liv’s soaring, natural resonance, lifts the melody to the rafters in the highlight of the band’s hour long set.
The punchy ‘Take The Devil In Me’ leads into the epic sweep of ‘Elegy’, although the song is almost ruined by the abysmal guitar sound, with only Liv’s waif-life vocal keeping everything together and the audience enthralled, while ‘To France’ is nonetheless anthemic and head and shoulders above the original. Appropriately, the set ends with the hulking Krull giving his wife a chivalrous kiss on the hand, leading her forward for a deserved curtain call and a promise to return as headliners in their own right…
The tension is almost unbearable, palpable in the air during the almost interminable feeling 40 minute turnaround, every little movement on stage sending the guitarists in the crowd sprinting back from the bar or the bogs for fear of missing anything. But, soon enough, the lights dim, the smoke fills the room, the keyboard intro swells – and the Greek guitar god and his Firewind cohorts stroll nonchalantly onstage to unleash their ‘Wall Of Sound’.
What is immediately apparent – despite the first solo of the night being just seconds in – is that this is a powerful metal band with a prodigiously talented guitarist, and not the latter with a journeyman backing band… even if Gus G is the joint force of nature from which the band takes its name… ‘Destination Forever’, for example, sees Gus more than willing to share the stagefront spotlight with second guitarist Bob Katsionis.
The rhythm section are supremely tight, with drummer Jo Nunez in particular a powerhouse of percussive ferocity and bassist Petros Christo – who bears more than a passing resemblance to wrestling star Mick Foley – often uses that traditional stroking finger style that always adds an extra depth and warmth to the overall sound in that department.
Vocalist Apollo Papathanasio may not have the upper range of many of his power metal contemporaries, but he doesn’t need to scream and preen, as his more baritone/bassy delivery totally integrates into the band’s style, which is extremely reminiscent in many places of some of Dio’s finest moments, especially on the likes of ‘Few Against Many’, ‘The Fire And The Fury’ and ‘World On Fire’ – the latter a fist-pumping anthem which is merely a prelude for Gus’s blistering solo spot, which starts in an almost jig-like style before the real histrionics set in: there’s an almost death metal feel to the backing instrumental, before the bass and keys bring their own flourishes in mini-battles with the guitarist. By the end,those not drooling or logging on to Gumtree to auction off their axes are snapping their heads back and forth in appreciation.
Gus himself, almost humbly, introduces the next track, coming more and more out of his shell stage right, as he continues to encourage the crowd to make more and more noise. ‘Mercenary Man’ has a vague touch of another military-themed anthem by another guitar great (this one born only a mile or so from tonight’s venue), especially in its intro and bridge sections, ‘Glorious’ is the type of good old-fashioned devil-may-care traditional power metal that local heroes Stormzone specialise in, while the power of Nunez’ double bass kick has the bottles behind the bar rattling along in time to the pumping horns.
First encore track ‘Into The Fire’ is a suitable precursor for what is to come… Liv Kristine returns to the stage for the duet of ‘Breaking The Silence’: the result is mesmeric – the song draws rapturous applause and it is more than equal to its reception in its power and emotion. ‘Falling To Pieces’ draws what little energy the crowd has left to get the place jumping and end a stunning night on a suitably ecstatic high.
Set list: Wall Of Sound / Head Up High / Destination Forever / Few Against Many / Insanity / World On Fire / Gus G solo / Fire And Fury / Losing My Mind / Mercenary Man / Angels Forgive Me / Glorious / Tilll The End Of Time / I Am The Anger / Tyranny
Encore: Into The Fire / Breaking The Silence / Falling To Pieces
Photographs by Marc Leach – www.marcleachphotography.com
Firewind’s latest album, ‘Few Against Many’ is out on Century Media and available from the link below.
Leaves’ Eyes’ current album, ‘Meredead’, and Liv Kristine’s latest solo album, ‘Libertine’, are available now on Napalm Records. Check out our interview with Liv Kristine at http://planetmosh.com/interview-with-liv-kristine-of-leaves-eyes-belfast-september-16th-2012/
The ‘Few Against Many’ tour continues on the following dates:
September 18th – Corporation, Sheffield
September 19th – Queen’s Hall, Nuneaton
September 20th – White Rabbit, Plymouth
September 21st – Talking Heads, Southampton
September 22nd – O2 Academy, Islington
September 25th – Divan de Monde, Paris
September 26th – Grillen, Colmar
September 27th – Matrix, Bochum
September 28th – Knust, Hamburg
September 29th – Godset, Kolding
September 30th – SO 36, Berlin
October 2nd – Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg
October 3rd – Eventhalle Westpark, Ingolstadt
October 4th – Underground, Cologne
October 5th – Hedon, Zwolle
October 6th – Biebob, Vosselaar