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Concerts I've seen

Bloodstock Xmas Party JBs, Dudley
* * * * - Edguy 19th December 2004
* * * | - Rise To Addiction
* * * - - Humanity
* * * | - Panic Cell
Edguy advert Edguy ticket Photos

This was my first visit to JBs, and I have to say I was quite impressed with the venue. It's a decent size, and the tiered flooring means a good view of the stage can be had from even qutie far back. Panic Cell had performed quite a respectable set at Bloodstock, but had done nothing to particularly impress or stand out from the crowd. Tonight was an improvement, though, being more cohesive musically, and generally just presenting themselves to the audience better. There was nothing particularly memorable about the set, but they're definitely heading in the right direction. As at Bloodstock, Humanity just didn't do anything for me. Again, they did nothing wrong, but it was all just too bland and didn't grab me at all. Rise To Addiction are Wray and Slater's new band having left Blaze. To me, they were one of the key elements of Blaze's success, and having downloaded their first video and enjoyed it, I was expecting big things from them. It was somewhat of a disappointment, then, when they failed to live up to that expectation. The problem is simply their vocalist. He just doesn't have either the voice or the on stage charisma to do them justice. That's not to say the set wasn't without its highlights, such as "Alive" or "Kill and destroy". But I was expecting so much more. Edguy had been great at Bloodstock in 2003, and at the Underworld a few years ago. On top of that, their new album, "Hellfire club" is probably their strongest yet. So it was no surprise that they put on another great show tonight, with notable highlights being "Navigator" from the aforementioned "Hellfire club" album, the title track from "Vain glory opera", and a drum solo played to the Imperial death march theme from Star Wars. The first encore brought Avantasia's "Chalice of agony", and "Tears of a mandrake", and the second encore gave us "Mysteria" and "Out of control". An excellent night of metal, to round out the year.

* * * * - M.S.G. The Underworld
* * * | - M.ill.ion 24th November 2004
M.ill.ion photo M.S.G. photo M.S.G. photo The curiously punctuated M.ill.ion were one of those bands I'd been aware of for ages, having seen reviews and features in the metal press a decade and a half earlier (back when we still had a metal press). But I'd never heard them before tonight. Which is a shame, as they were actually pretty good. Competent musicianship and decent songwriting combined to leave a positive impression. On to M.S.G., then. Last time I'd tried to see Schenker, he'd fallen out with his U.F.O. bandmates, and the tour was cancelled after only a couple of shows. This time, though, he actually made it to the stage, albeit looking old and frail. But the apparent frailty didn't last long, and once he started playing, he seemed to be enjoying the show. He's surrounded himself with a bunch of stellar musicians, and they reeled out a set of classics, from "Lights out", through to "Attack of the mad axeman", via "Only you can rock me" and "Are you ready to rock". The U.F.O. songs were conspicuously better than when U.F.O. performed them without Schenker at The Astoria earlier in the year. Although rumoured to be featuring 3 vocalists tonight, Gary Barden didn't show up, but Leif Sundin and Jari were more than able to stand their own, with Leif being particularly impressive. A couple of encores brought "Doctor, doctor" and "Rock bottom" to round out the evening. Although I would have liked to have heard some McAuley era material, it's hard to fault an excellent evening like this.

* * * * - Therion The Garage
* * * * - Tristania 16th November 2004
* * | - - Trail Of Tears
Therion advert Trail Of Tears had parted ways with their female vocalist shortly before this show. Thus tonight they performed with two male singers, one doing harsh vocals, the other clean. Musically, they were OK, but not outstanding. Vocally, though, the harsh vocals were a bit too harsh for the music, and the clean vocals were woefully underused. I'd been looking forward to seeing Tristania ever since a friend of mine bought me a copy of one of their albums. They have a sound that was always going to be hard to capture live, and I wasn't sure how well they'd be able to pull it off. Fortunately, the answer was very well. Naturally, they had to use a backing track for the choral parts, and since keyboard player Einar Moen was unable to get time off work for this tour, his parts were also on a backing track. They came across sounding harsher live than they do in the studio, and Vibeke's vocals were mixed down a bit low. But that didn't detract from a great first UK performance for the band. Notable highlights included "World of glass" and "Tender trip to earth", and of course, Vibeke's breasts, which appeared to be gathering quite a following of their own :-) The only downside for me was the omission of "The shining path". On to headliners Therion, then. How many microphones? I'd said that Tristania had to use a backing track for the choral parts. Well Therion didn't want to do that, so they brought a choir with them. Now The Garage isn't the worlds largest venue. In fact, the stage is tiny, and even though I couldn't see all of it due to the speaker stacks, I still counted at least 10 people on stage! But it was worth it. The choir made a huge difference, and contributed to a great performance by Therion. Highlights for me were "Seven secrets of the sphinx" and "Typhon". Perhaps there would have been more highlights, but with another hour of their set to go, the power failed. The venue plunged into darkness, and the PA went silent. The band valiantly tried to continue with a drum solo, and then with a stunning torchlit solo from soprano Karin Fjellander, no mean feat without a microphone in a packed rock venue. But the power couldn't be restored, and the show had to be cut short at that point. I hope that they'll return to the UK soon to perform a full length set (although even with the power cut, they still performed more than some headlining bands I've seen).

* * * * - Europe Hammersmith Apollo
* * * | - Hurricane Party 15th November 2004
Europe advert Europe advert Europe ticket Hurricane party had played here a mere 10 days earlier when they supported W.A.S.P., and I'd been impressed with their improvment since when I first saw them. Tonight continued that trend with another strong show, and their best showing yet that I've seen. I'd last seen Europe 15 years earlier at the height of their popularity. Now reformed, and with a new album, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The new album was better than I was expecting, but perhaps not quite up to their earlier standards. The first thing to strike me was that they had something you don't tend to see much any more -- a backline! In years gone by, every band used to have piles of amps and speaker stacks behind the band, but it's a rare sight these days. But that wasn't all. They had a prodigious number of lights, and pyros throughout the set, probably more of both than I've ever seen anywhere outside of a Rammstein gig. Perhaps they'd thrown everything into tonight because not only was this they're only UK show, but they were also filming the show for a forthcoming DVD. But whatever the reason, it was most welcome. The set itself was a mix of classic tracks and a selection from the new album. Highlights for me were "Superstitious", "Rock the night" and an unplugged version of "Carrie", which basically consisted of Joey Tempest playing an acoustic guitar, and letting the crowd do the singing. The encore brought the title track from the new album, "Start from the dark" and "Cherokee". Then the lights went down, and the synth began the opening to the song everyone had been waiting for: "The final countdown". The perfect ending to a great evening.

? ? ? ? ? Dream Evil The Astoria
? ? ? ? ? Labyrinth 13th November 2004
? ? ? ? ? Power Quest
Dream Evil advert Dream Evil advert Dream Evil ticket I'd been looking forward to this one for a while. I hadn't been overly impressed when Dream Evil played last time, but even if they put on a similar performance this time around, support from Labyrinth and Power Quest should have ensured a good evening. Sadly it was not to be, though, and I was sufficiently ill that I couldn't make it to the gig :-( Just to rub salt into my wounds, by all acounts from those that went, it was an excellent show.

* * * * - W.A.S.P. The Astoria
* * * | - Hurricane Party 5th November 2004
W.A.S.P. ticket I'd seen Hurricane Party before when they supported Queensrÿche last year. Then, they came across as almost a novelty act. What a difference a year makes. This time around, there was much more substance to them. Better stagecraft, and although many of the songs were the same, this time they were performed with much more intesity, and came across very well. A massive and welcome improvement. When they were here earlier in the year in support of "The Neon God, part 1", W.A.S.P. put on a pretty decent performance. But it wasn't a great one. This time they were touring in support of part 2, and they put on another strong performance, opening with "Helldorado", and continuing with a range of tracks from both past and current albums. For the smearing of UV paint, "Tortured eyes" had been replaced with "Kill your pretty face", which was a big improvement. Once again, if I had a criticism, it would be that their mid period was overlooked, and it really has more than enough strong material to stand its own. Tonight, though, the sound was better than last time, the band seemed more enthusiastic, and the whole thing came across better. Highlights for me tonight were "I wanna be somebody", "L.O.V.E. machine" and once again, an excellent rendition of "The idol".

* * * * - Conquest Of Steel The Peel, Kingston
* * * | - Scavenger 23rd October 2004
* * * - - Centurion's Ghost
Conquest Of Steel flyer Centurion's Ghost photo Scavenger photo Conquest Of Steel photo Conquest Of Steel photo Centurion's Ghost started off well. They had a great selection of fast songs. However, their set was also littered with far too many slow, doomy songs too, which just didn't work for me. I'd been told before the gig that Scavenger's vocalist was reminiscent of Halford, so naturally I was interested to hear them for myself. While I think that analogy is stretching things a bit, he does still have a decent voice with a good range. The band played a decent selection of thrash influenced metal, and are worth looking out for in the future. On to Conquest Of Steel, then. They've garnered quite a reputation for themselves in the blasted northern wastes, so it was worth the trip to The Peel to see if it was justified. They may not be Manowar, but they put on a great evening of battle metal, with over the top songs and an equally over the top stage presence that's been sadly missing in recent years. We need more bands like this, singing about swords, warriors, blood, wenches and the glory of metal. Playing metal like the 90s had never happened? Oh yes. More of the same, please. A good showing from all three bands, then, and I hope to see one or more of them at next year's Bloodstock.

? - ? - ? Eddiefink The Bar Academy, Islington
* | - - - Supersonica 21st October 2004
* * * | - Nowhere Near The Garden
Nowhere Near The Garden photo So this wasn't exactly the gig I'd expected it to be. After seeing them at Bloodstock, I was looking forward to NNTG. But their 7:45 stage time came and went, and the band were nowhere to be seen. Claire from Invey came over and told me that the singer was stuck in traffic, and hadn't been able to get to the gig. Various options were being discussed, including the band going on and performing instrumentals, or with one of the others singing, but they weren't too keen on that idea. They also tried to get their slot swapped with one of the other bands on the bill, but to no avail. Eventually, though, the singer arrived, and Vince from Bloodstock rushed out to park his car, while he ran to the venue to start the gig. By this time, they were nearly all the way through their allotted time slot, and although I suspect they were granted a little leeway, they were still only going to be able to play a much reduced set. Musically, they were great, giving it their all, but the short slot only gave time for 4 songs, and just didn't give them enough time to show their quality. Supersonica were a guitar based pop band, and not a particularly good one at that. They were followed by a band called Eddiefink, who didn't look promising, taking to the stage in suits, so at that point I called it a night and left. It's a shame NNTG didn't get to play a full set, but I'll go and see them again next time.

* * * | - Dragonforce The Mean Fiddler
* * * - - The Renegade Playboys 7th October 2004
Dragonforce advert The Renegade Playboys photo Dragonforce photo Dragonforce photo Dragonforce ticket The Renegade Playboys seem to be stuck 15 years in the past. Not that that's necessarily such a bad thing. But it did make their glam image look a little dated. Musically, they were exactly as you'd expect from the image -- traditional late '80s LA bubblegum rock. They manage to pull it off surprisingly well, and although that's not my favourite genre, I found it to be quite an enjoyable set. Dragonforce were, well, Dragonforce. They set off at full speed, and never slowed down for the duration of the set, save for the obligatory ballad "Starfire". Most of the material played was from their new album "Sonic firestorm", and I was surprised not to be treated to "Disciples of Babylon". Fortunately, we did get "Valley of the damned". Tonight's Spïnal Täp moment came when Sam and Herman's guitars just cut out mid solo, leaving the band looking at each other wondering what to do next. After a drum solo, and a somewhat odd keyboard solo, the various techs and roadies had managed to restore the sound, and the set continued. ZP's voice seemed a little strained tonight, compared to usual, and he seemed to be struggling a bit in places. Not a bad show, but I think they've been better in the past.

* * * * - Magnum The Astoria
* * | - - John Young 1st October 2004
John Young photo Magnum photo Magnum advert Magnum ticket John Young has been a keyboard player for Asia, and has toured with Uli John Roth, The Scorpions and a whole host of other bands. But I'd never really heard of him before tonight, where he appeared as a solo keyboardist playing along to a backing track. He was certainly competent enough, but not particularly engaging, and spent much of his stage time lamenting the poor state of the live music industry in the UK and the decline of prog rock. He might be a more interesting proposition with a full backing band. Magnum opened with some flash bang pyros introducing "All England's eyes". Bob Catley, in a dazzlingly white shirt, was perhaps even more of his guppy self than usual. But however cringeworthy his stage antics may be, he's got a great voice, and consistently puts on a good show. Tonight was no exception. If there was a complaint, it would be a lack of material from the earlier albums. That's only a minor niggle, however, and the tracks they played from the new album were refreshingly good. Highlights were "How far Jerusalem" and traditional set closer "One sacred hour". I was surprised not to hear "The spirit", though.

* * * * - Within Temptation The Scala
29th September 2004
Within Temptation advert Within Temptation advert Within Temptation ticket Within Temptation photo Within Temptation photo Despite the claims to the contrary on the ticket, there was no support for tonight's show. That didn't stop the Scala from being more packed than I can remember seeing it. The first thing that struck me, as with Doro, was that pictures really don't do Sharon justice, and she's stunning beautiful in person. The next thing was just how good her voice is. Although Simone from Epica and Tarja from Nightwish may both have outstanding voices, neither seem as relaxed an in control of their voice as Sharon, who made even the most demanding parts look effortless. Musically, the band were excellent, performing most (all?) of the tracks from their "Mother earth" album. From the opening track "Deceiver of fools", it was clear that this was going to be a good night. My only complaint, one voiced by my friend Michele, was that they didn't rock enough. Many of the songs started off very well, only to settle down into something a little less heavy as the song progressed. A couple of songs into the set, I was struck by how similar her voice was to Kate Bush, something I'd never noticed before. However, the influence is obviously there, and as if to prove it, they played a quirky cover of "Running up that hill" for an encore, followed by an acoustic "Never-ending story" and an excellent "Ice queen" to round off the evening.

* * * - - Mortiis Ocean
* * * | - Susperia 24th September 2004
* * * | - Pro-jekt

Mortiis advert Mortiis advert Pro-jekt photo Pro-jekt photo Susperia photo Susperia photo Mortiis photo Mortiis photo Mortiis ticket

This was the first time I'd been to Ocean, and was surprised to find a pretty decent venue. It's just a shame it's in the arse end of nowhere, and is such a pain to get to. I'd never heard Pro-jekt before, but from what I'd read, I was expecting them to be a cyber nu metal Kerrang! type band. So it was a pleasant surprise to find a quite reasonable goth industrial metal band -- for want of a better phrase. They didn't really fit into either of those categories, but had elements of all three, at times heading firmly into synth driven electronica territory, at others having crunchy guitars and solid bass dominating the sound. The crow on the monitor was a nice touch, and I enjoyed their set. One to watch out for in the future. The only thing I knew about Susperia was that they were formed by Tjodalv when he left Dimmu Borgir. Musically, there was some similarity between the two, but (and this may sound strange) the vocals were less accessible than Dimmu Borgir, despite being cleaner, and the music didn't have quite as much of an aggressive feel to it. That said, they still put on a very respectable set, and although I wasn't familiar with their studio output, I still enjoyed the set. As an encore, they played a cover of A-ha's "The sun always shines on TV". Which was a good prompt for the guy next to me to make me feel old by asking me what it was, as he didn't recognize it. I hadn't really heard much from Mortiis since his first album. Tonight's show was a reasonably competent show of industrial metal. Partway through the set, he declared that it was time to sacrifice an ear, and tore it off to throw into the audience. I have a couple of gripes though. Firstly I felt the songs were too repetitive, and by the end of the set, I was getting distinctly bored. Secondly, I think all three bands suffered a bit from the size of the crowd compared to the venue size. For the number of people that turned up, The Underworld would have been a more appropriate venue, and would probably have generated more of a buzz in the crowd.

* * * | - Chariot The Underworld
* * * - - Firebird 17th September 2004

Chariot advert Chariot ticket Chariot photo Chariot photo Firebird were an above average guitar and drum driven pub blues band. Nothing special though. Although I'd been vaguely aware of Chariot, I wasn't familiar with any of their material, and only really knew them as being the progenitors of Dirty Deeds. Having seen no promotion for this gig in advance, I'd been concerned that it was going to be a rerun of the last Deeds gig here, where only a handful of people showed up. Although it was far from packed, tonight drew a more respectably sized audience. Although there are definite similarities, Chariot have a much harsher, and indeed heavier sound than Deeds, and there were obviously a fair number of people in the audience that knew the songs. I wasn't one of them, though, and although it was a competent performance, and Pete in particular was obviously enjoying himself, it was far from outstanding for me.

Bloodstock '04 The Assembly Rooms, Derby
* * * * - Children Of Bodom 4th September 2004
* | - - - Fourway Kill
* * * | - Sonata Arctica
* * * | - Cruachan
* * * * * Primal Fear
* * * | - The Prophecy
* * * - - Balance Of Power
* | - - - Gutworm
* * * * | Evergrey
* * * * - Nowhere Near The Garden
* * * | - Edenbridge
* * | - - Humanity
* * * - - Panic Cell
* * | - - Seven Years Dead
* * * - - Intense
? ? ? ? ? Rezin 69

Bloodstock advert Bloodstock ticket Intense photo Seven Years Dead photo Panic Cell photo Humanity photo Edenbridge photo Edenbridge photo Nowhere Near The Garden photo Evergrey photo Gutworm photo Balance Of Power photo The Prophecy photo Primal Fear photo Cruachan photo Sonata Arctica photo Fourway Kill photo Children Of Bodom photo

I'd arrived at the venue too late to catch the first band of the day, Rezin 69. Intense were thus the first band I saw on the Saturday. I haven't been overly impressed when I've seen them before, and although they're definitely getting more professional over time, I still feel that the vocals just aren't good enough to compliment the music, and until that situation changes, they're always going to be less than they could, and perhaps should, be. Still, a reasonable showing nonetheless. In the Darwin Suite, Seven Years Dead were a taste of something a bit heavier, playing a traditional brand of thrash. The vocals sounded a bit flat in a live environment, though, and the band didn't do much for me. I'd be interested to see if a studio setting would give an improvement though, as there's certainly some potential. Panic Cell had garnered quite a large following on the main stage. I'm not entirely sure why, though. Although they were quite popular with the crowd, to me they came across as an average pub rock band, and were a bit bland. Humanity were another band that didn't do anything particularly wrong, but did nothing to stand out from the rest either. They did show a marked improvement on a song introduced as "Serenity", though. I'd been looking forward to seeing Edenbridge, as I'd been quite impressed with their studio output. Again, although I enjoyed the set, they did little to make it a truly memorable one, and a lot of their songs came across sounding very similar to each other. Two exceptions to that were their renditions of "Wild chase" and "Cheyenne spirit", both of which were head and shoulders above the other material they played. I'd have liked to have seen "Sunrise in Eden", though.

I'd heard a lot of bad things about Nowhere Near The Garden before the weekend, and several people had complained that they weren't the style of music that should be playing at a festival like Bloodstock. So I was somewhat surprised when my low expectations were easily surpassed by what turned out to be quite a decent band. True, it's not a style that I'm particularly into, reminding me of bands like Finger 11. But they had strong musicianship, a great stage presence, and a frontman who did a great job of performing to the crowd, even if he hasn't managed to buy a pair of jeans that come up to his waist yet. They put on a good enough performance that I'd definitely go and see them again on their own should they be playing in London. Evergrey were the first of the big name bands. They have obviously been doing this for a while now, and came across as extremely professional, and put on a great set of technical metal, which went down very well with the crowd. They come across significantly heavier on stage than they do in the studio, too, and that seems to work well for them. The highlight for me was probably an excellent "A touch of blessing". Next up in the Darwin Suite, Gutworm were playing their warp speed death metal. The vocals were too incomprehensible for me, though, and I just didn't enjoy their set at all. They had an inexplicably large crowd, though, far larger than some of the more deserving bands on the bill. Balance Of Power have recruited a new vocalist since they last played at Bloodstock in 2002. This has been a big improvement for them, and they're a better band now than they were then. They are still a bit too bland and progressive for my tastes, though. I'd like to see them move in a heavier direction. The Prophecy were very melodic, with some Maiden-esque tempo changes mid-song. As is becoming common these days, they alternative clean and harsh vocals. However, I think they haven't struck the balance right, and they're not using enough clean vocals to provide variety to their sound.

So on to Primal Fear. Having stolen the show at Bloodstock '01, I'd gone out of my way to see them again, but the next two shows of theirs I saw hadn't lived up to their original promise. Furthermore, their two most recent albums haven't been quite up to the standards they set with their earlier output. So it was with mixed expectations that I waited to see them. Wow. I needn't have worried. This was a textbook demonstration of how to play heavy metal to an audience. Wisely opening with the awesome "Angel in black", they stormed through a set of classics. Although Ralf claimed they had 5 albums worth of material to get through, they concentrated on songs from only 3, with only "Final embrace" making the set list from "Jaws of death", and nothing from "Black sun". The highlights for me were "Nuclear fire", "The healer" and "Metal is forever". Even some minor sound problems resulting in Stefan's guitar being way too low in the mix didn't affect the enjoyment of a stunning performance from start to end, that I didn't want to finish. Cruachan were an enjoyable, but odd mix of celtic folk and metal, with electric instruments and a selection of traditional celtic ones. Sporting both male and female vocals, harsh and clean, they reminded me in places of various bands such as Clannad, Gary Moore, Inkubus Sukkubus and Steeleye Span. Highlights for me were "Brian Boru", and "Ride on", which although I'd never heard of it before was apparently a hit single for them. An awful lot of people were looking forward to Sonata Arctica in the main hall. It was a big disappointment, then, when they were essentially crippled by sound problems. Although they were going through the motions on stage, the guitars and backing vocals were literally silent through the PA, and the keyboards could barely be heard, being drowned out by the bass and drums. Vocalist Tony Kakko was visibly upset by this, and spent the first few songs heading over the to mixing desk and furiously trying to get the problems sorted out. Over the course of the set, the sound did definitely improve, but I'd say well over 50% of the set was marred by the sound quality. That's not to say the set wasn't without its highlights, which for me were "Still loving you" and "Replica". But the band obviously weren't enjoying it, and although they were trying their hardest, the sound problems definitely spoiled their set for me. Fourway Kill had a large crowd, but as when I saw them supporting Blaze, they simply proved that they are great exponents of making a lot of volume. There was simply too much noise and not enough substance or songwriting skills to sustain my interest. They also had by far the worst pit fiends of any of the bands at the festival. The security guards were standing and watching in amazement as they beat each other up while ruining the set for those who were trying to watch the band. Children Of Bodom have parted ways with their previous guitarist. This opening was thus filled by Alexi's partner in crime in Sinergy, Roope Latvala. The two of them are extremely technically competent, and together they have the potential to rival some of the great twin lead guitar pairings. I've always felt that they've been let down by Alexi's Dani Filth like vocals, though, and tonight was no exception, that being my only real complaint. Highlights of the set were "Every time I die", and an excellent "Angels never kill". Another Bloodstock over, then, and this time I managed to see all but two of the bands playing over the weekend. Of the 25 bands, only Invey, Gutworm and Fourway Kill produced substandard performances. The rest were all good and came up trumps with strong showings. Honourable mentions must go to Season's End and Nowhere Near The Garden, neither of whom I'd heard before, and who both put on strong performances. Of the big name bands, Sinergy and Evergrey led the way. But at the end of the weekend, it was clear that Primal Fear were simply in a different league to the everyone else, and easily took the honours of my band of the festival. Come back to the UK soon, guys!

Bloodstock '04 The Assembly Rooms, Derby
* * * | - Gamma Ray 3rd September 2004
* * * * - Season's End
* * * - - Threshold
* | - - - Invey
* * * * | Sinergy
* * | - - Liquid Sky
* * * | - Illuminatus
* * * | - Infobia
? ? ? ? ? Super Massive Object

Bloodstock advert Bloodstock ticket Illuminatus photo Liquid Sky photo Sinergy photo Invey photo Threshold photo Season's End photo Gamma Ray photo

I'd missed Infobia in 2002 due to being unable to find a parking space. They'd acquired quite a good reputation, and I was looking forward to seeing them this year. Hence I set off for Derby with plenty of time to spare. Fortunately, I only got 30 miles or so up the M1 before I realised that I'd left my ticket sitting on my desk at home. A hasty about turn, and a dash back to London followed, and I still thought I'd have just enough time to make it up to Derby in time for the first band of the day. I nearly made it, too, but around Loughborough, the M1 ground to a halt and I was stuck in stationary traffic. By the time I got to Derby, I'd missed Super Massive Object, and most of Infobia's set. I did manage to catch the last few minutes of it, though, and on that basis, came away very impressed. I'll definitely be trying to catch Infobia live again... hopefully for a full set next time! Next up were Illuminatus, who had done well last year albeit without being particularly stunning. This year they once again put on a good show, and with an extra year's experience, they came across much better this time around. Once again, the set was closed with a cover of "For whom the bell tolls". Having missed SMO, Liquid Sky were thus the first of the Femme Fatale themed bands that I saw. They were musically quite good, but I felt they were let down by the vocals which seemed a bit flat, in the same way that Sonia's from Mercury Rain sometimes are.

Although I'm a big Sinergy fan, I'd felt their latest album, "Suicide by my side" to be weaker than the first two, and their performance at The Garage had been nothing to write home about. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to see them step up a gear for this show, and put on a great performance. The whole band had more energy and enthusiasm, and I suspect the larger crowd also helped. Highlights for me were "The sin trade" and naturally, "The fourth world". The only real negative was that their set was cut short due to time constraints, and they had to skip the last 3 songs. Overall a superb performance, though, and one I hope to see them repeat in the UK soon. Invey sadly hadn't improved much since last year, and the vocalist needs to learn to sing, not shout. I appreciate that they're aiming for a different market than that, but it's just not my thing, and I found them dull and lifeless. Threshold were another band returning from 2002. After the horrors of Invey, they were pleasantly melodic. But for my tastes, they were perhaps a bit too progressive sounding, and for want of a better word, too nice, and were lacking in aggression. Season's End were the headlining Femme Fatale stage in the Darwin Suite. I'd intended to stay for a few songs to see what they were like and then return to the main hall to grab a decent spot for Gamma Ray. But they far surpassed my expectations, and were good enough that I ended up staying for essentially the whole set. They're still a little unpolished in places, but that'll come with time, and they show enormous potential for the future. They also came out with with best on stage quote of the festival: "Our album's for sale in the foyer - please buy a copy, we're really poor" (and yes, I did buy a copy). This is definitely a band for whom I'll be keeping an eye out. Headliners of the day were Gamma Ray. They'd been consistently good when I'd seen them before, so it was somewhat of a disappointment when their set seemed a bit lacklustre to me. There were certainly highlights, such as "Valley of the Kings", the obligatory "Somewhere out in space", and "I want out" in the encore. But overall I just felt there were a bit lacking, and I'm certainly pleased I didn't miss out on Season's End's set to get a better place for them. Despite that, though, a great start to this year's Bloodstock, with Sinergy being the band of the day, and Season's End being an unepxected hit.

* * * * - Dio The Astoria
? ? ? ? ? Viking Skull 14th August 2004

Dio advert Dio ticket Not the best start to a gig. I'd been at the Bulldog Bash earlier in the day, and had planned to ride into London for the gig, and park in my office car park, which is conveniently located a couple of minutes' walk from The Astoria. But a combination of me leaving slightly late, encountering traffic on the way meant I was running late by the time I got there. Then I found out that they'd closed the road to my office, and spent more time trying to find out how to get around to the back so I could get to the car park. When I eventually made it into the gig, I'd missed Viking Skull, which I'd anticipated, and also most of Dio's set, which due to the delayed release of his new album was effectively a greatest hits showcase. Still, what I did see showed him to have lost none of his stage presence, and once again he put on a great show, with "The last in line" and "Rainbow in the dark" particularly standing out.

* * * * - Nightwish The Astoria
* * * | - Brainstorm 16th July 2004

Nightwish advert Nightwish ticket I'd heard a lot of good things about operers Brainstorm, so I had high hopes. Musically, they were very good, reminding me a little bit of Savatage. But I felt they were being held back a bit by the vocals. They're not bad, but I think they're not necessarily as good as the music demands. Still, I'll keep an eye out for them in the future. I thought Nightwish were a little subdued compared to the last couple of times I'd seen them, but a subdued Nightwish is still a great live experience. This time around, the mid-set break for Tarja saw a cover of Megadeth's "Symphony of destruction" replacing "Crazy train". The new material from "Once" seemed pretty strong, but the highlights for me were "Phantom of the opera" and "Slaying the dreamer". I was a bit disappointed not to hear "End of all hope", though.

* * * | - Alice Cooper Hammersmith Apollo
* * | - - Viking Skull 27th June 2004

Alice Cooper advert Alice Cooper ticket Viking Skull have sadly failed to live up to their appearance at The Monarch where I first saw them, and have been very mediocre when I've seen them since, and tonight was no exception to that. Alice Cooper had a much more minimalist stage set than at his other recent shows. Sure, there was still the sword with the dollar bills, and the balloons full of confetti, but gone were the props from a horror movie, and the show didn't even feature an execution of Alice! He put on a reasonable performance, but it did seem a bit lacklustre. Notable tracks were "Hello hooray" and "Under my wheels", and "Desperado", for which he donned a Spanish style hat. But he's been much better in the past, and I hope he returns to his previous good form next time he plays in the UK.

* * * - - U.F.O. The Astoria
* * * - - The Quireboys 24th June 2004

U.F.O. advert The Quireboys photo U.F.O. photo U.F.O. ticket Another decent performance from The Quireboys got the evening off to a promising start. They've been better elsewhere, though. The last time I'd tried to see U.F.O., Michael Schenker had thrown his toys out of the pram a few days earlier and they've cancelled the rest of the tour. This time around, though, they managed to make it onto the stage. Phil Mogg was doing his best to look like Jonny Rotten, and Pete Way was like some kind of bizarre Pete Steel in pink. Anyway, they played a selection of tracks, the notable ones being "Rock me", "Too hot to handle" and "Rock bottom", and then "Doctor doctor" and "Shoot shoot" for the encore. Good, but nothing great.

* * * | - Heart Hammersmith Apollo
10th June 2004

Heart ticket Heart have been around for donkey's years, but have barely been heard of since their hits of the late '80s. Rumours had been going around that Ann had been doing a solo country and western album. Consequently, I had no idea what they were going to be like. I'd passed up a chance to see Queensrÿche on the same night as it clashed with this, and I've seen Queensrÿche many times. Was it going to be a mistake? Fortunately not, they turned out to be rather good. Highlights for me were "Magic man" and an acoustic version of "Alone". For the encore, they performed a couple of Led Zep covers, "Black dog" and "Misty mountain hop".

* * * | - Adoration The Soundhouse, Colchester
* * | - - Devlish Presley 15th May 2004

Adoration photo I wasn't sure what to expect from Devlish Presley, but the answer was not much. Two artists on stage, playing to a backing track, reminscent of The Venus Flytrap in that respect, playing musically simple songs. Nothing offensive, but nothing to interest me either, and I certainly won't be going out of my way to see them again. Adoration's John was suffering with a cold for this gig, and so his singing voice wasn't all it could be. This wasn't helped by a poor mix, so the live experience was definitely less than it had been at the Purple Turtle. Nevertheless, it was still a reasonable show, with the highlight once again being "Follow the thief", but I look forward to seeing them back to their earlier standards next time around.

* * * * - Jeff Scott Soto The Underworld
* * * | - Bob Catley 13th May 2004
* * | - - Symphony Of Pain

Jeff Scott Soto advert Jeff Scott Soto ticket Symphony Of Pain photo Bob Catley photo Jeff Scott Soto photo Symphony Of Pain were uninspiring, and I don't remember much about them. Bob Catley was once more lacking a backing band, opting to use just a single guitarist instead, and once more he put on a pretty decent performance. Nothing special, but quite enjoyable nonetheless. I knew of Jeff Scott Soto from being the vocalist on Yngwie J. Malmsteen's first two albums. After that, he went on to play in Talisman and Eye (that I know of), and other things besides. One of those other things has apparently been appearing at Queen conventions, a fact reflected in his performing a cover of "Dragon attack". Although I was mostly unfamiliar with his music, it's obvious he's been doing this for a long time, and is a very accomplished frontman. His solo material is good enough to stand on its own merits, but it was his medley of Malmsteen songs that stood out for me, with an excellent rendition of "I am a viking" deserving particular mention. Throughout the set, and particularly in the encore, he played various covers, some mere snippets, and some whole songs. Apart from the aforementioned "Dragon attack", there were (that I could identify and can remember) "Staying alive", "Purple rain", "Play that funky music", "Enter sandman", "Kung fu fighting", "Red hot", "Crazy train", "Layla" and "Smoke on the water". I'm sure there were many more that I've missed, too. A great evening's entertainment.

* * * * - W.A.S.P. The Astoria
* * | - - Dragonforce 9th May 2004
? ? ? ? ? Dyecrest

W.A.S.P. photo W.A.S.P. photo W.A.S.P. ticket Published openers Dyecrest didn't show, so the first band up was Dragonforce. This was the first time I'd heard them play any material from their new album "Sonic firestorm". Unfortunately, it was probably also the worst sound quality they've had of all the times I've seen them, so it was hard to gauge what the new tracks were like. Tonight's Spïnal Täp incident was Herman tripping up over the base of Blackie's microphone stand. To his credit, he landed on his ass and carried on playing, but the apalling sound quality really hampered enjoyment of their set tonight, with the drums and bass just drowning out the rest of the band. W.A.S.P. hadn't toured the UK for a while, and have seen an notable improvement in album quality with their last few releases, and this tour was in support of their latest effort, "The neon god, part 1". Blackie's aforementioned microphone stand is this time in the form of a hung skeleton. But with the exception of a backdrop of the new album, that was about the extent of the visuals this time around, Blackie apparently claiming that they were detracting from the music. I suspect the truth is more that it was too expensive to bring his full stage show. But whatever the reason, it didn't detract from another strong W.A.S.P. performance, opening with a furious medley of "On your knees", "Inside the electric circus", "Hellion" and "Chainsaw Charlie". I was somewhat disappointed that the band's mid-period wasn't covered. We had several tracks from the new album, plenty from the first two albums, but nothing from the albums from "Still not black enough" to "Dying for the world", with the exception of "Tortured eyes", taken from the weakest of those albums, "Kill fuck die". The strongest track of the main set was probably the closer, "I wanna be somebody". The encore started with just Blackie and a guitar, resulting in a surprisingly powerful version of "The titanic overture" and "The idol", which was for me the highlight of the evening, which was wrapped up by the obligatory "Blind in Texas".

* * * * | Epica The Underworld
* * * - - Sengir 7th May 2004

Epica advert Epica ticket Epica photo Epica photo Epica photo I'd never heard Sengir before, but since they were playing at the Female Voices festival with Nightwish, Epica and Flowing Tears, I had a fair idea of what to expect. Musically, they were pretty reasonable. But sadly they were horribly let down by the vocals. Ellen's voice itself is fine, but she was constantly singing flat, and for someone with as little musical talent as me to be able to notice, that's saying something. Epica, on the other hand, were everything I could have hoped for. Living up to their name, they put on a near faultless show of epic power metal. As seems to happen to quite a few bands these days, they seemed genuinely surprised by the crowd response. The UK (probably due to the likes of Kerrang!) has got a reputation of being hostile to this sort of music. In reality, the exact opposite is true. The audiences may not be as large as in continental Europe, but the intensity is just as high. No doubt helped by the response from the crowd, he band were obviously enjoying themselves, and that in turn merely served to spur them on to even greater things. If I had any criticism of the album, it would probably be that it felt a bit watered down in place. In a live setting, though, the tracks had all the energy and punch you could hope for. Highlights for me were "Sensorium" and "Cry for the moon". I will definitely be going to see them when they return to the UK. An excellent performance.

* * * * | Duran Duran Wembley Arena
* * - - - Scissor Sisters 30th April 2004

Duran Duran advert Duran Duran advert Duran Duran ticket Duran Duran photo Duran Duran photo Duran Duran photo Opening act Scissor Sisters sounded OK from the corridors outside the hall itself, but once I got inside, they quickly deteriorated. What had sounded like a reasonable dark electronic sound outside was just piercing disco inside. Two vocalists, one male, one female, and both of them sounding like Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees. But even then, I could just about tolerate them as a support band until their brutal massacre of "Comfortably numb". Oh dear. Having been unable to get a ticket for their reunion gig at The Forum, and even for their first few dates at Wembley, I'd managed to get one for tonight, one of three extra dates added due to high demand for tickets. It's easy to see why. "It's great be be back in our spiritual home, Wembley Arena", proclaimed Simon Le Bon, and if ever there were a band born to play arena sized venues, it's Duran Duran. They've been doing this for a long time now, and it shows. They've mastered the art of stagecraft, and put on a near flawless performance tonight. They may be getting on a bit now, but then so are the audience, and it was obviously full of women who'd been screaming at the band as adolescents, and some were still lusting after John Taylor. I'd forgotten how short Andy Taylor is, though :-) The set list was pretty much everything I could have asked for, and only the addition of "Hold back the rain" and "Edge of America" would have made it perfect. But we were still treated to everything you'd expect, plus the odd surprise like "Tiger Tiger". Highlights for me were "Planet Earth" and "Careless memories", but I could have picked many more. A great show, and I'll be seeing them again next time around.

* * * * | Blaze The Peel
* * * | - Desolation 23rd April 2004

Desolation photo Blaze photo No ticket for this one, it was just a case of turning up at the door, and hoping I got there early enough. I was somewhat concerned, then, when the traffic was solid for most of the way, and I arrived some while after the doors had opened. Fortunately, I was still just about early enough to get in. First band up were Desolation. I hadn't heard of them before, but they launched into quite a presentable melodic death metal set, albeit one not without technical problems. As the vocalist said, when you lose one guitar during a song, it's a bit worrying. When you get to the third one, it's time to stop the song and fix the guitar problems. But a decent enough showing, nonetheless. John Slater had left Blaze a few days before this gig for personal reasons (although he expects to rejoin them at some point soon, apparently). His replacement was Doro guitarist Oliver Palotai, who filled his shoes quite nicely, albeit without as much stage presence as I'd have liked. Blaze himself was sporting a beard, and looking disturbingly like some mutant cross between Charlie Andrews and Geoff Capes. But that didn't affect the performance, which once again was outstanding. Of all the bands I've seen, Blaze are the ones that most consistently deliver the goods in a live setting. Tonight's show was my first exposure to the new material on "Blood and belief", which sounds quite promising, even if it's not earth shattering. Another great showing from Blaze.

* * * | - Finntroll The Underworld
* * * * | Ensiferum 4th April 2004
* * * | - The Wake

Finntroll ticket Ensiferum photo Finntroll photo I knew virtually nothing about this gig. I was going on the strength of recommendations from others, plus the single Finntroll track that I'd heard beforehand. The Wake were musically very competent, and reminded me of how Children Of Bodom should sound if Alexi had a better voice. If I thought The Wake were musically competent, then Ensiferum were out of this world. Having never heard them before, I can't stress how impressed I was. Apparently, their vocalist had left the band, so the lead singer from Norther had been drafted in at short notice. It didn't show, though, and he looked very much at home here. Finntroll had a tough act to follow, and were good, but not outstanding. The highlight for me was "Trollhammaren", the aforementioned track that I'd heard before the show, but it was Ensiferum that took the honours tonight.

* * * | - Kraftwerk Brixton Academy
20th March 2004

Kraftwerk ticket Kraftwerk ticket Kraftwerk ticket Kraftwerk ticket Kraftwerk ticket No support, just Kraftwerk. They were actually playing two gigs tonight in the same venue, one after the other. I went to the earlier of the two. The show opened to a projection of the band onto the stage curtain, which was then withdrawn to reveal the four of them, immaculately suited, each with a keyboard and laptop. Obviously, they had to rely on visuals to make an interesting show, and these were supplied in the form of projection screens behind the band. Opener "The man-machine" came with stark words displayed as if by early 1980s 8-bit computer. From there we moved to a 3D wireframe model and then onto some actual video footage. I'd forgotten how obsessed the band were with cycling, and the Tour De France in particular, a theme which was repeated several times throughout the evening. For the first of several encores, the curtain withdrew to reveal four robots in place of the band, who unsurprisingly performed "The robots". For the final encore, the band came out wearing suits with UV sensitive wire mesh frames to mimic the scenes being projected behind them. I won't be rushing out to religiously see the band every time they tour, but it was en enjoyable night; definitely a spectacle to experience, and I'm glad I went.

* * * - - David Lee Roth Hammersmith Apollo
* * * * - The Quireboys 28th February 2004
* * | - - The Glitterati

David Lee Roth advert David Lee Roth advert David Lee Roth advert David Lee Roth photo David Lee Roth photo David Lee Roth ticket I don't remember too much about openers The Glitterati, other than that they didn't make a big impression. The Quireboys, however, were much better. They'd failed to shine supporting Alice Cooper, but redeemed themselves with an excellent end of tour show (as The Altar Girls) with Thunder at The Marquee. Tonight they were once more on top form, belting out all the hits with huge amounts of energy, and this is probably the best I've seen them. In terms of frontmen, they don't get much more legendary than David Lee Roth. So it was somewhat of a disappointment to find him less than inspiring. While there were certainly some high points of the show ("Runnin' with the devil", "Yankee rose" and "Just like paradise", for example), I just left with the feeling that it could (and should) have been been so much better. Still, James Lomenzo impressed on bass, and Toshi Hiketa proved to be quite a competent guitarist -- but "Yankee rose" proved that he's no Steve Vai...

* * * | - HIM The Astoria
* * - - - Infrasound 23rd February 2004

HIM advert HIM ticket HIM photo HIM photo Infrasound were quite unmemorable. Tuneless noise, and although the audience seemed to quite like them, they just left me cold. HIM had only played in London a couple of months earlier, so it was a bit of a surprise to see them back again so soon. They got off to an amazing start, from opening with "Wicked game", through the next three or four tracks. Had they kept up the same standard for the rest of the set, they'd be heading for a 5 star review. Sadly, though, they lost their initial momentum, and while I enjoyed the evening, it could have been so much better had it lived up to its early promise.

* * * * - Dragonforce The Underworld
* * * | - Heavenly 13th February 2004

Dragonforce ticket Heavenly photo Dragonforce photo What's this? A sold out metal gig at the Underworld? It's been a long time since I last saw that! I guess that the release of their debut album and their slot at last year's Bloodstock have done wonders for Dragonforce's popularity. A welcome sight, certainly. I'd been underwhelmed with openers Heavenly when they'd supported Edguy and Gamma Ray a few years ago. Tonight might as well have been a different band, though. They had much, much more energy, their new material is much heavier, and it was all better presented. After the last show, I could take them or leave them, but on tonight's evidence, I'll be getting tickets the next time they play in London. I first saw Dragonforce when they were still called Dragonheart, supporting Halford. I'd already got their debut EP, and they put on a great show, full of energy and were very impressive. Since that time, though, they're been much less impressive, heading far too much into Spinal Tap territory. They haven't been bad, but have often left me wanting something more at the end of the set. Tonight though, was a complete reversal of that trend, and they were back on top form. Highlight as ever was "Valley of the damned". I suspect that tonight's good showing by both bands was helped by the huge crowd response, but whatever the reason, a great night of metal from two bands who were obviously enjoying themselves.

* * * * - The Faces Of Sarah Upstairs At The Garage
* * | - - Brother Orchid 31st January 2004
* * * * - Surefire
* * * - - Voices Of Masada
? ? ? ? ? Automation
? ? ? ? ? The Voice

The Faces Of Sarah advert Voices Of Masada photo Surefire photo Brother Orchid photo The Faces Of Sarah photo Events had conspired against me to ensure that I arrived late for this gig. The Voice had apparently cancelled for technical reasons, so in the end, I only missed one band, Automation. Thus for me, the first band of the evening where Voices Of Masada, who played a quite presentable trad goth set. Although I don't have a record of having seen them before, there's something familiar about them. I wonder if I've seen the band members in previous bands. Next up were Surefire. I'm not entirely sure what they were doing here. They were completely out of place on a goth bill, like this, being the only ones in the entire place not wearing black, and playing what I guess would be described as '70s rock. But they were actually very, very good, and the singer in particular has a great voice. I'll be looking out for them in the future. Brother Orchid started well, again playing vaguely traditional goth, but with a harder edge and crunchy guitars. Normally this would appeal to me, but their set seemed to tail off and not really go anywhere. Finally came headliners The Faces Of Sarah. Gone since the last time I saw them are Craig and Issy, and gone also is Craig's replacement, Chris. But none of that mattered, and the band were once more on top form, with Nick sounding as good as ever. The band just seem to be getting better and better with time, and indeed the new material was very strong. They're one of the most underrated bands of the moment.

* * * * - Meat Loaf Wembley Arena
* * - - - Kasim Sulton 22nd January 2004

Kasim Sulton photo Meat Loaf photo Meat Loaf ticket So after collapsing on stage two months earlier and undergoing heart surgery, Meat Loaf had rescheduled the gig for ticketholders of the original show. Kasim Sulton opened again, and played more of the same background music as last time. Tonight's set seemed a little shorter, and fell even more into the elevator music category than it did last time. Meat Loaf opened the show in fine style, being wheeled onto the stage on a hospital trolley by his backing singers, dressed in nurses uniforms. Again opening with a very strong "Life is a lemon", he went on to perform a great show, with all of the expected tracks, culminating in the obligatory "Bat out of hell" in the encore. A good show, and it's good to see he's recovered from his surgery.

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