November 28, 2010 was the Milwaukee date of Epica’s second round of touring North America in 2010, promoting their latest album Design Your Universe. The whole thing was a bit déjà vu, as Warseid and Blackguard both opened for Epica earlier in the year on the same stage in The Rave Hall. Mutiny Within was also supposed to play this show, but they still are without a drummer and Blackguard filled in once again.
I was really impressed by how much Warseid had grown musically since their February performance. They are one of the few up and coming bands from Wisconsin I am truly excited about with their unique blend of blackened folk and symphonic metal. Vocalist/guitarist Logan Smith had just as powerful of a voice as their last time at The Rave with a range of black metal shrieks to low death metal growls. Their lead guitarist had left the band, so accordionist and keyboardist Joe Meland added a third instrument to his onstage repertoire. At times, he was even playing with one hand on the keyboard and the other fingertapping on guitar. During “The Waltz of King Bigtroll”, which heavily featured accordion, a few people in the audience were even dancing. Overall, the reaction they received from the audience was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging for a (somewhat) local band. The Rave really needs to consider booking these guys more often!
I have a difficult time understanding The Agonist’s appeal. Musically they sounded like a cheap Arch Enemy rip-off and their vocalist looked like something out of a Hot Topic catalogue while the rest seemed to belong to a completely different band. The lyrics and song/album titles came across as being unintentionally comical or overly pretentious. One of the main redeeming qualities of the band was their guitarist’s impressive playing. If you took away the vocals and lyrics, I think they would make a decent melodic death metal band overall. However, narrative quality is an important aspect in any form of art, music included. I wanted to like the band because some of their lyrics are about causes I am passionate about, but they just weren’t convincing enough. I have only listened to a few of their songs besides what I heard at the show, and unfortunately it was more than enough to deter me from listening to them again.
After that performance, it was time to bring some excitement and originality to the stage and Blackguard did just that. I was glad they were able to bring their high-energy performance to a larger setting again this year. They truly deserve more space to showcase their incredible stage presence. Following the format of their previous tours throughout the year, they played some songs from Profugus Mortis and “Farewell” off their upcoming album, Firefight. The audience’s participation during “This Round’s On Me” was much better than at the Nevermore show, since vocalist Paul Ablaze’s vocals rang out clearly through the stage monitors and speakers. In addition to their stellar showmanship, they also brought a great deal of technical playing that presented their eclectic folk/black/symphonic/hardcore style.
Scar Symmetry sounded much better this time compared to when they opened for Hypocrisy back in May. I understand bands will have good and bad days while touring, so they always deserve a second chance. They were also able to play on a much larger stage this time, which really helped with their presentation and ability to comfortably maneuver around each other. Everyone in the band also seemed to be truly enjoying themselves onstage. The audience was also a lot more accepting, and I’m relieved they did not get booed like last time. The Swedish melodic death metal band played a mix of songs from all four of their albums and announced that they were recording their next album due out in April 2011. (They also mentioned that they visited the Harley Davidson Museum earlier in the day and said it was the coolest museum they’ve ever been to, so I really need to get around to checking it out.) I heard some criticism at the show and online from some fans about Lars’ clean vocals being too weak for a live performance. While his voice was not as strong as other singers I’ve heard, I do not think it took too much away from their live show.
Epica’s professionalism never ceases to impress me. They did a phenomenal job interacting with the crowd as well as each other onstage while still managing to create an air of mystery. This, in addition to the juxtaposition of Simone Simons’ mezzo-soprano operatic vocals with guitarist Mark Jansen’s growls and screams, gives the band an instant sense of theatricality. Simone’s vocals seemed a bit tired from touring, but she still appeared to put 100% into the performance with her flawless vibrato and ability to stay in tune. Everyone in the band displayed the range of their musical ability to the fullest extent. The Dutch symphonic metallers’ set list was very similar to the one they played in February. Half of it was from Design Your Universe with a variety of older songs thrown in. I was mildly disappointed that they didn’t play something besides “The Imperial March” from The Classical Conspiracy because they always seem to play just that one. It was also a little disappointing that they didn’t pick more of a variety of older songs to play. However, the thing that really set their performance apart from the last was that keyboardist Coen Janssen was there to fully complete the band. Kamelot’s Oliver Palotai did an incredible job in February, but Coen’s presence completed the ensemble and their performance seemed more cohesive and dynamic. I also liked that they chose to play the longer songs from Design Your Universe that consequently had more meaningful lyrics and dramatic compositions. In addition to performing for quite a long set, they even decided to extend it to 12:30 AM, since it was being filmed live. I thoroughly enjoyed Epica’s second appearance in Milwaukee that wrapped up my concert calendar for 2010. Hopefully it won’t be long before they return to North America.