Review: Apocalyptica/Epica – O2 Academy, Glasgow

For fans of symphonic metal, the last few months must have seemed as if their lottery numbers came up and it was a triple-rollover. The tail end of 2022 saw both Within Temptation and Nightwish returning to the live arena, and 2023 shows zero sign of letting up on the symphonic front with not only live shows from Tarja to swoon over but leapfrogging the former Nightwish vocalist around the UK and Europe are Dutch symphonic metal titans Epica and Finnish grand masters of the cello; Apocalyptica. And the lucky, lucky people of Glasgow had the pleasure of Epica and Apocalyptica performing twenty-four hours after Tarja delivered a masterclass performance in the city.

Billed as the “The Epic Apocalypse Tour”, this lengthy co-headlining tour sees Epica and Apocalyptica performing thirty-three shows in total, visiting nineteen countries. What began in Oslo in January will end two months later in Leipzig. That’s one hell of a number of border crossings to make, and with one hell of a production in tow. Also along for the ride are opening act: Finnish/English prog-metallers Wheel.

For many, hearing the phrase “prog-metal” would bring forth thoughts of twenty-five-minute-long acts of self-indulgent wankery. If you will; a heavier, hairier version of The Fast Show’s Jazz Club. And sometimes witnessing a prog-metal band in concert can often feel like the audience is intruding on the band. Not with Wheel though. This is prog-metal without the wankery, and if a comparison is needed for the sake of comparison, then perhaps Tool would be the obvious one to make. But you could just as easily throw the name of Soundgarden into the mix, for there are moments during the thirty-plus minute set where the band sparks memories of Seattle’s greatest band; the towering pair of ‘Vultures’, and ‘Wheel’ particularly stand out. A lot of that is down to English vocalist/guitarist James Lascelles (a lefty always looks way cooler playing the guitar, don’t you think?) who packs a bit of a Chris Cornell-like punch – the lengthy high-note that he holds on the previously mentioned ‘Vultures’ is goddam spectacular. ‘Blood Drinker’ is all about the gorgeous tones that lead guitarist Jussi Turunen coaxes out of his guitar, shades of Jerry Cantrell, Dimebag, and Kim Thayil here and there; hell, even some Tony Iommi-sized licks make an appearance. Uber-cool bassist Aki ‘Conan’ Virta is pure Steve Harris – but without the trademark ‘Arry machine-gunning the front few rows and total sidebar…but how great is it to see an opening band getting a fair crack of the whip with regards to the lighting, meaning drummer Santeri Saksala is actually visible. Wheel recently signed a worldwide deal with InsideOutMusic, the home of Devin Townsend, Riverside, and Haken: what a fit.

Once Wheel’s gear is off stage, the huge screen flickers to life with the Epica logo almost taking up the entire screen, and “Glasgow 02.02.2023” emblazoned above the logo. And even without the full Epica production that the earlier gig in Amsterdam witnessed – pyro, fireworks, and the two gnarly, cobra-like rigs that featured in the ‘Ωmega Alive’ live stream – this is still very impressive. Like ‘Ωmega Alive’, the stage setup is split over different levels and is very clean and clutter-free (crucial when you have to consider how mobile keyboardist Coen Janssen is), and once the house music ends, ‘The Pretender’ by Foo Fighters comings blaring out of the PA, and it is on. The most recent studio album ‘Ωmega’ opens with the short and atmospheric instrumental intro ‘Alpha – Anteludium’ and it’s with this that Epica opens the show. Once the intro starts to fade, the silhouette of vocalist Simone Simons appears between the keyboards and drumkit and she stands for a few moments soaking up the applause. When she raises her arms, it signals for the band to take to the stage, and once all five are in position the stage comes to life in a retina-blitzing explosion of lights as the band plows straight into ‘Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity’. The pair of Mark Jansen (guitars and harsh vocals) and Rob van der Loo (bass) put on a fine display of synchronised headbanging, and Simons takes her place front and centre. The harsh vocals from Jansen sound as fearsome as ever and work in perfect unison with the peerless Simone Simons, and having a few shows already under their belts, this is a band firing on all cylinders.

With this being a co-headliner, it looks like each band gets seventy minutes or so, and alternate who closes each night. It’s a lean set from Epica, ten tracks in all, but that doesn’t mean that the quality suffers. Although time is of the essence, Epica put together a setlist that has Epicans in the audience jumping for joy, and in the case of ‘Cry For The Moon’, and ‘Beyond The Matrix’ – quite literally jumping for joy. Epica are at risk of having their Metal Club memberships cards revoked though because they smile so much onstage. Very rarely will you see a band beaming more than Epica, and the smiles coming from all onstage could very well power a small country. Don’t they know that smiling is frowned upon in Metal? Mark Jansen does get back in the Metal Club’s good books when he asks the crowd during a cracking run-through of ‘Victims of Contingency’ – “Are you ready to bang your heads?”…top marks to Ariën van Weesenbeek on this one for his stunning kick-drum work.

The standard of playing from all involved is incredible, the guitar work is razor-sharp and when Jansen and fellow six-stringer Isaac Delahaye (killer solo from him on ‘Beyond The Matrix’) lock into a groove it is a sight to behold. The backbone of the band, bassist Rob van der Loo and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek refuse to be outshined and both play out of their skins, as does Coen Janssen. If you have caught Epica live before then you will know that Janssen is never static behind his keyboard while the frontline is having all the fun, and tonight is not any different. When he breaks out his portable keyboard on ‘Victims Of Contingency’ it means that he can get right down to the front of the stage to spur the crowd on.

Janssen and Delahaye are having a total blast and are always joking together onstage; mimicking each other, on the hugely-cinematic and epic ‘Code Of Life’ Delahaye raises his guitar and shakes it for some effect, so Janssen does the same with his keyboard, then after a brief bit of headbanging, Delahaye lifts his guitar up for Janssen to strum – and then does the “yeah, not bad” look before Janssen lifts his arms in triumph and gives the audience a ticket to the gun show. When Delahaye raises his guitar a few seconds later, this time it is for Simons to strum the guitar, but unlike Janssen, she gets a nod of approval from Delahaye for her efforts. Simons shows time after time why she is one of the top vocalists – regardless of gender – in metal today, and her performance during ‘Rise’ can only be described as spellbinding and sublime. At the minute Epica are like a finely tuned Rolls Royce engine and in the form of their lives, they are obviously having fun playing together, and after a period of uncertainty surrounding the live entertainment industry, who could begrudge the Dutch Masters a smile or two? Epica; hear them roar.

With the recent Netflix TV series Wednesday gaining universal acclaim as well as huge viewing numbers, all things dark, macabre, and gothic are back in fashion. And Wednesday Addams’ instrument of choice? The cello of course. One of the standout moments during the show came in Episode 3, “Friend or Woe,” when Wednesday – played by Jenna Ortega – played a string cover of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Thematically, it’s a great fit (…the ‘Black’ album…) and of course, the version aired on the show was by tonight’s closing act – Apocalyptica.

After a few seconds of the sounds of nature, the huge screen flickers to life with sights of dry, barren wastelands. That deep, low, foreboding sound that makes a cello so distinctive fills the air as long-time drummer and percussionist Mikko Sirén is first to arrive on stage. Thanks to the darkness, still just a silhouette, Sirén begins to pound out some heavy hits in time with the masses of strobe lighting. One by one, the three remaining band members; Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, and Perttu Kivilaakso take to the stage and launch into ‘Ashes Of The Modern World’. The mournful strains of three cellos working together are indeed something special to witness, and once the screens change to show cities in devastation, the pace quickens, and Perttu Kivilaakso is windmilling like a loon while white spotlights strafe the front few rows – a cross between Terminator 2 Judgement day and War Of The Worlds. A siren sounds and the screen, and lights all change to blinding red to signify danger, the dynamics on stage change with both Lötjönen and Kivilaakso retreating to the drum riser while Toppinen takes the first solo of the evening. Five or so minutes later, the opener fades out with a wail of feedback, and with barely a pause for breath, the band crash into ‘Grace’ – complete with some mighty fine windmilling from Toppinen, and a stunning solo from Kivilaakso that sounds like it has some wah-wah through it. As far as show openings go, this is right up there with the best.

With the stage swathed in red, the now-seated Lötjönen picks out the beginnings of ‘En Route to Mayhem’ while Mikko Sirén is up and out of his seat and adding an atmospheric flourish with some percussive loops from what looks like a small synthesiser next to his drum kit. It’s hypnotic, and with the glaring red lights, it is kinda dreamy. Kivilaakso takes lead on the early stages of the track and plays an exquisite solo full of emotion, once the white lights kick in, Lötjönen rises from his seat and starts marching in military style while Sirén beats out a stomp. The strobes are blinding and the combination of the video screen, lights, and movement from the band are visually stunning. Once the track ends four chairs are placed front and centre, and when Eicca Toppinen says “Let’s do something special on stage” wishes of a live collaboration with Simone Simons are granted with the live debut of the stunning single from last year ‘Rise Again’. With the gorgeous promo video playing on the large screen, and Kivilaakso’s long hair flying everywhere, this was arguably THE stand-out moment of the night, especially once Sirén comes back in with his full drum sound. Genuinely one of those “had to be there moments”. Once it ends and hugs are exchanged, Simons leaves the stage and Toppinen asks “Are you ready to sing with us?”, and he welcomes Franky Perez to the stage for a three-song segment of ‘I’m Not Jesus’, ‘Shadowmaker’, and ‘I Don’t Care’. Perez – last seen in Glasgow with Geezer Butler’s supergroup Deadland Ritual – works the stage well and lends his usual strong vocals to three songs that has the lighting operator working overtime on the spotlights and strobes. ‘Shadowmaker’ is another standout moment; some goofing around between Perez and the others on the intro which has some neat cymbal work from Sirén, great moment, later on, when Perez and Kivilaakso are goofing around and Perez is laughing so much that he is unable to sing for a few seconds while Kivilaakso sneaks back over to the other side of the stage, laughing while he pulls some serious guitar hero moves on his cello.

Once Perez exits, it’s on to the final stretch with a  run of covers that helped make Apocalyptica such a household name in metal; ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘Seek and Destroy’ (with Kivilaakso leading the audience participation), a few bars of ‘Thunderstruck’, and Sepultura’s ‘Inquisition Symphony’ which features some powerful windmilling from Toppinen, and Kivilaakso. Ended on the super-charged version of classical composer Edvard Grieg’s (“from the land of black METAL” as Toppinen shouts out) ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’ which has Paavo Lötjönen egging more response out of the crowd before silencing them with a finger-on-his-lips movement, only to shout out without the aid of a microphone “ARE YOU READY?”, this was a spectacular performance full of contrasting emotions. A lot of fun also, and it’s fantastic to see musicians having fun on stage and goofing around even when they are playing classical instruments. Catch one of the remaining dates listed below:

08.02.2023 FR Toulouse – Le Bikini
10.02.2023 ES Barcelona – Razzmatazz 1
11.02.2023 ES Murcia – Gamma
13.02.2023 ES Madrid – La Riviera
14.02.2023 PT Lisbon – Coliseum
12.03.2023 DE Hanover – Capitol
13.03.2023 DE Cologne Carlswerk Victoria
14.03.2023 DE Wiesbaden – Schlachthof
15.03.2023 DE Ludwigsburg – MHP Arena
17.03.2023 CH Zurich – Komplex 457
18.03.2023 CH Lausanne – Metropole
19.03.2023 IT Milan – Fabrique
20.03.2023 DE Munich – Tonhalle
22.03.2023 HU Budapest – Barba Negra
23.03.2023 AT Vienna – Gasometer
24.03.2023 CZ Brno – Hala Vodova

Review – Dave

Live images – Dave Jamieson

Check Also

HARPER releases Bird In A Cage

Fresh from her Download Festival set – which not only etched HARPER into its history …

Die Ego: New video – Anywhere We Are Going

DIE EGO have returned to the fold with their magnetic and hugely melodic new single …

ONI reveals new song & anime music video for ‘Control’

Modern metalcore project, ONI have unveiled a brand new single, ‘Control.’ The track comes accompanied …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *