Weather-wise, the months of January and February can be pretty unforgiving in the UK and Europe. For starters, it will be dark and bitterly cold regardless of the country, and chances are that the UK will be wet and miserable. Hardly the time to be putting in the miles on a Nightliner tour bus. Spare a thought then for the three bands that make up the Winter Wonder Tour which began earlier this month in Copenhagen and ends mid-February in Hamburg. Twenty dates in eleven different countries. But, to headliners Twilight Force (Sweden), and special guests Seven Spires (Boston, MA) and Silver Bullet (Finland), temperatures hovering above minus will be balmy in comparison to the norm back home. Anyway, after their recent journey through the snow and ice to Wintervale, for Twilight Force this is shorts and sandals weather.
Coming off the back of a successful tour of Finland with Stratovarius, and with the recent release of their third studio album ‘Shadowfall’, Silver Bullet are quickly building up momentum again after a period of inactivity due to a change of vocalist as well as the worldwide lockdown. As you would expect, the lion’s share of the short-but-impressive setlist is made up of material from ‘Shadowfall’; ‘The Ones To Fall’ (neat bass lines from Ossi Elonen during the breakdown, and choruses to die for), and ‘The Thirteen Nails’ (great guitar licks – and facial expressions – from Hannes Horma) standing out in particular. Although they are often filed under “Symphonic Metal”, Silver Bullet offers up more of a traditional metal feel; Stratovarius would have been a great match-up, but you can also throw acts such as Beast In Black, Blind Guardian, Helloween, Sabaton, and even Iron Maiden into the ring. New vocalist Bruno Proveschi is a fantastic addition and handles the older material from ex-vocalist Nils Nordling really well – ‘The Witches Hammer’ from 2019’s ‘Mooncult’ album is a total banger. Great stagecraft from the band, and the Judas Priest-style guitar choreography always makes for a great visual. Above all, it’s the songs on offer that stick out the most; ‘Shadowfall’ is a damn fine offering and the songs aired transfer to the live setting with ease.
Acclaimed American metal quartet Seven Spires first came on the DGM radar with the 2017 release of their staggering debut album ‘Solveig’. One of those many emails that come in from an overseas publicist promoting a new band that perhaps you are unfamiliar with; and in this case the strapline simply said – “you will love this, these guys are going places”. Attached was the video for ‘The Cabaret of Dreams’, and after a few run-throughs and watching on slackjawed at the range of Adrienne Cowan’s vocals – the die was cast and further investigation was mandatory. Frontiers Records got on board and signed the band worldwide. Tobias Sammet snapped up Adrienne Cowan as a live vocalist for his Avantasia project, and the young graduate from the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston soon found herself lining up alongside established names such as Geoff Tate, Eric Martin, and Bob Catley. That email message five years earlier about these guys going places was coming true. And finally, six years later, it was time to catch Seven Spires live in the flesh.
Alongside Adrienne are fellow Berklee Alumni Jack Kosto (guitar), Peter de Reyna (big-ass bass), and the powerhouse behind the kit; Chris Dovas. With three studio albums to call upon, the setlist stopped off at each of the three albums, with material from 2021’s ambitious masterpiece ‘Gods of Debauchery’ forming the bulk of the set. Short atmospheric intro ‘Wanderer’s Prayer’ and ‘Gods of Debauchery’ itself open the album and both make for the perfect gig opening. Sadly, once ‘Wanderer’s Prayer’ fades out and Adrienne unleashes her demonic vocals on the latter, technical issues kick in and her vocals are lost amongst a sea of volume coming from the band. Whilst still singing, she tries to make some adjustments to her mic pack as well as her in-ears, and before long the issue sorts itself out and her astounding range fills the room. Not so much from a whisper to a scream, more a case of blackened death vocals followed by lighter-than-light clean vocals, and then back to deep growls. And in the case of ‘Unmapped Darkness’ – all within the one song; a song that Cowan introduces as “…the fucking hardest one to sing…”. If Disney-meets-Dimmu Borgir was a country, then ‘Unmapped Darkness’ would be its national anthem. The playing from the band is jaw-droppingly good, especially when de Reyna gets inventive with his six-string bass on the one that started it all – ‘The Cabaret of Dreams’. Ended on the sheer epic-ness of the ten-minute in length ‘This God is Dead’ – which features a guest appearance from Twilight Force’s Kristin Starkey on guest vocals – this was pretty damn special. Headline dates would be nice, that way ‘Lightbringer’ might make it into the set, but given how expensive it is to tour these days, festival appearances might be a better call; Bloodstock knows about these guys, yeah?
Drinkers who had nipped out of the local Wetherspoons for a quick vape would have done a double-take at the sight of six shadowy, cloaked figures who had just stepped out of the massive tour bus parked a few hundred metres away from the pub. But with the dressing room in tonight’s venue being a tad on the small side, Twilight Force had no option but to change into their live-action role-playing game (LARP) garb on the bus, and nonchalantly saunter along the street, before heading through the venue doors, through the crowd (a very decent turn-out in these days of dwindling attendance) and onto the stage via a pitstop in the dressing room to pick up their weapons of choice. Kristin Starkey wisely stayed in the venue during the changeover between bands, as no doubt her stunning Maleficent-like costume would have been a step too far for many gathered outside in the street.
The day that vocalist-extraordinaire Alessandro Conti joined the band in 2018 was the day that Twilight Force ramped proceedings up a notch or two. Since the arrival of Conti, the band has grown in confidence, and current album ‘At the Heart of Wintervale’ is arguably their finest offering to date. Known for his work with Trick or Treat, Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, and Lione/Conti, Alessandro Conti is just one of the reasons that Adrienne Cowan is so psyched about this tour, with the Seven Spires vocalist declaring her admiration for Conti on numerous occasions. And her sense of excitement is met by a vocal performance from Conti (playing the role of Allyon) that is seemingly effortless.
The charm of Twilight Force is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Similar to Gloryhammer (but with better players, and without the chiptune music), Twilight Force plays it cool, with a cheeky, knowing wink to the crowd that at times almost borders on pantomime (‘Flight Of The Sapphire Dragon’ immediately springs to mind). Hamming it up for the crowd in fine Brian Blessed-style is the hooded figure of Daniel Beckman (Blackwald) behind the keyboards, and his booming voice fills the room as he tells tales of the brave adventurers gathered in front of him and the quests that they have been chosen to undertake. It’s all great fun, and everyone is on board, especially when Conte is “struggling” to hit a particularly high note and the bass-playing druid known as Dunder Björn Lundqvist (Born) offers him a magic potion to assist him, but he gives him the wrong potion and Conti’s voice takes on a comedic effect before finally hitting that high note. Someone from the crowd is pulled up onstage to be knighted by a sword-wielding Conti before he is offered two choices of what the next song will be, and the grinning punter chooses ‘Enchanted Dragon of Wisdom’. All in the best possible taste.
But when it comes down to it, Twilight Force can play. They really can play. Lead guitarist Philip Lindh (Lynd) is a joy to watch. The cloaked, and masked guitarist pulls off one staggering solo after another, and at times it is hypnotic watching his fingers flying up the neck of his guitar. Twilight Force also has the songs. Really memorable songs. ‘Dragonforce’ is an infectious, hook-laden few minutes that has the crowd bouncing as one; ‘Winds of Wisdom’ is very regal, almost like a Christmas carol in places – ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ with blast beats and shredding riffs; after several years in the wilderness ‘Twilight Horizon’ is a welcome addition back to the setlist, and with Kristin Starkey turning all to ice with her incredible high-pitched lead vocals this was a real highlight. The overriding memory from the set though is how happy everyone was. Glancing over the crowd, everyone is smiling from ear to ear. Looking at the stage and everyone is beaming and having a blast. Is this not what music is all about? That ability to make those in attendance forget about what shittery they had going on before they crossed over the threshold, and for a few hours make them laugh and smile? If that is the case, then Twilight Force put on a masterclass performance in giving their faithful a night to remember.
Catch this life-affirming tour in mainline Europe until mid-February in Hamburg. Be prepared to smile though. Even Anton Ego, the villainous food critic in ‘Ratatouille’, would be forced to crack a smile or two.
Review – Dave
All live images – Dave Jamieson