With tonight's support announced anonymously a few weeks ago as 'very special guests', it was a pleasant surprise to arrive at Rock City and discover this to be Nottingham based band Illuminatus. It transpires this also proved a surprise for the band themselves as mid-set, frontman Julio Taylor asks the audience "who knew we were playing here tonight? We only found out yesterday!". Having caught them live back in August last year, and been very impressed with their music, I'm somewhat astounded to learn that they're still unsigned. Playing mainly mid-tempo chord-led, though occasionally riff-infused, metal interposed with clean guitar passages reminiscent of post-Floyd inspired prog acts like Anathema, Illuminatus' music is affectively engaging and achieves a good balance between all-out heaviness and emotive serenity. Their short set includes both older material and 'Black' which is announced to be from the forthcoming new album (presumably self-released). They finish with 'Wargasm', with their heavy pastiche of Floyd acknowledged during the first 8 or so bars of the outro solo which is a note-for-note copy of Gilmour's guitar work on 'Comfortably Numb'. Illuminatus are an impressive live band and, with an array of compositionally strong material, their music deserves to be heard by much larger audiences.
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Thursday 13th September 2007
Rock City (Basement) in Nottingham, UK
The last time I saw Dutch symphonic metallers After Forever was in their home country at the Patronaat venue in Haarlem last year. Playing to an audience of around 2000 that night, they are still a comparatively unknown entity in the UK as evidenced this evening by Rock City's small basement venue only two thirds full. However, the 200 or so people in attendance react enthusiastically as the band appear on stage and launch into opening number 'Discord', and when vocalist Floor Jansen announces "we're gonna try and play something from every album for you tonight", it's implicit from the cheers that many long-term fans are present. With their self-titled, brilliant fifth studio album just released, their first for Nuclear Blast having followed Epica in leaving the much smaller Dutch label Transmission Records due to being under-promoted, the handful of tracks played tonight from this latest effort such as 'De-Energized' and 'Equally Destructive' sit comfortably alongside older songs like 'Estranged' and 'Digital Deceit' in a pleasingly varied set. Jansen has an incredibly powerful, wide ranging voice coupled with an energetic stage presence to match her tall stature. She is indubitably one of the most talented vocalists fronting a contemporary metal band as her singing covers a whole spectrum of styles from powerful operatic and visceral metal to poignant ballad and even discernible rock-pop sensibilities such as on the predictable airing of latest single 'Energize Me'. Sander Gommans, who has only recently started performing live with the band again after a period of ill health is also on fine form with his skilled guitar playing and incisive death growls cutting through the PA speakers in what is an overall excellent sound for the band. In fact, After Forever's sound engineer does a remarkably good job in providing the band with a well balanced mix - easily the best sound I've ever heard in Rock City's acoustically challenging basement. Pre-encore set closer, the lengthy composition 'Dreamflight', sounds as epic live as it does recorded, with Joost van den Broek's virtuosic keyboard playing bringing a greater progressive dimension to the band's sound since he joined back in 2004. After vociferous chants from the crowd, After Forever reappear for two encore songs - 'Forlorn Hope' from sophomore album 'Decipher' (2001) and 'Follow in the Cry' from debut release 'Prison of Desire' (2000). Before exiting the stage, Jansen states they'll be back in fifteen minutes to say hi and have a beer, although by this time the venue's bar staff are only serving tap water as security attempt to usher audience members out of the building as quickly as possible. The band do, however, hang out behind the merchandise stall for a short time to sign CDs, posters, t-shirts etc and chat to appreciative fans. Tonight, After Forever have been, quite simply, stunning, both musically and in their performance. With the new album perhaps the band's most accomplished to date, in terms of compositional diversity and production, they are surely destined for greater success in the UK and will no doubt return to these shores on a tour of much bigger venues playing to larger audiences. I cannot recommend this band enough.
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