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Brit metallers Pythia are fast rising stars within the scene and, tonight, have earned themselves another prestigious support slot on what is Theatre of Tragedy's final year in existence before calling it quits. With band members enshrouded, for the most part, in a prismatically illuminated mist from a rampant smoke machine, despite a distinctly below par sound through the PA the power of Pythia's music still shines through. This is raw British metal at its very best as compelling guitar riffs and leads, albeit slightly muddy and a little too low in the mix, combine with symphonic keyboards, pounding bass and up-tempo vigorous drumming in a relentless sonic onslaught of skilfully crafted tunes. And then there's Emily Ovenden, Pythia's pièce de résistance that helps elevate them above the general homogeneity of the symphonic power metal genre, her wide ranging vocals colouring each song with the necessary power or classically beauteous allure at all the right moments, while eschewing the clichéd wailings usually associated with this subgenre. In fact, the songs themselves have enough compositional diversity that stray from power metal's songwriting paradigm (of which Pythia are so often unfairly branded) and live, despite the substandard sound tonight, translate well to the stage. Those present, of which a gathering directly in front of the stage seem to be here for Pythia judging by their attire, show their appreciation with fists pumping the air, clapping along, and some good old fashioned head banging en masse. The likes of 'Army of the Damned', 'Tristan', 'No Compromise', and 'Sweet Cantation', all from debut album 'Beneath the Veiled Embrace' go down a storm as the band work their way through each bar of music with an energetic performance, and one where they look like they're enjoying every moment. Despite said sound problems (and the smoke rendered visibility issues for large parts of their set!), Pythia prove themselves a class live act. Impressive.
Sunday 14th March 2010
Camden Underworld in London, UK
In stark contrast to the no-nonsense, full-on metal bombast of Pythia, To-Mera take to the stage shortly after for a set of their jazz infused technical prog-metal. It's been almost three years since I last caught them live which, by their own admission, was a substandard performance at the Dutch Headway festival. So do they fare any better this evening within the small confines of the Underworld? In short, yes and no. Plagued by similar sound problems that afflicted Pythia's set they receive a somewhat fuzzy mix through the PA with levels of all instruments constantly fluctuating and, noticeably, Tom MacLean's guitar lacks clarity and crunch, particularly during the many passages of polyrhythmic palm-muted riffing. This is a shame as, with such intricately complex twists and turns in each of the band's compositions, a bad sound renders such a dynamic impotent, stripping the songs' heavier moments of any real punch (undoubtedly a corollary of bad sound for any band, but more emphatic within the context of To-Mera's musically diverse approach). On the positive side, which I guess is partly due to some new members and three years gigging experience for those who remain from To-Mera's original formation, they look like a far more polished act in their collective performance than my previous experience of seeing them live. Vocalist Julie Kiss looks at ease in reciprocating with the audience, with many present obliging in her invite for them to clap along during certain songs, and is in fine voice throughout. The smooth tones of her deemphasized vocalising fit the music's mellower parts exquisitely, while she demonstrates the more powerful side of her voice over the heavier sonics. It's just a real shame that said sound problems persist throughout, which perhaps explains why the audience diminishes in size as their set progresses. To-Mera are certainly an impressive live band, although their overall performance tonight is marred by, I guess, factors out of their control; namely an inefficient sound engineer.
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Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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And so, onto the night's main attraction, Theatre of Tragedy. With the recent, and unexpected, announcement the band will cease to be after seventeen years in existence with a final ever gig in Norway during October this year, tonight is the last chance for many to catch the them live at what is the sole UK date on their European tour. As band members appear to huge cheers, they are atmospherically lit by strategically placed floor lighting as beams of illuminated smoke emanate upwards from the stage. Commencing their set with 'Hide and Seek', first track from latest, and final, studio album 'Forever is the World', the 350-400 strong crowd are evidently excited for this final opportunity to witness such an influential band in action. In fact, I'd heard from keyboard player Lorentz Aspen earlier in the day that the first two shows of the tour, in Germany and the Netherlands, were very poorly attended with only around 60-70 people at each, so it's no wonder the band look out from the stage gleefully at such a good turn out and enthusiastic audience reaction. They reciprocate by delivering what must be one of their finest ever performances, and one of sheer enjoyment for both band and crowd as the Norwegians often exchange smiles with each other and audience members in what is a mutually relished occasion. Fortunately, unlike Pythia and To-Mera (I can't comment on main support act Where Angels Fall as I miss their set due to interviewing commitments), Theatre of Tragedy receive a wonderfully resonant sound and near-perfect mix through the PA with guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and vocals bestowed with sonic clarity. The vocal interplay between Nell Sigland and Raymond Istvàn Rohonyi is wonderful throughout as they work their way through a varied set of tracks drawn from their long and illustrious career, including 'A Hamlet for a Slothful Vassal', 'Bring Forth Ye Shadow', 'Lorelei', 'Ashes & Dreams', 'Machine' and 'Der Tanz Der Schatten', together with new compositions 'Hollow' and 'Frozen'. One can only imagine the difficulty they would have had in selecting what songs to perform live in their final year of existence, and tonight feels like one big celebration, and a poignant one at that. A celebration, that is, of a pioneering band who will soon be no more. In short, Theatre of Tragedy's final ever show on these shores is entirely magnificent, although perhaps ultimately a bittersweet experience as it also acts as a reminder of what a great band the metal world will soon be losing. But what a way to say goodbye to the UK. Phenomenal.
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