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Saturday 22nd September 2012
Islington Academy in London, UK
Reviews by Rhiannon Marley; Photography by Jamie Richfield
When melodic metal and multi-nationalism get together, the results should be spectacular. At least, that’s what I’m hoping tonight. The Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Greece are joining forces in little old Islington, for the ‘Few Against Many’ 2012 tour. Their representatives? Leaves’ Eyes and Firewind. I’ve been a fan of Leaves’ Eyes since I could form the horn. Liv Kristine’s beautiful pipes touch something holy in me. Gus G.’s baby inspires similar awe, if not sentiment, and yet, I’m a neophyte live witness of both. Rounded spines, hunched from too many hours over a six-string, topped with split-ended tresses, carve the path from Angel tube station to the O2 Islington. Boots and piercings wind around the corner as much as 2 hours before doors open. And I can’t wait to see if the epic duo conquer UK soil with as great a vengeance as I expect.

Defining Leaves’ Eyes is no easy task. They’re musical Houdinis, who escape their last style with each disc. They’re still riding on the back of 2011’s ‘Meredead’. Sea of dead? More like sea of hair. Tonight, they pull a studio-quality set weighted in recent gems. Liv’s serene presence bewitches a mixed-gendered crowd. She’s the beauty to Atrocity vocalist and husband Alex Krull’s beast, and their domestic chemistry brings compelling layers to their onstage role-play. Corseted and surrounded by Celtic crosses, she’s also guilty of the most elegant moshing I’ve ever seen. The Nordic wonders’ filigree melodies are offset by gritty metal rhythms and dramatic passion. Kristine’s cut-glass soprano melts recent numbers ‘To France’ and ‘My Destiny’ with older classic ‘Elegy’, while Krull, the love-child of Rapunzel and the Wolfman, drums up screaming matches between halves of the crowd. Guitarist Thorsten Bauer wields a “black metal mandolin” and all manner of stringed creations. Sadly, his mix is far too low in his solos – a shame, because his fret-twitching is pretty damn good. The only way anyone can tell he’s actually playing anything is by the fact that he’s standing legs-astride with hands moving. But since there are Jagermeister girls weaving around putting flowery garlands on my head, and a security guard making £2 coins vanish for the front row, the atmosphere compensates. It’s terrific to finally witness a band I’ve been a fan of for 8 years, and they’re every bit as majestic as I’d hoped. Leaves’ Eyes prove why their romantic saga continues to mesmerise after nearly a decade, in a venue intimate enough to display their regal polish to perfection.
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40 minutes of anticipation. Middle-aged metalheads stamp out fag-ends, wondering whether to light another, and stock up on pints, fearful of missing something. But the lights dim. Smoke fills the room and keyboards swell. The Firewind tornado hurtles aboard with the cracking ‘Wall of Sound’. I was curious to see whether they would be the prodigious Mr G. and his merry men, or if the Greek axe god would budge over and share the limelight. His boots aren’t (quite) as big as they could be. There’s no denying the magic; G. practically ravishes his fretboard with sweep-picked and arpeggio acrobatics. It’s wizardry made flesh, and his quality of notes in sparser moments is as impressive as his quantity in shreds. But although he relieves virtuoso urges in a watch-glancing solo minus the band, tracks ‘Destination Forever’ and ‘Few Against Many’ see Gus happily team his ESP eminence with rhythm guitarist Bob Katsionis. Vocalist Apollo Papathanasio shoots his mic stand like a machine gun, with a stunning depth of baritone and imperious presence. Gus might show who’s boss, but they’re a powerhouse band in their own right.

Firewind are as intense tonight as their elemental namesake. Pummelling tremolo grooves of ‘The Fire and the Fury’ meld with 2010’s ‘World on Fire’, as keyboard-wielding Katsionis and bassist Petros Christodoulidis wage question-and-answer face-offs with Gus. The encore is terrific, with a raffle prize-draw for one of Gus’ signed guitars, and stunning Liv Kristine lends that Angel cake voice-box to ‘Breaking the Silence’. It’s a captivating and layered affair, which the field of horns and raucous roars affirm. A glance takes in a shovelling not of sweaty teenage boys who can’t grow beards as I’d expected, but older men and women who are obviously either guitarists, or guitar fans. Even the pros are patrolling; Herman Li reviews the situation over the 2nd floor balcony. Ironic, then, that the maturity of both Firewind’s music and supporters is light years apart from DragonForce’s; this evening, I’m not wading through a swamp of skinny, hairless legs protruding from combat cut-offs, and the acrid stench of puberty and World of Warcraft. But it’s worth noting that Li is one of about three people upstairs; the gig has barely filled the ground floor, let alone sold out. A decline in UK power-metal appreciation? With Maiden headlining Donington 2013, it would appear not. Yet to their credit, Firewind, like Maiden, confirm leanings towards the classic rock, not hair and histrionics, end of the power-metal spectrum. Though their stage lights quiver enough to induce a seizure, they’re incredible musicians and dynamic showmen, who’ve impressed onlookers of quality taste, if not quantity. And if anyone splits hairs about Gus’ technique? Remember that it takes 100 guitarists to change a light-bulb: 1 to do it, and 99 to tell them how they could have done it better…
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Leaves' Eyes at Islington Academy in London, UK, 22nd September 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Jamie Richfield - www.metal-discovery.com
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