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Saturday 18th January 2014
The Institute in Birmingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Opening the evening with their full-on death metal fury are scene stalwarts Atrocity. Double-shifting tonight as all personnel are, of course, also members of Leaves' Eyes, they're sensibly on first to give themselves an hour in-between sets. Commencing attack with the sonically epic 'Pandaemonium' from last year's dark metal masterpiece 'Okkult', the German musicians are on fire from the off. While some of the Leaves' Eyes fanatics in attendance are discernibly unmoved by, and indifferent towards, the extremities in Atrocity's discharge, many others in the packed venue are more than up for a dose of death this evening. And it's easy to become immersed in their aural aesthetic as engaging riffage and up-tempo song structures sound rather magnificent through the PA, balanced out perfectly with symphonic backing tracks. Beyond the music, Alexander Krull is a more than amiable frontman, talking to the audience between songs through a beaming grin and encouraging mass clap-alongs over instrumental passages. So despite the music's hard-hitting intensities, it's delivered with a genuine fervency. That peaks mid-set when Alex invites a couple of young girls up onto the stage for an airing of 'Satans Braut' for which he requests they "shake their hips". The night's proceedings turn into some kind of bizarre TV show as he asks each in turn who they are and where they're from. The local Brummie girl receives big cheers from the crowd although when the other announces she's from Hertfordshire, Alex looks puzzled and asks the audience, "Is that okay?", which prompts only a lukewarm response. The frontman announces 'Death by Metal' as the band's tribute to death metal although hits a geographical faux pas when he talks about the great death bands from Birmingham such as "Napalm Death and Carcass" (Scousers are the latter Mr. Krull, Scousers). All in all, Atrocity deliver a most enjoyable and explosive start to the night.
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Sandwiched between Atrocity and Leaves' Eyes, thus allowing members of the former to take a breather before returning with the latter, are UK symphonic power metallers Pythia. Fronted by Mediaeval Baebes' Emily Ovenden, their blend of powerful riffage, high energy drums, pounding bass, and classical grace works a treat in the recorded format across their two albums to date. However, I've yet to witness this translate efficaciously in a live context. Performing in front of a Leaves' Eyes backdrop and attired in significantly less ridiculous outfits than the previous occasion I caught them in action, the band are plagued by a bass-heavy sound throughout their set. As such, Emily's classically trained soprano voice is offset in the most sonically incongruous of ways against the overly biased bass. Mids are sorely absent. Guitars and keyboards (the former on a backing track) are largely inaudible so it's all high-end and low-end through the PA which sounds, unfortunately, ever so jarring and deprives songs of their potency. Tracks are aired from Pythia's two full-length releases as well as material from a forthcoming new album, which Emily declares will materialise around spring. And she requests fans buy their merch to support the band as every penny of profit is directed into their recording budget. After tonight's below par sound, which really hasn't done their music justice, I'm guessing only their established fans would've made their way over to the merch stand as I'm pretty certain newcomers wouldn't want to encourage any further recordings based on what they've heard tonight. A genuine disappointment as Pythia are so much better than the aural blunder their sound engineer has made this evening.
Leaves' Eyes at The Institute in Birmingham, UK, 18th January 2014
Photograph copyright 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Concluding an evening of mid-Jan metal are the primary reason most have crammed themselves into the small confines of The Institute's 300 capacity Temple room, Leaves' Eyes. Ten years in existence, and touring in support of their finest album to date, 'Symphonies of the Night', Birmingham is their penultimate show on what's been their longest ever run of UK headline shows. And judging by the well-attended, near-sold out venue, the multi-national metallers' popularity is still on the rise on these shores. As with Atrocity, bassist J.B. Van der Wal is absent from the stage although his parts on a backing track suffice, together with the orchestral layers. After brief intro music, guitarist Thorsten Bauer plays the opening clean, folky chords to new track 'Galswintha'. Other members begin to play as the song slowly ascends into a crescendo of heaviness which prompts wife/husband Liv Kristine/Alex Krull to appear onstage, and greeted by the biggest cheers of the night thus far. After the mess of Pythia's mix and general sound, matters are back on track as Leaves' Eyes sounds magnificent through the PA with each element of their instrumentations and vocals clearly audible in a perfectly balanced mix. This remains the case throughout their entire set as new tracks like 'Fading Earth', 'Symphony of the Night' and 'Maid of Lorraine' are aired alongside fan favourites including 'Take the Devil in Me', 'My Destiny', 'Melusine', 'Spirits' Masquerade', 'Velvet Heart', 'Elegy' and their 2011 cover of Mike Oldfield's 'To France'.

I've already said this when reviewing 'Symphonies of the Night' but Liv seems to be one of those singers whose voice has matured with age and, tonight, her vocals are stronger than they've ever been. Her vocal performances have always been top notch, of course, but she seems to have released new strengths in her singing. And it's a note perfect performance from start to finish, loaded with power, grace, profound emotion and warmth. Alex is also on fine growling form and the chemistry between the two of them onstage is adorable with their warm and sincere personalities shining through. There's much nattering to the audience between songs, including Liv informing everyone that, earlier today, they took a cab to Ozzy's birthplace, took some photos of his one-time abode, although caught a bus back to the venue as quick as possible after they realised it "wasn't such a nice neighbourhood"!

Their pre-encore set concludes with 'Hell to the Heavens' from the new album, and if ever a song were written with the live performance in mind then this is it; an efficaciously powerful way to finish. But, of course, the encore's to come and fans cheer and stamp their feet loudly for such. Liv looks genuinely humbled by the rapturous crowd reactions when she and her fellow bandmates return to the stage, and it's a very attractive quality in a person when they're able to perform with a hundred per cent confidence and conviction but with not an ounce of egocentricity to be discerned. Thanking everyone for their support in a sincere expression of her gratitude, the band deliver one final song in the form of 'Frya's Theme', then take their bows, and exit the Temple's stage. A first class performance from a band who are going from strength to strength, both sonically and in the support they're garnering.
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