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Thursday 23rd April 2015
The Garage in London, UK
Review & Photography by Mark Holmes
Stream of Passion are, I guess, the logical choice of support act for The Gentle Storm's short run of European shows. With vocalist Marcela Bovio and bassist Johan van Stratum double-shifting in the live lineup of the latter and, of course, Arjen Lucassen founding the former, their presence is both justified and kind of expected. Another random connection between support and headline acts is guitarist Eric Hazebroek, whose previous band Trisomy supported The Gathering on one of their final ever tours with Anneke van Giersbergen. So yes, Stream of Passion's inclusion is apposite and, judging by the rapturous reception they're greeted with when appearing on stage at 8:15pm, also a popular one with the large crowd in The Garage.

Musically evolving over the years, beyond their roots as an Arjen side-project, the melodic sublimity of their material is what ties Stream of Passion today with their 'Embrace the Storm' beginnings. And this evening's forty five minute set is loaded with their astutely composed balance of heaviness and melody. While biased towards latest crowd-funded full length 'A War of Our Own', tracks from their debut and sophomore albums also feature, including their ever-popular, inventive take on Radiohead's 'Street Spirit'. Interestingly, they entirely eschew their last Napalm released album, 'Darker Days', although the strength of their latest compositions and older numbers carry the set along nicely; from the opening triumvirate of new album tracks - 'Monster', 'A War of Our Own' and 'The Curse' - through to Arjen-era pieces, 'Deceiver' and 'Haunted', and 'In the End' from 'The Flame Within'.

Evidently pumped up for the occasion, the entire band are rather animated throughout their performance - notably Hazebroek, who yells vociferously to the crowd between songs, requesting they make some noise. Bassist van Stratum smiles his way through most of the performance, obviously enjoying a warm-up ahead of his second stint later this evening, while Bovio's vocals are both powerful and pitch-perfect. However, while I generally cannot fault Stream of Passion's performance, it's lacking that little extra spark that has characterised their live shows on previous occasions I've caught them in action. Still, they do a fine job of warming up the crowd ahead of the primary reason most are gathered in The Garage tonight.
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The Gentle Storm at The Garage, London, UK, 23rd April 2015
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
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With Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen's unpredictable side-project prolificacy, it was perhaps less predictable and always inevitable that he'd one day make an album with Anneke van Giersbergen. With the former's guest vocals on a couple of Ayreon albums, and the two's mutual admiration for each other's talents, it's been a long time coming, and a most welcome collaboration. And the results of this dream pairing materialised in the form of a double album earlier this year, 'The Diary', under the moniker of The Gentle Storm; featuring the same suite of music recorded twice in distinctly disparate arrangements - heavier "storm" versions, and mellower, "gentle" folk-based interpretations. Making some serious waves throughout the scene, it was rather exciting to learn that this double album masterpiece would be taken on the road for a handful of shows. However, with Arjen's reclusive nature and predilection for not touring (apart from playing a few acoustic dates with Anneke and the album launch show at Amsterdam's famous Melkweg), it would only be with the lady herself, but accompanied by some of the Dutch metal scene's finest musicians. So, we have Hail of Bullets and regular Ayreon sticksman Ed Warby; MaYaN guitarist Merel Bechtold; ex-After Forever keyboardist Joost van den Broek; guitarist Ferry Duijsens from Anneke's solo band; and Stream of Passion's Johan van Stratum and Marcela Bovio on bass and backing vocals respectively. The live incarnation of The Gentle Storm promised to be something of a spectacular sonic feast.

Taking to the stage at 9:30pm, Anneke and co. aptly commence with album opener 'Endless Sea', followed by 'Heart of Amsterdam', 'Brightest Light' and 'The Storm'. Forget the calm before the storm, tonight is all about the storm before the calm, with the emphasis firmly placed on the storm. Oh yes, for live versions of these tracks sound even more bombastic and heavy than their recorded counterparts. And while in heavy mode, a rousing rendition of The Gathering's 'Eléanor' is up next before switching back to 'The Diary' for an airing of 'New Horizons'. What's immediately striking about tonight is just how tight and musically adept The Gentle Storm band are. Each member is a great talent although, apart from Anneke herself, particular standout performances are delivered from Ed on drums and Merel. The latter's fretboard widdlings are simply incredible, and the lady can't seem to stop smiling - she's obviously enjoying the occasion.

The audience in The Garage appear to lap up each and every bar of music, with a plethora of "Anneke... Anneke... Anneke..." chants between songs. Tonight's been kind of semi-billed as an Anneke van Giersbergen show, despite its Gentle Storm appellation, and her fans are evidently out in force in a comfortably busy venue. As such, it's undoubtedly the heaviest "solo" show Anneke's ever performed. Either way, it's a storming start for the Dutch troupe, and some well chosen blue stage lighting helps to visually convey the maritime nature of the narrative that unfolds with each epistolary-based lyric brought to life on this London stage. Red lighting also punctuates the space, which represents the stormy element of the story. It's a nice touch. And, while the show doesn't adhere to theatricality per se, it does add a little theatrical spice to proceedings... as does the musical interlude after 'New Horizons', as lights dim and everyone exits the stage, allowing enough time for Anneke's costume change, before she returns by herself with an acoustic guitar...

As I previously said, the show started with the storm before the calm, so the mid-section of tonight's proceedings is, indeed, the "calm" part of the set. Stood alone on the stage, Anneke tells the crowd: "I guess it's just you and me now." Cheers ensue, a little more banter, before she performs a truly moving version of Pink Floyd's Barrett-inspired tear-jerker 'Wish You Were Here', which prompts a mass sing-along from most present. A brief return to 'The Diary' follows, with Joost providing some beautifully played keyboards to accompany Anneke on a stripped-down take of 'The Moment'. One of the album's most melodically sublime and emotionally moving pieces, the emotions and sublimity are somehow intensified in this minimalist version. And I'm talking a proper hairs standing up on the back of the neck moment of sonic beauty. Anneke's singing here attains a poignancy and tonal affection that sets her apart from just about every other vocalist on the planet. And when Marcela enters the stage towards the end of the song to harmonise with Anneke, it's simply breathtaking. It's also testament to Arjen's songwriting ingenuity that his track is malleable in this way. Talking of Arjen, the "calmer" segment of the show is concluded with a couple of Ayreon numbers - 'Valley of the Queens' and 'Comatose'.

Lights dim once again, another musical interlude plays through the PA, before the full band return to the stage, back to "storm" mode, with a couple more songs from 'The Diary' - 'Cape of Storms' and 'The Greatest Love'. Ayreon's 'Waking Dreams' follows before another more than welcome dose of The Gathering with the second 'Mandylion' track of the evening, 'Strange Machines'. Another pre-encore blast of Ayreon arrives with 'Isis and Osiris', then the band exit the stage. More "Anneke... Anneke... Anneke..." chants resonate throughout The Garage, a couple of minutes pass, then she reappears with her fellow musicians for a surprise cover of Devin Townsend's 'Fallout' from last year's 'Sky Blue' half of 'Z²'. Back to 'The Diary', 'Shores of India' concludes the show. Indubitably, The Gentle Storm live has been a resounding success and one that Arjen himself would no doubt be proud of. Not only one of the best shows of the year but, most definitely, one of the best I've ever had the pleasure in witnessing. Fortunately, they'll be returning to these shores to support Delain at the end of October. Roll on autumn!
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