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It's been a while since I've caught Loch Vostok live, three and a half years in fact at the Dutch Headway festival, and I understand the Swedish progressive death metal crew have experienced a few lineup changes since then. Still in the pub next door to the venue interviewing Therion's Christofer Johnsson at Loch Vostok's scheduled stage time, by the time I run over to the venue and collect my photopass at the guestlist window, I make it into Shepherd's Bush Empire just as they're starting their final song of a short half hour set. Playing to a fairly sparse crowd, apart from apathetic polite applause at the end, many seem quite disinterested in what they have observed. Only witnessing five minutes of music myself, I'm unable to make any great judgements on Loch Vostok's performance this evening although, based on the small amount I hear, they offer little by way of originality but have some fairly infectious death grooves in their sound.
Sunday 31st October 2010
Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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Next up, and main support on the European leg of Therion's current tour, are Norwegian prog-metallers Leprous. With an allotted half hour set and a fifteen minute change over time, they manage to commence only ten minutes after Loch Vostok exit the stage which affords them an extra five minutes for their performance. Seemingly out to maximise those thirty five minutes on stage, the young quintet rattle through song after song with little time in between. Opening with a new track, they then turn to familiar territory with a trio of 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' numbers, delivering energetic and incisively tight versions of 'Phantom Pain', 'Dare You' and the lengthy 'White' (albeit the latter truncated of its mellow keyboard outro). Next up is another new song before they climax with a potently dynamic rendition of 'Passing'. As their set progresses, the Shepherd's Bush Empire fills out with greater numbers of metallers who seem to react more enthusiastically to Leprous' music as each track is played, with 'Passing' the pinnacle of their performance which sees more fists punching the air and more heads banging than at any other point. Leprous in their recorded guise are one of the most exciting bands to emerge from the prog-metal scene in recent years as proven by last year's critically acclaimed debut album, 'Tall Poppy Syndrome', but live they're a step above that, performing each of the songs' disparate parts with sheer precision and seamlessly switching tempos, time changes, genres and the alternation of mellow/heavy passages with more skill than some of the older, established acts out there. Add to that a ceaselessly energetic stage presence where band members leap around and headbang while maintaining pure tightness though their playing (of some rather technical parts at times) then Leprous are as an exciting band to watch as they are to listen to. Einar Solberg on keyboards and main vocals has a commanding stage presence and a wide ranging voice, utilising the smooth tones of his clean singing and tuneful death growls to great effect at all the right moments against a diversely sonic backdrop of genuinely progressive music. Their set is marred slightly by Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk's guitars both being too low in the mix, but not enough to ruin the overall effect. Thirty five minutes passes by in no time at all and it seems all too soon before the five Norwegians are taking a bow on Shepherd's Bush's stage to rapturous cheers and applause. They've evidently won over a significant portion of the audience this evening and, as they make their way through Europe over the next five weeks, their fan base will undoubtedly grow even bigger. Deservedly so, for I predict Leprous are set to become prog metal's next big thing.
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Just after 9pm, symphonic metal pioneers Therion take to the stage. Well, in their 2010 guise, as spring 2008 saw the departure of long-time core members, leaving Christofer Johnsson to go it alone under the Therion moniker. Recruiting a new bassist and drummer that same year, ex-Candlemass frontman Thomas Vikström in 2009, and then another guitarist, Christian Vidal, just a few months ago, together with current collaborators Katarina Lilja, Lori Lewis and Snowy Shaw (the latter back in the fold following the recent Dimmu Borgir fiasco), here we have Therion in their current formation on the stage in London for the one and only UK show on their European tour in support of new album, 'Sitra Ahra'. And it's the title track from said release they open with tonight. With band members attired in costume and a noticeably choreographed element to the show as each of the four vocalists wander around to assume different positions behind three circular barriers and sometimes centre stage, there is an air of the theatrical about Therion's performance which is apposite for the dramatic (and occasionally melodramatic) nature of their music. 'Sitra Ahra' is followed by 'Wine of Aluqah', 'Typhon' and 'The Perennial Sophia' before returning to the new album for 'Hellequin'. Therion have a far from perfect sound in Sherpherd's Bush Empire tonight with a somewhat muddy mix through the PA, although the visual aspect of their performance compensates for such deficiencies and sustains interest for the two hours they play. Drawing material mainly from the last four albums, there are also airings of mid-era Therion tracks such as 'Nifelheim' from 'Secret of the Runes', 'Enter Vril-Ya' from 'Deggial' and the surprise inclusion of 'Vovin' track 'Clavicula Nox'. Snowy Shaw, evidently unaffected by recent Dimmu/Therion toing and froing, gives it his all this evening, in fine voice and good at working the crowd. Vikström also impresses with his wide ranging voice and sporadic flute playing, as do Lilja and Lewis - the latter's soprano singing is particularly breathtaking. What's perhaps disappointing is that the venue is far from sold out - incredibly surprising seeing as this is Therion's only UK date and the first time in three years they've performed on these shores. A significant part of the balcony seating is occupied and the standing area in front of the stage is certainly crowded, although nowhere near as busy as one would expect. Closing their set with new album track 'Unguentum Sabbati', Therion routinely exit the stage and then return a couple of minutes later for encores of two true classic tunes from their extensive back catalogue - 'The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah' and, of course, 'To Mega Therion' from 1996 seminal work 'Theli' - both tracks engender the most animated audience reaction of the night. With a strong new album and a performance as good as this, Therion have proven themselves a force to still be reckoned with in their 2010 constitution. It's just a shame that more of their UK fans didn't make the effort to witness the Swedes in action.
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