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Metal Female Voices Fest IV - Review


It’s 4pm and I can hear the couple in the room next to mine having sex. Muffled gasps emanating from the other side of the flock walls. God knows what some of these people get up to but it sounds rather painful.

I start to imagine them using all kinds of advanced, custom-made sexual machinery. Some industrial monster with ropes, levers and pulleys for limbs and an intricate ball bearing system for organs. A few rivets off Deep Thought, grey, trunk-like cables humming on the short-pile. This whole place is some kind of Bohemian knocking-shop. Orange lamplight bathes most of the rooms, cradled by Athenian-esque bronze statues. The doors are fortress-like, there’s free porn on the television and the decrepit hag at reception was surprised that I’d checked in alone, not that she’s had any in years. Who knows, I might be wrong, she’s probably being seen to by some local navy three nights a week or some desperate young with a frightening fetish for living relics, probably her cousin or nephew. Much, much stranger things have happened.

Saint-Pieters, Ghent in Belgium and I‘m in a hotel a short distance from the station. It’s a place for secretaries to go at lunchtime for half an hour of white-collar coitus, and the décor, though not entirely naff or sleazy still manages to knowingly skirt the boundary of seediness, throwing one or two hankering glances in its direction. I’m recovering. The Metal Female Voices Fest was only last night, the biggest and most ambitious in the series and I have left Weize and Brussels, having been briefly abandoned in Aalst and wandered lost round the industrial eccentricities of Gentbrugge. The train ride alone was like some safari park jaunt through a Henk van Rensberge portfolio. The conductor should have shut out the lights, slowed the engine and piped some Lustmord through the intercom. The would have had the passengers clawing at the windows to get out. Catch-22 hell.

The festival comprised of eleven bands where there had originally been twelve scheduled, though Theatre of Tragedy couldn’t attend for one reason or another. This didn’t seem to be a huge disappointment to everyone since most people realised by early evening that the prospect of going home early wasn’t entirely unappealing. As the festival wore on some people had already taken to passing out among the beer bottles and burger off-cuts, still managing to shoot a critical glance in your direction if you kicked them by mistake en route from one side of the hall to the other.

The hallpsace itself in the Oktoberhallen was less than last year. The management has brought the stage further forward into the arena so as to diminish the gulf that would have been created by fewer tickets sales than last year. We arrived at about 11.30am by which time any queue had disappeared inside the guts of the venue. Having attained our Access All Areas passes kindly given to us by the management we made our way inside to catch the tail-end of Macbeth’s set and headed straight for the backstage area to check it out. The set-up was more or less identical to last year’s. Two large rooms, one for press and a changing room area beyond it for the bands, separated by the dreaded red curtain and semi tough-looking doorman. The whole backstage area was very large for what it was though I don’t know how many people used it for interviews, there was certainly nothing of that going on that I saw, unlike two years ago when the Ancenne Belgique was a hive of whirring recording equipment and ricocheting questions.

The first band on were Anachronia who didn’t give a distinctly ‘metal’ impression since though Fay looked quite stunning in her corset, Aymeric looked as though he’d just walked in from his living room wearing a polo neck and blue jeans. They put on a more confident show than last year but failed to ignite the crowd since everyone was still warming up by this point. Skeptical Minds were met with a similar reaction later on and they played a couple of new numbers which didn’t have such an electro feel as their older stuff had. In fact, most of the music they played had seriously toned down on the electro front which was a shame since the electro was what set then apart in an often bland and repetitive genre. However, a lot of metal fans are known for disliking electro so this may have had something to do with its removal, unfortunately forcing the band to blend in with the other acts of the day.

One band who did not blend in for the better were Theatre Des Vampires who for me were the band of the day. Even though I’m not a huge fan of their music, they certainly know how to put on a live show. Their set was not only about music but image. The whole band started the set wearing masks and Sonya a long trench coat, which later she removed to reveal the scantiest outfit yet at the festival. Her control of the band and the music was impressive as well as her use of the stage and I was struck by how few other bands in general put effort into making a show of their live performances. Most other artists only play their own music and shuffle about, whereas the Italians came across as sexy, energetic and above all, different. Naio Ssaoin were the other best band, and though their jumpy music may not have been to everyone’s tastes, they still oozed confidence and it was interesting to see peoples’ confused looks when they said they were from Slovenia, a country which some people clearly didn’t know how to place, or had even heard of.

The biggest disappointment of the day for me was Forever Slave who cemented my opinion that they are one of the worst band in this category. Even though I dislike both their releases I kept an open mind in the hope that I may enjoy some parts of their set. Unfortunately from the start it was clear that they have very limited potential since not only do they play diluted, forgettable Gothic metal songs, but Lady Angellyca can’t hold a note for toffee while the other musicians in the band have the unenviable skill of being able to play their instruments with no flair, feeling or artistry. I came to the conclusion that this band only want to be in the scene to be noticed since they offer nothing of worth musically. Lady A’s pretention that she was being considered for Nightwish couldn’t be further from the truth since she has no talent in this area. Still, some people were - amazingly - singing along to some of the songs so they have some fans somewhere.

Bands that had both positive and negative influences to their performances were Delain and Midnattsol, who shared the same problem inasmuch as both their singers lacked onstage animation. I can almost excuse Delain since Charlotte is new to the scene and probably hasn’t performed in many live shows. One thing is clear though, and that is that she has a fantastic voice, especially live. Every note she sang was smooth and beautiful and she will doubtless become a star over the years to come. Whether she has a background in metal hangs in the balance for since she didn’t seem to carry much of an adoration for the sound she was projecting but I imagine this will come over time. Midnattsol had a strange time on stage since though most of the band were more or less in the music, Carmen acted almost drunk, drugged or depressed, being very quiet for most of the set and hardly moving at all. The faulty microphone at the start may have shattered her confidence [the same problem that a couple of other bands also had] but something intangible seemed a little awry which put a crimp on the set for me.

Since Theatre of Tragedy couldn’t put in an appearance, the biggest band of the festival were Tristania who, thanks to some tweaking from the staff, got the best sound and light show of the lot. The set didn’t get off to a great start with Østen also suffering from the faulty microphone problem which led him to only stare meaningfully into the crowd while we couldn’t hear anything coming out of his mouth. However, Vibeke’s onstage movements were deliriously transfixing and her vocal capabilities proved that she really can cut it live. The band took us through a tour of all their albums, including a couple of tracks from Illumination. Still, the highlight for me was the wonderful Angellore and it was wonderful to see a track from one of my favourite albums being displayed in a live setting. To me Vibeke, more than anyone, deserves the accolade of the Queen of Gothic metal. Though some may disagree in favor of Cristina, Floor or Sharon, Tristania come across as entirely Gothic in structure whereas other bands further up the tree haven’t retained their Gothic roots over time. Tristania’s show was both about looks and music, so it’s a shame that their two male vocalists didn’t hold the same conviction or magnetism which detracts from the otherwise perfect air the band might have given off.

After Tristania’s encore and after they’d gone offstage without saying goodbye to anyone, the crowd were left with little to do but negotiate their way through the plastic bottles and leftover token used to purchase beer. Honestly, I have no idea how much of the stuff I drank over the course of 13 hours since it was so ridiculously cheap. In spite of this, at the end of the evening I was feeling remarkably lucid which was a bit of a disappointment when I’d consciously made an effort to feel like I was going to eject my innards by midnight. The evening wasn’t to stop there though, since two younger Gothettes set upon us needing a lift back to Aaslt even tough they had no idea which part they were going to. On the way back I had time to muse once more over what had been another greatly enjoyable event with a further one already in the planning stages. Hopefully that one will be even more successful, one or two lessons having been learned all round.