Epica played their first set ever on stage at the Poppodium 013 in Tilburg, Netherlands on the 15th of December 2002... Since then, the band's dedication to their craft and formidable work effort have paid off, as they have had the chance to tour all corners of the globe, amassing a worldwide fan base. So, it is only fitting that the milestone that is their 1000th show brings them full circle to where it all began, in Tilburg. To make the celebration even larger-than-life than Epica are themselves, a solid lineup of support was present: Lacuna Coil, Myrkur, MaYaN, Oceans of Slumber and Nightmare.
Since this was such a momentous event (1,000 shows over 15 years - that's almost three years of nonstop touring!) for my unquestionably favorite band, and with such a packed, diverse lineup as support, there wasn't much that could be done to keep me away. The same day that the tour was announced, the wheels were set in motion: searching for airfare, talking with a few others that would be in attendance, and a few months later - packing, printing tickets and boarding passes, double-checking my paperwork, and off we go to the airport, pointed towards the Netherlands! But, as a result of the intense fanbase that has been built up as a result of the global touring schedule that Epica have delivered on during the past decade and a half, 2999 other people that attended the sold-out show were going through the same motions, ready to descend on Tilburg - from 5 miles away to 5,000 miles away...
I stood in line and spent the time before the doors to the 013 were thrown open talking to those queued up. As I spoke to those impatiently waiting on that sunny afternoon, it became more and more apparent that the audience that would be in attendance that evening was international; from the US, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, France, Poland, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Peru, Canada - and that's just from my impromptu sampling! Just after the originally stated time of 2pm, people were allowed into the main hall of the 013... As one walks into the venue, it strikes you that it's the perfect location for a party like this - a large floor with terraces near the back, multiple bars, and two tiers of balconies make for a great view from just about anywhere in the venue, even if it's packed with 3,000 intense Epica fans!
As the clock rolled around to 3:30pm, it was time for the music to start. Kicking off the festivities were 'Nightmare', up from Grenoble, France! Singer Maggy Luyten's slightly raw but very intense vocals added just the punch needed to the power metal soundtrack to get the crowd stoked for the evening to come. Opening with the title track off of their latest album "Dead Sun" and continuing through a way-too-short six-song set, the evening had commenced.
So it turns out, it wasn’t just members of the audience that made the hop over the Atlantic to take part in the festivities… Houston, Texas based Oceans of Slumber was second up on stage. Oceans filled the venue with their wonderfully melancholic, bluesy progressive metal sound as they opened with “Fleeting Vigilance” (off their latest album), and then crowd immediately fell under a trance. Singer Cammie Gilbert’s powerful voice and and purposeful stare made for a formidable stage presence, demanding attention from the audience. Gloomy, subdued lighting added to the atmosphere, framing the subdued nature of the music with an understatedness that only magnified the hypnotic effect.
As they fittingly closed out their set with “No Color, No Light”, I felt as though they were a perfect fit - variety is what gives the world flavor, and the dark purposefulness of Oceans Of Slumber’s set provide an excellent balance to what the rest of the evening had in store.
After another efficient changeover, it was MaYaN’s time to shine. Bringing a vast lineup of talent to the stage (11 members on stage at various points throughout the set!), including Epica’s very own Mark Jansen and Ariën van Weesenbeek, MaYaN’s appearance seems to get the crowd stoked; the room seems substantially more packed at this point.
Playing a set that includes favorites such as “Burn Your Witches” and “Human Sacrifice” provides a bit of familiarity to the setlist. This helped prepare the crowd for the the two songs that made their debut that evening: “The Power Process” and “Tornado of Thoughts." Both tracks definitely help build anticipation for their upcoming album, entitled “Dhyana”; the band just successfully completed an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to assist in the recording with an orchestra. “The Power Process” is a slightly ponderous number, backed with a violin, serving as a excellent showcase for vocalists Laura Macri and Marcela Bovio’s talents. “Tornado of Thoughts” serves to get both the band and the crowd moving - headbanging, clapping along - it’s all there!
Keeping the theme of contrast between subdued and bombastic alive, Myrkur’s unique blend of folky black metal was unleashed on the audience, immediately falling under the spell of vocalist Amalie Bruun’s voice. As it was during Oceans’ set, the lighting and fog played a huge part in setting the mood in the room; every move made on stage seeming more and more imposing and deliberate… Myrkur’s set had a wonderfully haunting feel that the audience seemed to lap up!
Next up were Lacuna Coil…Despite an almost three month hiatus since their last live show (Cristina offered up the very valid excuse that the band have been working on a book and a live DVD of their own 20 year milestone show!), the Italian gothic rockers put on the ideal show to prime the crowd for the main event! Lacuna Coil’s music and live show always seemed to possess a significantly darker ambiance than that of Epica; this fit in well with one of the themes of the evening: that of a lineup full of contrasts and balance.
Everyone was in top form that evening - especially the duo of vocalists Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro, with Cristina whipping up the excitement of the crowd, exclaiming “ALRIGHT, LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED…LET ME HEAR YOU, TILBURG!” as they launched into “Kill The Light." Naturally, there was plenty of space in the setlist for fan favorites such as “Enjoy the Silence” and “Our Truth” (this one really got the crowd pumped - claps and “hey”s abound!). As the powerful track “Nothing Stands In Our Way” wound down, Andrea took notice of the exceptionally international crowd that packed the 013 that evening: “It’s great to see that music unites people; and I want to thank you very, very much for such a great representation of love.” As Lacuna Coil brought their set to a close with the abrupt end of “The House of Shame”, you could cut the anticipation in the air with a knife…
The horns of Epica’s current intro track “Eidola” pierced the room, and the crowd of 3000 erupted with a roar! I don’t think it was physically possible to squeeze another person into the room (it took a concerted effort for myself and a few other photographers to work our way to the photo pit!). As the band members made their way onstage with tangible excitement, it was obvious that they had a treat in store for us all… As the intro track gave way to the excellent “Edge of the Blade”, synchronized pyrotechnics drove that point home!
Rolling right through fan-favorite “Sensorium”, vocalist Simone Simons proclaimed herself “speechless” at the response to the evening’s festivities, and of course proclaimed that “it’s going to be one big party”. Jumping into the track “Fight Your Demons” off their latest EP, it was easily noticed that the band was settling right into their element… Part of what puts a band such as Epica over the top is their attention to every detail: at risk of sounding superficial, everyone looks the part, the risers are decorated to fit the art direction, they sound great, lighting is just as bombastic as the the music, and flourishes like Coen’s “keyboard stand on rails” sweeten the deal. Of course, along with this comes the double-edged sword of rehashing the same jokes a slightly too often, but in this instance, the benefits far outweigh the downsides.
Pyrotechnics kicked off another fan favorite, “Storm the Sorrow”, and of course - what would a performance of this song be without the opportunity for a duet (as performed in the past with Anneke van Giersbergen and Elize Ryd)? Simone welcomed Cristina Scabbia back onstage to add some additional punch to the track, as their voices worked well together - the vocal solo was an incredible moment!
Introducing the track “Design your Universe”, Simone proclaimed “If you believe in something and you work your ass off, you’ll get there - believe me”; fitting words for a group that has put the effort in and turned it into something bigger than themselves! Vocalist Mark Jansen’s parts especially shine on this track - it’s definitely one of the pieces that show off just what Epica are capable of… As the stars of the show, Mark checks in with the crowd, ensuring that we weren’t tired (as if this could be the case!), before launching into the 12-minute epic “The Holographic Principle - A Profound Understanding of Reality” from their latest full-length album - a one of the highlights of the evening in my opinion. This track’s vocal finale was accompanied with pyrotechnic sparks falling from the ceiling… However, things got a bit too heated - a spark from the pyrotechnics found its way into Simone’s hair, and she retreated back to brush it out!
After performances of “Cry for the Moon”, “Unchain Utopia”, and “Once Upon a Nightmare”, Epica retreats backstage to allow the audience a moment to get impatient… Simone points out that “since today is such a special show," that “this is not your average Epica encore”, and as she’s saying this the rest of the band files out with acoustic instruments in tow - along with Marcela Bovio with a violin! They proceed to play through the acoustic version of “Universal Death Squad”, entitled “Universal Love Squad” - which was available on the bonus disc from their latest full-length, but was first played live in Tilburg!
Following the acoustic treat, Isaac and Coen engage in a bit of banter, and then proceed with the second encore, as they power through “Sancta Terra” (during this track, Coen engaged in a bit of crowdsurfing and Isaac hopped down into the photo pit), “Beyond the Matrix”, and close out, as is traditional, with “Consign to Oblivion." To be honest, this was probably the most surprising part of the setlist - I personally expected it to be changed up a bit more, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind; the jumping was as furious as ever during “Beyond the Matrix”, and of course, the customary wall of death during “Consign to Oblivion’ was as impressive as ever!
In summary, Epica’s 1000th Show Anniversary was everything that it was expected to be: a delightfully diverse array of interesting bands (as Epica always surrounds themselves with), fans from every corner of the globe, an absolutely bombastic light show and stage presence, and a few surprises to keep things fresh. Here’s to 1,000 Epica shows, and to 1,000 more!
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