Review by Paul Quinton
The fifth Dames of Darkness Festival returned for the third time to the Robin, expanded this time to a two day event. On each of the previous occasions, this event has drawn a very good crowd to The Robin and this year was no exception, with even the early bands on each day playing to very healthy turnouts.
At similar events opening acts are generally on a hiding to nothing, playing in front of what is usually a sparse or at best a slowly growing crowd. Scottish band The Fall Of Eve, had no such problem, proceeding to grasp the chance of playing to such a sizeable and knowledgeable crowd with both hands and turned in a really, really good performance. Amazingly, singer Evangeline announced that this was their first ever gig, despite having recorded their debut EP a couple of years ago, and even now I still find this very hard to believe. Live, they’re more of a hard rock band than their EP suggests, but their songs were instantly likeable, they played well and in Evangeline they have a talented and confident frontwoman. They got a great reception for their half hour set, which was well-deserved, as they were as good an opening act as any I can remember at any Dames of Darkness event. A really, really promising band who can come back to the Midlands anytime.
Second up were Aonia, from Nottinghamshire, who clearly had several fans in the audience, but on this occasion didn’t impress this neutral anywhere near as much as The Fall of Eve. Numerically at least, there’s a lot going on with two guitarists, a keyboard player as well as the rhythm section and two vocalists, with Mel Adams taking the lead and Jo Robinson working around her. They have some good, well-written songs, but it was a little too derivative, too much owing to the more successful European symphonic metal bands, although a lot of their instrumental breaks, with some nice twin guitar, were very reminiscent of Iron Maiden. Having made a note of this during the set, it did cause a raised eyebrow when they announced that their second last song would be a cover of ‘Man On The Edge’ from Maiden’s Blaze Bayley era, which, to be fair, they made a decent fist of. Even being joined by Phillippa, from Divided We Fall, who played at last year’s festival, for the last song ‘Prophecy Of The Fallen Kingdom,’ couldn’t raise this set above OK.
There’d been something of a buzz about Spanish band Rainover before this show following their set at the recent Quinphonic event, and it was noticeable how many Rainover T-shirts could be seen in The Robin before the band even took the stage. All I can say is that whatever buzz there was proved to be absolutely justified, because this was a fantastic set. Their previous appearances in the UK had been to what might be called sparse audiences, but this was several steps up in terms of size and prestige, and the band responded really well. Like The Fall Of Eve, their songs, reminiscent of the mighty Delain and Evanescence, are extremely strong. They are brilliantly sung by Andrea Casanova with growling back up from bassist Andrea Perea, and in Ms Casanova, they have a potential star. As well as songs from their album, the elaborately titled Transcending The Blue And Drifting Into Rebirth, they also played some new material including a song so new it didn’t even have a title, although the crowd needed little encouragement to jump along with the band. They got the best reception of the day, excepting the headliners, which was fully deserved. Unquestionably a band to watch out for, and for me, the band of the whole weekend.
Apparition are regulars at Dames Of Darkness but their frequent line-up changes have meant that they’ve never really been able to establish a consistent identity. Typically, there’s recently been another change of vocalist, this former singer Fiona Creaby has returned to duty after five years away. They always seem to give a solid performance without ever being spectacular, but on the other hand, their songs have never seemed strong enough to leave a lasting impression, and today, following performances as strong as those from The Fall Of Eve and Rainover, they really needed to pull something special out of the hat. Unfortunately, this wasn’t it. Oddly, during one of the changeovers later in the weekend, an Apparition song was played over the PA, and it was interesting how much better, more dynamic and forceful the band sounded.
Bad Pollyanna, from Yorkshire, were brought in several weeks previously as a replacement for the American band Heliosaga, and turned out to be a really good addition to the line up. Unlike the great majority of the bands on the bill, they didn’t set out to conform to the gothic, symphonic or even power metal template, but came across as a pretty tasty modern hard rock band, albeit with the required Gothic element, but never letting it submerge their rock edge. Maybe distinguishing themselves from the other bands helped, but they seemed to have a spark and freshness that was missing from some of the other sets this weekend. Olivia Hyde is a great front woman, the band played really well and in songs like ‘Hollow’ and ‘Define Me’, they have a strong set of songs that really work well live. This was a really good set from a band who might not at first glance have fit in with most of the rest of the bands on the bill, but were well up the list of highlights on the Saturday.
Weeping Silence were a first for me, and quite probably for the Robin as well, in that I’m not sure I can even name another Maltese band let alone remember having seen one. Either way, the stage was certainly fuller than for most of the other bands on the line up, as Weeping Silence are seven in number, including two guitarists, a keyboard player, and two singers as well as the rhythm section. The male half of the vocal duet, Dario Taliana, cites My Dying Bride as one of his influences, which gives the listener a strong clue as to what to expect from the band. I’m not quite sure they fit into the ethos of Dames of Darkness, as it is he, rather than fellow singer Diane Camonzuli, who takes most of the vocals, whereas she acts mostly as a backing to his growls. Overall they weren’t far off being the heaviest band of the whole weekend, but as far as a performance goes, it was all a little samey. Even with a set list, it was a little too difficult to decide when one song ended and another began, and even by the standards of your average growling singer, Taliana’s vocals were on the monotonous side.
From Malta to France and time for Whyzdom to make their second appearance at The Robin at a Dames festival. Musically, Whyzdom were one of the most ambitious bands to appear over the weekend, with some parts of this set moving deep into Prog Metal territory rather than staying in the symphonic/gothic metal boundary and they’re blessed with a highly talented singer in Marie Rouyer. This willingness to push the boundaries, though, can make their music a little less accessible to the neutral, although songs like ‘Eve’s Last Daughter’ and ‘While The Witches Burn’ would be good in any format. It also places a burden on the musicians though, as Marie Rouyer, by my count, was required to sing in three different styles during the set, including the customary symphonic metal soprano. At least the band as a whole worked hard to engage with the crowd, which is more than you could say for some, and although this wasn’t the most memorable of sets, this is a band with something about them, and well worth checking out.
And so to the Saturday headliners, and a rare chance for the UK to check out Sirenia. Ever since the Norwegian band released Nine Destinies And A Downfall in 2007, I’d been looking forward to seeing them live, and their excellent last album, Secrets Of The Deep Blue did nothing to lessen that wish. The band came on to a rousing intro tape and went straight into ‘Serpent’ from their new album Seventh Life Path, which, for the first time I’d heard the track sounded pretty good. However as the set went on, while there was nothing wrong with the music, I began to have reservations. Firstly, the band had no bassist, which, along with the considerable amount of keyboard and orchestral backing tracks they were using, meant there was little room for spontaneity, and at times it all felt a little artificial. On the second night Leaves’ Eyes had the same set up, but seemed to be able to inject much more warmth and life into their set. Sirenia’s singer, Ailyn Gimenez, while singing well, didn’t really reach out to the crowd, and the band didn’t seem to feed off the crowd’s energy in the same way as some of the other bands.
For all that, it was a nicely put together set, with songs from all parts of the bands career, including four from the new album and a good portion of Secrets Of The Deep Blue, including a fine ‘Cold Cross’ and an even better ‘Seven Widows Weep’. Despite my own reservations, the band went down really well with the crowd as a whole, but despite the impressive opening, it never really felt like a headline set.