Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Rob Stanley
By the time Tamworth’s own CHEMI-KILL burst into song at the very un-metal hour of 3.30 in the afternoon, there was already a very healthy crowd in The Robin for the third Dames of Darkness festival, who gave them a big welcome. Sometimes at these one day festivals in comparatively smaller venues, it’s best not to expect too much from the earlier acts on the bill, but in Chemi-Kill’s case, there was no need for doubts at all, because this was a very good set. Rather than the more conventional gothic/symphonic metal, their sound draws far more from thrash and bands like Testament and Pantera, and for such a comparatively unknown band, they have great stage presence and get the crowd involved really well for a band so early on the bill. Maybe the songs could do with a little work, although the twin growling vocals, from both bassist Gaz and singer Natalie (these chaps aren’t big on surnames) did tend to make some of the songs blend into one a little. Nevertheless, a promising start to the day.
Holland’s EX LIBRIS were next, and straight away it was clear we were in far more conventional ‘femme’-metal’ territory. Dianne van Giesbergen obviously has a fantastic range, moving from an operatic style to more conventional rock vocals almost in the blink of an eye. The problem was that this, along with the band’s quite complex songs, made them quite difficult to listen to at times, with the songs never standing still long enough to grasp what was happening. Some of the operatic parts just seemed to be inserted just to showcase her voice, rather than be relevant to the particular song, which broke up the music a little unnecessarily and just invited comparisons with Tarja. She has a good onstage personality as well as her vocal talent, and is a fine guitar player, but this set didn’t really set The Robin on fire.
AZYLYA began their set with singer Jamie Lee alone on the stage adding some visuals to their intro tape wearing a silver, full-face mask and indulging in a spot of interpretive dance, before the band joined in for some fairly brisk gothic metal. Also using male grunting vocals, for some reason they were using effects that made it sound as if the grunts were coming in through an old megaphone, which made things sound a little strange at times. Jamie Lee’s white catsuit made a pleasant, if distracting change from the sea of black we’d seen on the stage for the rest of the afternoon, but presentation aside, musically Azylya were often very good and very interesting, not afraid to experiment with some Eastern rhythms and scales at times. Yet another band well worth checking out in the future.
I don’t know if it was because most people had already seen three or four bands, and chose this time to exit The Robin in search of something to eat, whether it was the rival attraction of the Cup Final kicking off at roughly the same time, but whatever the reason, the atmosphere and the crowd seemed to take something of a breather when APPARITION took the stage, and there was a markedly more subdued atmosphere for the band compared to what had gone before. Whether this in turn affected the band is hard to say, but they didn’t seem to be able to lift the crowd back up again and as a result their own performance lacked a little compared to the other bands. They played well enough, but just lacked that spark that can lift a set. Bassist Dave Bower tried to pay tribute to Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman, who’d passed away in the days before the festival, but even then that seemed a little flat. Apparition will have better days, but this wasn’t their day to shine.
WHYZDOM, from France, were next to take the stage. A 5-piece, the first thing to be noticed was their extensive use of samples. This is a common thing in the wider genre, but this was a lot even by gothic/symphonic metal ‘s normal standards., and with the twin guitars, there was an awful lot happening on stage. It didn’t help that often the individual members seemed to be playing different songs, so complicated were Whyzdom’s songs, and as a result they could be quite a difficult listen. Only the last song of the set ‘Daughters of the Night’, sounded as if a great deal of thought had gone into how it would be played live and the samples overwhelmed the whole sound. Singer Marie Rouyer has a fine voice and a very likeable stage presence, and guitarist Vynce Leff in particular worked hard to get the crowd involved, but Whyzdom have had a bit of a variable line-up over the last couple of years and so it’s probable that more time playing together and Marie gaining more live experience will do the band an awful lot of good in the long term.
VISIONS OF ATLANTIS were a band a lot of people had been waiting to see back in the UK for a while. They were slightly unusual on tonight’s bill in that they were using two ‘clean’ singers, rather like Lacuna Coil. Coincidentally something they shared with Lacuna Coil’s last appearance in the UK was the absence of a bass player, and unfortunately they suffered the same problem as the Italians in that the bass track they were using was far too dominant in the overall sound, a lot of the time making the keys inaudible which was a shame, as otherwise VOA were one of the highlights of the day. Their music strayed a lot more into melodic rock territory than we’d seen so far on the day, with some shorter, punchier songs than almost all the other bands. New female singer Maxi Nil let the side down a little by repeating the phrase ‘Hello Birmingham!’ a few times, which resulted in a few audible builder’s whistles from some parts of the crowd, but overall this was a really good set.
So to headliners DELAIN, and as enjoyable as all the other bands were, it was obvious from the first few bars that this was a genuine step up in status and quality from what had gone before. The band were obviously on top form and looked genuinely pleased with how excited the crowd were, Charlotte Wessels in particular had a beaming smile that rarely left her face for the whole set. The band also had an air of confidence about them that gave them an added air of star quality. They’d put together a crowd-pleasing set, with little in the way of surprises, but by anyone’s standards, this was a cracking set.
Like Visions of Atlantis, Delain steer much more toward the melodic end of the metal spectrum, the only time in this set they really strayed into stereotypical gothic or symphonic metal territory was some almost token growling on ’Virtue and Vice’ and Charlotte coming as close to operatic vocals as she’s ever done on ‘Not Enough’, but the sheer quality of their songs means they don’t need to resort to what could be cliché. They also justified the confidence they showed by playing superbly. ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ was almost supernaturally tight, ‘Electricity’ in particular was brilliant, and along with songs like ‘April Rain’ and ‘Get The Devil Out of Me’ there are plenty of signs that this is a band ready to move up a level or two. They did a great job of headlining the event and put the seal on what had been a very enjoyable day.
Looking back over my notes for the day, I realise I was a little critical of most of the bands on the day, which is probably unfair, as this was a great event. Good selection of bands, well organised, superb value with eight bands for £22 if you booked in advance, which in turn attracted a great crowd who generated a terrific atmosphere for the whole day. The organisers deserve a lot of credit for how the event was put together and the fact that so many people have said on Facebook and elsewhere how much they’d look forward to the next event is recommendation enough for how much of a success this edition of the Dames of Darkness was.
See more of Rob’s photos here;