It’s fair to say that it has been a tumultuous few months for Xandria, and all credit must go to the band that this tour even went ahead with front woman Dianne van Giersbergen having announced that she was leaving the band towards the end of September. Of course there are two sides to every story and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to engage in any sort of further discussion or speculation on what happened. However, the fact is that Dianne is no longer with Xandria and that for this tour the very talented Aeva Maurelle is covering vocal duties. This has stirred up the “on line haters”, as always happens in these situations, but this really isn’t fair to Aeva who has simply stepped in to help out.

With all of this behind them, Xandria rolled into Sheffield and the Local Authority venue. However, before Xandria took to the stage, there was a small matter of two support bands. First up were operatic, symphonic metallers Aonia, for whom this was a special night with a new single, new merch and a new logo all being launched and it was clear that there were a lot of people in attendance who had come to see them.

Space was at a premium as the seven members crammed onto the small stage before opening with ‘Reflections’. As ‘Violet Hours’ and ‘Heartsword’ flew by, it didn’t take Aonia long to establish themselves as a musical force to be reckoned with. The obvious focal point was the dual soprano vocals of Melissa and Joanne, although credit should go to every member of the band for a superb performance. Older track ‘Prophecy of the Fallen Kingdom’ followed before a brief pause for the band to announce they would be returning in two weeks as support for Kobra and the Lotus, and also that they are planning their own festival later in the year.

New track ‘Sirens’ Lament’ was aired next before things were brought to a close with ‘Still, I Rise’, complete with bubbles and neon trimmed basques…….!

I have seen Aonia on numerous occasions over the years, and this was the most complete, polished performance I have seen. I am looking forward to seeing them again in two weeks and encourage anyone with an interest in this genre to catch them soon.

Having enjoyed Bournemouth’s finest, Metaprism, twice at Bloodstock over the past few years, I was keen to catch them in a more intimate setting and was really looking forward to their set. As the main support on three of the UK Xandria dates, this was a real opportunity for them to make new friends and they received a warm welcome from the Yorkshire crowd. They held nothing back as they blasted into ‘Reload’ and ‘Resistance’, before unveiling ‘Unleash the Fire’ for only its second ever airing.

Joey Draper has settled well into the band, and his harsh vocals juxtapose well with Theresa’s clean vocals giving a fresh modern edge to their melodic yet aggressive outpourings. The set gathered momentum with ‘Nebula’ (the stand out track for me) and older track ‘Lost in the Dark’, but all too soon, the band were leaving the stage to mingle with the crowd, posing for photos and looking toward to Xandria. They won some new fans tonight with an outstanding performance and it is clear that Metaprism are a band on the rise.

And so it was time for the main event, as the crowd gathered in front of the stage, eagerly anticipating tonight’s close encounter with the German symphonic metal troupe. The band took to the stage one at a time, before opening with ‘Where the Heart is Home’ from latest release ‘Theater of Dimensions’ followed by ‘Unembraced’, and it was clear that both the band and the crowd were enjoying things. The band acknowledged that they have had a difficult few months, and pointed out that it was a Saturday night, and invited the crowd to join them drinking and partying.

‘Call of Destiny’ and ‘Euphoria’ kept things going before ballad ‘Forsaken Love’ brought about a change in pace and highlighted how powerful Aeva’s voice is, and how well her soprano style and lively personality suits the Xandria material. Long term favourite ‘Ravenheart’ got the crowd bouncing and singing along before Aeva took time out to tell a story of a girl who went to a Xandria show a few years ago not really knowing what to expect and was completely blown away by the show, and this show inspired the girl to go on and become a metal singer. Of course the girl in question was Aeva much to the crowd’s delight before ‘Come with Me’.

The tracks came thick and fast with every band members in a playful mood, covering all of the stage as a party atmosphere developed in the venue. ‘We are Murderers (We All)’ was ironically introduced as a “cheesy love ballad” before’ Voyage of the Fallen’ kept up the momentum.

There was then another brief pause for Aeva to thank the crowd for the warm reception, saying that she had brought an umbrella in case people threw “vegetables or rotten eggs” at her! ‘Cursed’ brought the main set to a close, prompting lots of jumping up and down, both on and off the stage.

The encore consisted of ‘Burn Me’ and ‘Valentine’ bringing the set to a close with a bang as those videoing the show had their phones playfully taken off them by the band for some up close and personal footage before handing them back.

Xandria are all accomplished musicians and it would be unfair to single out any particular member but I found myself wondering why Aeva had fitted in so well, and had been so well accepted by the crowd. It struck me that she is not just a stunning vocalist, but she has much more of a ‘metal’ attitude than most of her peers, some of whom can appear a little aloof, fist bumping the front row and head banging furiously as she runs round the stage.

Xandria have been going through a tough time, and there is probably more to come as they look to recruit a permanent vocalist and move forward, but the response from the gathered faithful tonight should give them more than enough motivation and resilience to come out of this all the stronger.

(Review and Photos Andy Pountney)