The dreaded curse of the M62 morphed my usual 50 minute transition across the Pennines into a colossal 3 hour trip and subsequently ensured I missed the first 2 bands on the Female Metal Voices touring package. News also started trickling through on social media of a venue change for the gig tonight, from ‘The Factory’ to the larger more interestingly named Bread Shed.

On walking through the venue doors I was a little confused as to why the venue had been upgraded in size, I had assumed it was to cater for a swelling crowd, yet when I arrived there must have been no more than 100 in the crowd with vast amounts of the floor remaining unloved. As I approached the stage I was able to draw on new conclusions that the change must have been to accommodate the 5 bands and the mass of equipment that followed them. The crowd didn’t visibly grow throughout the evening but I will say that the gathering that was in attendance was respectful and appreciative and on reflection, in for a hell of a night.

Unfortunately, due to the travelling woes, I missed out on the opening bands, Kassogtha and Lost In Grey, both of whom I had been keen to catch so I will definitely have to pencil them in for tickets the next time they grace a town nearby.

I managed to secure a good vantage point and it wasn’t long before Forever Still took to the stage. I was excited to grab these guys live as I had previously had the pleasure of reviewing their impressive ‘Breathe In Colours’ and I was not disappointed.

The Danish trio appeared on stage and were being held back by the sound desk like greyhounds waiting for the hare, obviously getting frustrated as each moment passed. They got the nod from the desk and they launched into their streamlined set. The set was punchy and full of energy as the band filled the stage with ease, and managed to interact with each angle of the crowd. The voice of Maja Shining was angelic throughout, although it did verge on the cusp of shouty and uncontrollable at just a couple of brief moments in the set before she managed to pull it back into a smooth and haunting exhibition.

The set was over far too quickly for the majority of the crowd and this was audible in the crowds response when it was announced that there was just one more song. This, for me, was an excellent start to my evening, and I will be sure to catch these Danes on their return to our isle.

As the stage was stripped back, Sirenia strode out in front of the assembly and the anticipation for these Norwegians was palpable. They launched into ‘in Styx Embrace’ and the Bread Shed flock showed the first signs of movement, with multiple versions of head banging exploding throughout. The band followed on with powerful renditions from ‘Dim Days Of Dolor’ with the title track and then ‘Treasure N’ Treason’, before unleashing a duo off the new album, ‘Arcane Astral Aeons’, in the form of ‘Queen Of Lies’ and ‘Into The Night’. The band constantly intertwined with each other on board the well sized stage, and Michael Brush was an absolute warrior on the kit, creating a genuine steel back bone on which the live Sirenia soul was stitched. Zoldans vocals were majestic and mesmerising, powerful yet delicate in equal measures. The set was closed with an absolutely mesmerising ‘The Other Side’ and a dominant and muscular ‘The Path To Decay’. This had been a masterclass in the art of authoritative crushing symphonic metal and how these guys haven’t been draped in more success, rising through the ranks to sit alongside the likes of Epica is beyond me.

The shields were then unveiled and the air of anticipation got turned up to 10 as we knew that the Viking tinged legends that are Leaves Eyes were about to entertain. The set was constructed around a wide cross section of the bands history, including single facets from ‘King Of Kings’, ‘Njord’, ‘Symphonies Of The Night’ and ‘Vinland Saga’. The set was, as would be expected, top heavy with a trio from the latest opus, ‘Sign Of The Dragon Head’, and the new EP, Black Butterfly, even got an airing.

Alexander Krull and Elina Siirala worked effortlessly together to create a mesmerising interaction which crafted a graceful and unforced partnership; Krulls vocals were colossal and immense with Siiralas vocals ranging from near operatic to angelic and tantalising. The strings were precise and meticulous and the drums were beaten into near submission without a moments hiatus throughout the set.

A massive dose of vigour and fun had been brought across to our shores tonight, the whole event created a fun and party vibe on which the whole band seemed to feed. As the set progressed each member seemed to be relaxing into it more and becoming accustomed to the merriment.

Highlights of the evening had to be ‘My Destiny’, the Leaves Eyes classic (to cite Krulls term), and the new EP, the bands “Yule Festival gift to us” (to quote yet again) ‘Black Butterfly’, which even saw Siirala adorn a new outfit and a black sparkly Venetian style masquerade mask, both tracks spat out with pure passion and verve that they ordered the crowd to follow suit and go maniacal

An encore of ‘Blazing Waters’ was welcomed raucously by the congregate, and this also afforded Krull to enter the fray once more, this time garnishing a full Viking Warrior ensemble, complete with steel sword which he needed to control to within an inch of ‘having someones eye out’

A pure triumph of an evening from 2 behemoths, heavyweights of their genre, bolstered by some true legends in waiting. An absolute conquest

Review and Photos Phil Pountney