Live Review: Apocalyptica and Epica – Bristol

Live Review: Apocalyptica and Epica - O2 Academy, Bristol
30th January 2023
Support: Wheel
Words: Richard Oliver
Photos: Rich Price

Covid continues to rear its ugly head resulting in tours meant to take place in 2020 are only now taking place. One such tour is The Epic Apocalypse tour featuring Apocalyptica, Epica and Wheel. I have lost count of how many times this tour has had to be postponed and rescheduled but FINALLY in January 2023 we got the UK leg of this mammoth tour with the bands performing at the 02 Academy in Bristol in the first show of this UK run.

Opening up the evening were Finnish progressive metallers Wheel. Definitely the odd band out on this line up but this did not deter Wheel who smashed through a short but sharp set of progressive goodness. The band walked out on stage to a sparse crowd (thanks to the venue only opening the doors ten minutes before the band hit the stage) but the venue soon filled up. The audience generally weren’t quite sure what to make of Wheel but their Tool-esque blend of progressive sounds, odd time signatures and raw emotion definitely won over a chunk of the crowd. The band played with absolute precision with the charged and passionate vocals of frontman James Lascelles and the excellent drumming of Santeri Saksala ensuring songs such as Blood Drinker, Vultures and Wheel got the evening off to a cracking start.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

The two co-headlining bands have been alternating who gets to finish the show and tonight Epica landed the second slot of the show. It had been a very long time (over 15 years) since I had last seen the band perform and the band certainly lived up to their name.

The band had a multi-tiered stage set with big screens playing videos and effects and a retina burning light show. The band themselves were also a ball of energy with constant movement across the different levels of the stage amongst the band members with keyboard player Coen Jannsen the most animated of the band aided by his moving and spinning keyboard rig, deploying his curved keytar and also plenty of jumps, dad dancing and playfulness with the other members of the band. Guitarist Mark Jansen offered up chunky riffage and ferocious growls whilst lead guitarist Isaac Delahaye ripped out some slick and stunning solos but the star of the show is of course the incredible Simone Simons and her jaw dropping classically trained voice.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

The set managed to showcase her incredible range and when Simone sang all eyes in the audience were firmly on her. One thing that makes Epica stand out to me amongst the multitude of symphonic metal bands out there is that they don’t try and tone down the metal aspect of their sound. In fact they amplify it as some of the songs in the set were as equally crushing and ferocious as they were epic and grandiose with The Obsessive Devotion being the heaviest song of the whole night. A good chunk of the band's set was lifted from the Omega album which this tour was originally meant to be in support of back in 2020. Fan favourites such as Cry For The Moon, Beyond The Matrix and Consign To Oblivion got enthusiastic responses from the audience and another highlight was The Final Lullaby off the band’s recent collaborative E.P. The Alchemy Project.

Epica brought a fun-filled, energetic and impressive set and felt like the bonafide headliners of the show and it was just a question of how Apocalyptica were going to follow it up.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

After a frenzied dismantling of the Epica stage set and an equally frenzied assembling of the Apocalyptica set up, the Finnish quartet arrived on stage. They also had the big screen with accompanying film footage and animations to the music as well as one of the biggest drumsets I’ve seen on stage for a good while. This was a set that demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of Apocalyptica and it was a real mixed bag of a show.

There is no denying that Apocalyptica are absolutely incredible musicians and their unique style of performing metal on cellos has to be applauded. This musicianship was demonstrated to full effect in the instrumental songs such as Grace, En Route To Mayhem and the absolutely stunning Rise which demonstrated not only the bands musical abilities but their compositional skills.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

The parts of the set that didn’t really work for me were the songs where they were joined by singer Franky Perez as these were more in an American alternative rock style and they basically sounded like any banal radio friendly rock band out there with Franky’s vocals being very much in that US alt-rock style.

The obligatory covers got the biggest cheers from the crowd with a couple of Metallica renditions such as Nothing Else Matters and Seek And Destroy getting the crowd singing along though the most furious performance came from the band’s cover of the early Sepultura death/thrash tune Inquisition Symphony which the band played with a blinding intensity. Despite wielding large cellos, the trio of Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen and Perttu Kivilaakso were very animated on-stage with Perttu in particular throwing himself and cello around the stage.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

Drummer Mikko Sirén also had his work cut out not only navigating himself around the gargantuan drum kit (and to be fair it wasn’t just for show with Mikko using all of it throughout the set) as well as electronic percussion, samples and some keyboards. The kit was so huge that at one point both Mikko and Franky were playing on it together. Being a band performing classical instruments the band ended the set with a classical cover and it was the mighty In The Hall Of The Mountain King that got the Apocalyptica treatment.

After all the postponements it was joyous to finally see this show hit UK shores and it was a night of incredible musicianship and performances though Epica were the ones who should have brought the show to a close being far more a natural headlining act.

Photo Credit: Rich Price Photography

All photo credits: Rich Price Photography

For all the latest news, reviews, interviews across the heavy metal spectrum follow THE RAZORS'S EDGE on facebook, twitter and instagram.