It’s testament to not only the hardiness, but also the sense of adventure of Belfast’s metal community that a healthy crowd of them braved a truly awful winter’s night to check out a veritable plethora of international, symphonic metal-style bands on Saturday in the Limelight. It’s also gratifying to see four bands which have never been to Belfast, proving that the scene here is thriving.

Because of the tightness of the schedule, New Jersey’s Midnight Eternal begin their set as the room is still filling up. After a dramatic intro they hit the ground running with an immediate brisk pace, which frontwoman Raine Hilai’s soaring, powerful vocals matched perfectly. With a higher pitch than is usually found in symphonic metal, and a black-clad, glamorous look, Hilai soon had the crowd hooked. Musically, they were a tightly cohesive unit, with some terrific group harmonies, tasty guitar licks and enough double kicks to vibrate glasses off tables. And although her voice starts to grate a tiny bit after a while, theirs is a lively and entertaining set (particularly the final song, which sounds oddly like ‘Livin’ On a Prayer’, complete with backing track synths. This is never a bad thing).

Equally as visually striking, but for entirely different reasons is band number two, Null Positiv from Germany. Even before frontwoman Elli Berlin steps onstage, the other band members are an arresting prospect, with their black metal-style face paint and wild hair. Then Berlin arrives, and jaws drop in equal parts astonishment and delight. Of Amazonian proportions, and with breathtaking charisma, she also possesses one of the finest, most versatile voices this reviewer has ever heard. From black metal screams, to death metal growls, to a clean singing voice that’s rather reminiscent of Lacuna Coil’s Christina Scabbia, she is a powerful, mesmerising presence that enchants and beguiles the audience. The band’s sound is further proof that metal is evolving and becoming less rigid genre-wise, as they gleefully combine black, death, industrial and even nu metal. If there is any justice in the world, this band will be huge.

Next up it’s Russia’s Imperial Age, whose six traditionally-garbed members appear at times to be struggling for space on the tiny stage. After a folk-ish metal style intro, they begin belting out some seriously impressive vocals; and well it should be, considering there are three obviously classically trained vocalists up there, in the form of Alexander ‘Aor’ Osimov, Jane ‘Corn’ Odintsova and Anna ‘Kiara’ Moiseeva. When they sing together it’s divine; when it’s just the two women, it’s almost celestial. Musically closest to the pagan metal genre – there’s shades of Arkona and Eluveitie in there - it’s all very epic and dramatic, as though there should be a fight to the death playing out, or some sort of olde worlde ship onstage with them, or the like. A rousing set.

If you always thought symphonic metal should always have synthesisers, you need to check out headliners Therion. Starting off as a death metal band about a hundred years ago, under the steady hand of frontman Christofer Johnsson they eventually evolved to an ever more symphonic metal band, to the point where they have just released their ‘rock opera’ The Beloved Antichrist, which features a hornswoggling three hour running time and almost thirty vocalists. There are moments when you can hear synths – on a backing track, presumably because there’s simply no room to put one onstage – but even without, this is proper symphonic metal with all the frills (literally; check out frontman Thomas Vikstrӧm’s shirt). Honing their sound over the years, Therion have perfectly captured that tricky combination of beauty and brawn that good symphonic metal simply must master.

The audience responds with lusty enthusiasm, headbanging to the heavy and pausing, entranced, during the light; the twin vocals from singers Lori Lewis and Chiara Malvestiti, both ethereal and potent, manage to do the almost impossible and (briefly) silence the rowdy crowd.

Their hour and forty-five minute long set spans their career – well, the symphonic part, anyway. Songs from The Beloved Antichrist are received with alacrity and joy, a reaction made all the more impressive when you consider the album was only released the day before the gig. In fact, the crowd’s enthusiasm never wavers throughout, right through to their traditional set closer ‘To Mega Therion’ from back when it all started.

Suitably melodramatic, theatrical, with moments of immensely satisfying heaviness that sets heads nodding everywhere interspersed with touches of delicate beauty, and with just the tiniest hint of (entirely expected) cheese, Therion really bought the goods tonight for their fans. With the sleet, rain and freezing temperatures outside, Belfast’s hardiest enjoyed a gloriously varied night of metal. And really, who’d want to be doing anything else on a night like that?


Review by Melanie Brehaut

Photography by Darren Mcveigh

Tweets from Darrren Mcveigh @Metalplanet72
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