Dames Of Darkness is a UK festival featuring only female fronted rock and Metal bands capitalising on the rise of this Metal sub-genre in Europe and now finally getting some attention in the UK.
This was the second time it had been held in The Robin 2 in Bilston which is a really nice large club venue. I was looking forward to the day but slightly worried at spending a whole day in a nightclub, it could get messy!
There was already a healthy crowd in attendance for the first band of the day, Stafford's Divided We Fall. A five piece symphonic Metal band they came out determined to get the festival up and running in good style and worked really hard at it. They were full of energy and commitment but despite the odd inspired moment they came over as rather workmanlike and lacking any really dynamic songs.
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They got a warm reaction from a friendly crowd but I think they are a work in progress and with more experience may turn into something interesting.
Next up were the intriguingly named Incarnadine Coven from Reading. Another five piece with symphonic metal leanings they had a bit more imagination to what they were doing with some horror film atmospherics and unusual use of vocal styles to help them stand out. Many of the crowd watched the set with baited breath as lead singer Rebecca Cooch was obviously heavily pregnant and we all hoped she wouldn't get too excited and produce a baby of darkness during their set.
After a promising start the set flagged a bit towards the end and to me the band could do with thinking some more about the placement of songs and pacing. However they were an interesting addition to the festival and received another warm reception. No births were recorded during the day either.
When you're at these kind of small festivals you're never quite sure what you're going to come across at the lower end of the bill. Sheffield's Dyonisis weren't known to anyone I spoke to but they turned out to be a real find. Performing as a four piece with two singers, a bassist and a guitar player they used samples and drum machines instead of a drummer and fused rock and trip-hop. You would think they wouldn't have fit at this festival but they went down a storm with their atmospheric, groovy songs with strong rhythms and hooklines.
Visually with one singer with a shaved head(recently done for charity) and one who was tall, slim, pretty and blond it seemed like we were watching a band fronted by Sinead O'Connor and Gwyneth Paltrow. The look didn't matter though as the impassioned vocals of Nel Cave backed with the haunting voice of Louisa Welby, some really tasteful guitar from Tom Chaffer and Marcus Cave's throbbing bass lines won over the crowd easily.
They got a huge and genuine ovation at the end of their set. I could have done with some more of Ms Welby's amazing vocals but overall some good songs and a great overall performance. I love discovering new bands in this way.
Following such a successful performance is always a challenge and today that fell to Apparition, in many ways the host of this festival as it was organised by founder member and bass player David Homer. Apparition are a project which has been around for some years and featured many different members, today vocals were by the lovely Grace Meridian.
I knew many people who know this band well and were looking forward to the show but I have to say that I just didn't get what the excitement was about. The songs didn't seem to be anything memorable to me and I couldn't really find any star quality in the set anywhere outside of the singers' good looks. They sounded like dozens of other female fronted Metal bands and I couldn't find anything in their music which made them stand out.
They ended with a surprise though as four extra female singers joined the band on stage for a shambolic version of The Scorpions' 'Rock You Like A Hurricane'. One of those festival things where the people on stage seem to enjoy it more than the audience. Overall Apparition seemed to go down very well though and maybe they have something I'm missing. Apologies to the organiser of this excellent festival though as I'm not a fan of his band.
Fresh from her guest appearance with Apparition, singer Karolina Pacan returned to the stage with the first of the day's international acts Skeptical Minds from Belgium. They are a four piece band who do a sort of electronic/industrial/metal mixture and they turned out to be a lot of fun. The sound reminded me of White Zombie in places, bass heavy and with a nice groove. Ms Pacan herself turned out to be a real livewire and simply never stopped working the crowd.
If she wasn't getting them to shout "hey" she was asking them to clap along or wave their hands in the air or sing along or something. You can have too much of a good thing and personally I could have done with a break from all the participation after a while but it seemed to have the desired effect and they went down really well with an enthusiastic crowd. I'm not sure how many great songs I heard but will check out the albums as I enjoyed the set.
Greek singer Maxi Nil is best known for her work with Visions Of Atlantis but with that part of her career behind her now she has formed a new band called Jaded Star and has chosen this festival as the location for their first ever show. While this is a nice coup for the organisers the band's first album hasn't been released yet so it meant a set of unfamiliar material to put in front of the audience.
The band were extremely tight and professional and are obviously all experienced performers used to stages as big as this or bigger. Ms Nil herself is an engaging front woman and overall the crowd seemed to warm to the band and enjoy their set. As for me however I didn't really hear anything special or different in the songs. The style was more of a melodic metal than a symphonic one and the playing and singing was fine but on first listen I couldn't find anything to get excited about. Maybe the album will change my mind.
It was time for things to step up a gear now with the arrival on stage of Germany's Xandria. They have been around for a long time now and are well known but have never quite broken through partly because they seem to keep changing singers giving them an identity problem in the singer dominated female fronted genre.
Touring in support of their new album 'Sacrificium' which is the first to feature Dutch soprano Dianne van Giersbergen they enter the stage in confident, almost arrogant mood. These musicians are an experienced, well polished unit and despite more than half of the songs in the set coming from the new album they managed to please their many fans here.
Their sound these days is of an almost commercial symphonic metal, dominated by melodies and hooklines, riffs and harmonies, they are as happy to include a snappy chorus and a pleasing groove as they are an epic guitar solo or huge swathes of keyboards. The new singer comes across as already completely at home with her new bandmates and looking resplendent in her Egyptian style finery she covers every inch of the stage and flashes her eyes at everyone in the room.
Vocally she sings smoothly in the melodic parts and effortlessly switches to her operatic soprano where required but if I'm honest her voice leaves me cold. Technically she's very good but I don't really enjoy her style that much so overall while I quite enjoyed the set I couldn't fully embrace the display although most around me did. After an encore of old favourite 'Valentine' they exited the stage leaving a mass of happy fans behind.
In general the day had run pretty smoothly but came unstuck a little now as headliners Stream Of Passion were held up entering the stage by a raffle in aid of a cancer charity. It's a worthy cause but I think they could have made the draw earlier rather than have their main act arrive on stage at 11.25pm after a not very rock and roll half hour delay.
Whatever frustration Stream Of Passion felt at the delay was soon chanelled into their performance. Riding on a high right now after the successful release of their new crowdfunded album 'A War Of Our Own' the Dutch symphonic metallers showed why they are a top live act, totally dominating the stage and for me the festival.
Huge amounts of energy come burning off the stage at you as every one of the six members puts their heart and soul into the performance. No matter how much they seem to fly around the stage they never seem to miss a beat though, whether playing the complex progressive metal of 'Monster' or the straight ahead metal sections of 'Collide'.
In a day dedicated to female singers it is fitting that the last band of the day features the best vocal performance of all. Mexican Marcela Bovio has always had a fabulous voice but she is in amazing form right now and whether she is sending shivers down your spine on the atmospheric 'For You', sounding exotic and sexy in her native tongue in 'Delirio' or soaring ever higher and more powerfully on 'Street Spirit' she is simply imperious tonight, totally in control of everything she does.
Special mention has to be made of main set closer 'Lost' which has become an epic, emotional Metal masterpiece to my ears at recent shows and of course 'This Endless Night' which is now their traditional last song and allows the crowd to join with the band in celebration to end a great show. Despite the late finish the majority of the crowd had stayed to see the headliners finish the set and a huge ovation to such a performance was a fitting end to a great day.
I really enjoyed my first visit to Dames Of Darkness. It's a well run, friendly little festival and I look forward to seeing what line up they come up with next year.