Photos by Valkyrian Music and David Taylor Photography
By Ashley Bailey
I’ve often found female fronted alternative rock to be quite a wildcard genre, and as I hadn’t previously seen the openers of Valkyrian Music's show at The Lamp - Faraday Concept I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I was pleasantly surprised by how raw and edgy their set was, combining the usual elements of alt rock (catchy riffs, melodic hooks and a versatile vocalist) with genres such as gothic rock. Whilst they aren’t exactly a gothic rock band they do share some of that genre’s characteristics; simple dirgelike guitar riffs, dark themes which evoke a sense of Romanticism and a general ominous atmosphere.
The initial songs in their set blended together somewhat the second half of the set was heavier and progressive; with more technical melodic solos and hard rock and metal based riffs from guitarist Ollie. Songs like Time showcased the abilities of each of the members, opening with an intense clash of cymbals from Rich and featured addictive bass runs from Alan. Game of Fields stands as my favourite song; more of a metal based composition it came across an epic of sorts, with a spoken word section by vocalist Samantha that felt like a call to arms.
Considering how poorly attended the gig was, a combination of rain and a "I'll stay at home and wank mentality" that permeates Hull; Samantha came across as very charismatic and displayed a good level of crowd interaction. Cracking jokes with the audience (“Should not have worn my heels, my feet hurt!” being a good example), especially during unexpected waiting times is one of those little things that can make or break a gig. Her vocal style was unexpectedly harsh with a pleasant edge, not too dissimilar to Darzamat’s Nera Górecka. I was particularly impressed with their cover of Breaking Benjamin’s Wish I May, which fit the band’s style perfectly and much preferred Samantha’s singing over Mr Burnley’s original. During the latter songs of the set she employed more operatic vocals – which she managed to pull off perfectly.
For a band which I wouldn’t usually listen to I rather enjoyed Faraday Concept, and the fact that they couldn’t completely be shoehorned into a particular genre. Samantha was definitely the highlight, a lower ranged vocalist in a genre of Hayley Williams clones. Though I did speak to the sound engineer after the gig, and he mentioned how the sound system struggled with her low notes.
Main support for the evening came from symphonic metallers Aonia; one of two bands playing tonight which I last saw previously at Valkyrian Festival. Though they are the quintessential symphonic band, in both sound and ideas, Aonia are unique enough that they don’t come across as hackneyed or clichéd. Their atmospheric and technically proficient set tapped into a typically rich and imaginative mythology of lycanthropes, evil twin sisters of Northern European folklore staples and ancient desecrated kingdoms; the type of fantastical elements explored by bands such as Nightwish.
The quintet are led by front woman Mel, whose vocal style can best be described as lyric soprano. Her powerful vocals are equal parts gentle and haunting, with Mel being able to softly draw the audience into the slower, understated sections of a track; only to blow them away with a single perfectly held note. She made effective use of both operatic vocals and harsher but more traditional singing; which helped to prevent the vocals from becoming too homogenised.
Aonia displayed a wide array of influences throughout their set; from the thrash riffs of The Gift of the Curse to City of Shadows, which was clearly influenced by progressive metal and NWOBHM (in fact the latter song is opened with a mysterious bass riff, not to dissimilar to the one featured in Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s bridge section). The lengthy guitar solos (James and Paul) never felt tacked on or like overly pretentious lesson in technicality, often progressive enough to stay fresh with melodic breaks in songs like Down the Rabbit Hole. As well as vocal duties Mel also performed on keyboard (as their usual keyboardist wasn’t there), though only during select songs; the fact their set wasn’t too keyboard heavy helped to make it all the more noticeable and effective.
I found Aonia to be the type of band whose performance one can immerse themselves in even regardless of how much of a fan you are. The riffs are air guitar inducing and the drumbeats are often simple, fast and head bobbing (like the pre-solo in Rabbit Hole). The chorus in Prophecy of the Fallen Kingdom has the dubious distinction of being perhaps the second most infectious chorus ever, next to that fucking Call Me Maybe song; and proves that even the wordiest of choruses can work.
Now onto the headliners. I have to admit I was initially reserved about watching Ziyos’s set; the last time I saw them was back in November, with their original vocalist. In my mind Malice would be very hard to replace; he carried himself with an effective faux aggression, and captivated the crowd by perorating on dark realities in a uniquely Zalgo esque manner. It also helped that he had the appearance of Kate Winslet channelling Pennywise the Clown. So the bar was set higher than Pete Doherty on a night out.
The most vital thing for me to get across is that Ziyos are a revitalised band, and are headed in a completely new and exciting direction; gone is the corpse paint, baseball bats and theatrics. Ziyos’ style is now more in line with NWOBHM, with the down-tuned groove/thrash inspired riffs replaced by galloping, guitar harmonies and powerful multioctave vocals.
Lewis was arguably the draw, a singer who is part Bruce Dickinson and part Matt Barlow, with shades of John Comeau. He captured the commanding god-like presence of the quaint essential metal front man; causally strolling off stage to talk to the audience during the solo section of the angry ballad of remembrance - No Honor for the Fallen. The very moment he came on stage he immediate caught my attention with his powerful yet rough around the edges vocal style; the best example of this was their cover of Maiden’s Hallowed Be Thy Name, with Lewis admirably attempting to emulate Dickinson’s quasi-operatic tenor vocals but not quite capturing the raw emotion of that song.
Instrumentally Ziyos are mindblowing, with extremely fast shred solos, harmonies, jarring riffs, precise drumbeats and prominent bass. Watching their performance was like watching a best of classic metal documentary, with very Priest, Angel Witch and Iron Maiden inspired melodies. The heavier more ferocious songs came across as sounding like something from the Burnt Offerings and Dark Saga eras of Iced Earth, which worked well with their older songs such as Scars and Blood of the Aggressor. My favourite had to be Ascension, an angsty anthem with a RAM esque vocal performance and pre-solo drum fills that caused me to briefly believe Matt was going to start playing Painkiller.
It isn’t often that a band are capable of circumventing and surpassing your expectations to deliver a set that leaves you in complete awe. I arrived at the gig with significant doubt in my mind as to whether Lewis could live up to Malice, and left the venue pleasantly surprised, nay, absolutely dumbstruck. The small but loyal crowd clearly demonstrated similar affection. Rarely do you get the chance to see a young band that is so utterly old-school they could have easily quantum leaped from the eighties. With this new found energy and musical direction, I envision massive things in Ziyos’ future; the fact that they played the Belgium all-dayer Wizzfest earlier in the year should be a testament to this.