Apocalyptica & Epica @ Academy, Manchester

Out on the road again for another gig and back to one of the most prolific venues in Manchester, the Academy. This gig is years in the making. This co-headline show was shared between two of the most beloved bands in the symphonic metal genre, Epica and Apocalyptica.

I have seen both of them before, but man this was a special night nonetheless with both bands bringing their A-game and doing everything to send the crowd home happy. Manchester Academy is an excellent venue for gigs like that, with plenty of open space to fit a large group in and a stellar sound system to help that sound carry. Looking at the set times, it caught me off guard that Apocalypica would be closing out the night, however, on second thought this was not such a bad thing, it was simply something that surprised me upon entry to the venue. As the crowd started filtering in the night was about to begin.

Opening things up was Helsinki-based prog rockers, Wheel. I was immediately impressed by them. I was captivated by the atmosphere and tone they brought to the table. A marvellous display of riffs, rhythm and rock. Their music was ethereal and otherworldly, it grabbed my attention and I just got lost in their music. Their command of the stage was only matched by their performance. I really enjoyed their slick style of progressive doom metal with complex and intricate drum work. The drums were what pushed these guys over the top for me. The mix of dynamic drum patterns caught my ear in such an interesting way. Then you have the excellent guitar and bass work that was so cleverly woven into the drum patterns, making for interesting songs to listen to and get lost in. The band were clearly having a blast on the stage, even though they kept crowd communication to a minimum when they did speak up they clearly had a lot of enthusiasm for being in the UK. Their music was just so engrossing and with the wonderful sound mixing that showed off every member really clearly, it really did feel like a great warm-up for the night to come.

The time had come for the mighty Epica to take the stage. It had been nearly eleven years since I last watched Epica live in concert and I still love this band. Just a quick personal note before moving on, Epica were my late father’s favourite band and the last time I saw them live was with him. So this was a somewhat emotional night for me. Moving on though, they opened up with “Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity” which automatically got the crowd singing and moving. Frontwoman, Simone Simons just oozes charisma from her very being. The way she composes herself on stage is amazing and she has constant control of the audience at all times, truly getting them to eat out of the palm of her hand.

The set was a masterclass in flow and pacing, with every song naturally moving into the next song. Epica was efficient and clinical with their time. They didn’t waste a single moment on stage. Their sound was off the chart. Every element was accounted for and well mixed. The vocals from both Mark Jansen and Simon were well-integrated and you could hear them clear as day. From where I was standing in the crowd the sound was crystal clear. Songs like “The Final Lullaby” and “Beyond The Matrix” were my particular highlights of the set. I think you could just feel the full force of the band shine in those songs particularly.

There were definitely moments where I got quite emotional and I challenge any to hear “Rivers” live and not be an emotional wreck at the end of the song. It was so nice to see the band interact and let their personalities show to the crowd, you can feel their sincerity and that comes out in a big way. Keyboardist, Coen Janssen was a real showman as he had the most freedom to get a little silly. Spinning his keyboard around and running up to the crowd on the barrier. Epica just put on the show of a lifetime and you could tell just by the look on their faces that it meant the world to them. Ending their time on stage with the song “Consign to Oblivion” was a momentous and powerful ending to the set. Honestly, after that it was hard to imagine that there was any more show left, however, the Manchester crowd had way more to come. Epica played their part brilliantly and it was a pleasure to see them live again.

The lights dimmed and it was time for Apocalyptica to take the stage by force. The quartet started things with the atmospheric build-up of “Ashes of the Modern World” as the crowd got ready for the classical metal fusion to begin. They’ve always been a really great band to watch live as they have that unique mix of genre and also performance style. The mix of their own hits and their instrumental covers of classic metal songs is always a fascinating concert to behold. Armed with their touring vocalist, Franky Perz they push through their setlist in a quick fashion.

Their big hit “I’m Not Jesus” came a lot earlier in the setlist than I initially expected, but I wasn’t complaining and it was a great way to get the crowd on their side. As it is a big sing-a-long anthem. Entering the middle part of the set a special guest joined them on stage, Epica’s Simone Simons joined for the single “Rise Again”. A melancholic ballad that was given so much power by Simone’s vocals. It was a real treat for the crowd to be sure. Apocalyptica is one of those acts that can truly take a song and really morph it into their own vision and taking “Refuse/Reist” by Sepultura hits so hard. I’m a fan of Sepultura anyway but their take on this song is something I highly recommend you seek out. As well as their Metallica covers “Nothing Else Matters” and “Seek And Destroy” which were also on the setlist. The one thing that always mystifies me about them is how they ignite the energy in any crowd.

They can turn it on like a light switch, one moment you’re listening to the sleek beautiful tones of their cellos, the next your getting full-force heavy metal and when you’re a part of that audience you just get caught up in that energy. It was impressive how they managed to navigate all of the big songs in their career in a tight and well-put-together setlist.

An unbelievably good night of symphonic metal, with a unique pro-rock opener. Every band really brought the heat. The crowd was your typical Manchester metal audience. Loud and filled with hype and excitement. For me, I discovered a new band that I’m sure I’ll listen to for a long time in Wheel, I had an emotional experience with Epica, and I had a nostalgic blast with Apocalyptica. What more can you ask for on a Friday night out?


Mick Birchall

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