Dames Of Darkness 2015: Live Review

The Dames of Darkness festival is a very special event, indeed. In a genre as beloved as female-fronted metal, the audience is just as devoted and loyal as your Beliebers and Directioners (and just as vocal on social media given the chance!) with guests travelling across the country and over the seas to attend. The lower-scale equivalent of Belgium’s iconic Metal Female Voices Fest has been running for half the time but has steadily acquired a stellar reputation. Marking the festival’s fifth year, Bilston opened it’s arms to the bunch of regular devotees and a few new faces (mine included!) for a full weekend of symphonic celebration.

The Fall Of Eve & Edenfall opened each day and didn’t take that honour for granted; Scotland’s The Fall Of Eve naming Dames of Darkness as their first ever live performance, no less. Whilst the nerves were apparent, Edenfall delivered a stunning set of lengthy, dark arrangements with ‘Thistle’s Cairn’ proving to be a highlight whilst Scotland’s newbies hammered through some already-massive sounding anthems such as ‘Calls From The Horizon’, new single ‘Destiny’ and ‘Original Sin’.

Midlands regular’s Aonia presented a mix of NWOBHM topped with, you guessed it, some soprano vocals. Not just one pair of lungs though, these guys doubled up the dosage. Whilst Melissa’s strength is her crowd interaction and presence, her vocal lines were beautifully adorned by Jo’s own voice. Taking on an Iron Maiden tune, ‘Man On The Edge’ proved to be a brilliant homage to Blaze Bayley who had recently headlined the bands own festival.

Both days offered some brilliant standout performances early on in the day. Saturday saw an ocean of fans wearing Rainover t-shirts and standing firmly at the front, awaiting their set. They delivered without fault, too, surely making many more fans in the process. Alike on their debut, ‘Cycles’ stands out as a gorgeous goth-rock statement whilst a bouncy untitled new track gave the audience plenty to look forward to on album two. Sunday presented the band making waves on the scene, enkElination fronted by the stunning Finn Elina. The band gave a set displaying their expertise on how to pull off a great goth-rock tune, but it’s when the tempo dropped for latest single ‘Last Time Together’, that they really lived up to their hype.

Putting the M word firmly back in Female Fronted Metal, Insuna relied more on the band delivery than orchestral backdrops. AK lead from the front with her raw, passionate vocals and infectious energy and asked for the crowd to join her in a united headbang, to which they were more than happy to oblige. ‘Beyond The Hollow’ gave one of the best choruses of the entire weekend as it shone from amongst the often brutal riffs.

House-band Apparition featuring event organised David Homer (massive cheers for the incredible hard work he put into this weekend!) made the most of their half an hour, culminating in a beautiful performance of ‘Frozen Roses’ which displayed what a great vocalist Fiona Creaby is and how welcome her return to the band has been. Fellow scene regulars Winter In Eden were a little less fortunate on the vocals front as their singer Vicky had to call in sick. Fear not though, Rainover’s Andrea returned to the stage to help out and received another very warm response in return, whilst Aonia’s Melissa Adams also took the time to learn an impressive four tracks in order to help pull off a slightly shorter set with gusto. Throw in a guest slot from Bexie James and an invigorating instrumental and you really did get the feeling that you saw something special from the British metallers.

Perhaps falling in line under the headliners, the majority of bands harnessed an epic orchestra-led sound, but two bands gave something a little different. Whilst Skarlett Riot were probably more suited to a pop-punk festival, their performance was killer and through the crowd didn’t oblige the request for some mosh pits, the band were given a great reception and only benefited from standing out from the bunch. Likewise, Saturday’s Bad Pollyanna retained the goth element but teamed it with some electronic undertones. A confident standout from the whole weekend, the four-piece were spearheaded by the force that is Olivia Hyde. Equal parts ferocious (‘Monstrous Child’) and inviting (‘Hollow’), she took a moment to commend the crowd on celebrating who they are (‘Define Me’) and advised them to listen to the angel on their shoulder every now and again (‘Create Me’).

Doom influenced goth was given an airing by Maltese guests Weeping Silence. ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ sounds as dramatic live as it does on record, as does ‘The Search Within’. Diane Camenzuli gives a refreshing makeover to the tunes and, though it’d be unfair to compare the two versions, all that matters is that Diane is clearly a wonderful and alluring chanteuse that is more than capable of leading the band forth on new record ‘Opus IV Oblivion’. Lifting the doom with their philharmonic touch was Saturday’s penultimate act Whyzdom. Great old songs mixed with new to offer up a magnificent set from the French group – namely ‘While The Witches Burn’ from their latest record and the classic ‘Atlantis’. Clearly as enthused as the crowd, Marie Rouyer displayed an incredible range in her vocals as she shifted from operatic highs to growling lows whilst band-leader Vynce looked elated from start to finish.

Sunday’s penultimate band were one of the reasons to get a ticket this year. On their first trip to the UK, Greece’s Enemy Of Reality stand head and shoulders above their peers. As a band promoting their first opus, they already sound like masters of the genre. Ferocious and intense guitar work from Steelianos fought against the mystical keys by Marianthe and, not to be outdone, vocalist Iliana towers above it all with her immense voice. If anything, the one thing to take away from Dames of Darkness this year is the power behind this lady’s vocals – yes it sounds great on record, but believe me, until you’ve seen her smash the roof on ‘My Own Master’ and ‘Needle Bites’, you have yet to fully comprehend the force that is Enemy of Reality.

Norway’s Sirenia dedicated their set to their new record, performing a handful of tracks including opener ‘Serpent, the grandiose ‘Sons Of The North’ and new single ‘Once My Light’ which, by the way, sounds even better live. It wasn’t a barrage of new material though, they happily played through favourites ‘My Mind’s Eye’ and ‘Lost In Life’, as well as epic arrangements from their last record, notably the enormous ‘Seven Windows Weep’. Ailyn gave a beautiful mix of mystique and stage prowess as she grinned from ear to ear at the receptive crowd.

Just as the openers didn’t take their spot for granted, nor did headliners Leaves’ Eyes. Giving one of their most memorable performances, they thrived on the atmosphere of headlining a festival dedicated to their genre. ‘Halvdan The Black’ gave a taste of the new record ‘King of Kings’ whilst classics such as ‘Elegy’, ‘My Destiny’ and ‘Take The Devil In Me’ gave the fans more than enough to go crazy for. Determined to make the finale as grand as it deserved to be, they were welcomed onstage for three (!) encores as they ended with the epic ‘Froya’s Theme’. It was a fitting end – dramatic, anthemic and celebratory – and was nothing less than Dave Homer’s sensational festival deserved. Here’s to 2016 and yet another spurt of growth for a very special British festival.

Words: Simon McMurdo


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