The 7th of July was the big day for the 8 (audience / jury) winners of the 4 preliminaries. In March and April 18 bands battled in the UK, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands for a slot in the European Final. Now the reward for the two winners (again audience and jury) is a slot at FemME 2019 that will be held 11-13 October in the same venue as the European Final; The Box (Hilvarenbeek).
Already quite early (11am) all bands were present at the venue. As usual, a draw determined the playing sequence. After that, the build-up of the common back-line started. At each venue the bands are responsible for organizing the equipment. This is part of the ‘process’ of the Battles. It forces the bands to cooperate and to communicate upfront to arrange it. With that, they also start to build a network that might be helpful later in their development. All went quite smoothly and the schedule was not a moment in danger. Or better, all was finished early because of the well structured bands and technical support of the venue.
Also quite early the first visitors were present at the little place in front of the venue. It was nice to see familiar faces, also from abroad, that made it to support the bands.
Meridian4 jury winner of the Belgium Preliminary opened the battle at 2pm. A symphonic / progressive metal band from Belgium that’s fits quite well in the perception of the sound female metal would have. Often the orchestrations are from a backing track. Meridian4 supports it with a keyboard player. With 2 guitarists this quite relevant element in metal was not forgotten. Singer Caro Brecht supported in the last song on keytar. A good opening set, however the enthusiasm and power at the preliminary was missing a bit.
We stayed in Belgium with Cathubodua, audience winner in Belgium. We missed the violin on stage that was there at the preliminary. Later, the band announced that she had left the band. The songs were not changed however the delivery seemed to be a bit more powerful. The stage setup and outfit still flirts with Pagan, although it’s not really incorporated in their show. Singer Sara Vanderheyden still uses a chalice to drink, but that’s all.
The draw created a second block. Opener of the UK block was Secrets of Mariana from Birmingham, audience winner of the UK preliminary. They were new for me, like for most in the audience. They combining catchy riffs, beefy drum tones and a voice (Amy Wyatt) that moves effortlessly between aggressive screams to soft melodies. A pleasant surprise with their vibrant and refreshing sound.
Likewise new was the ‘youngest’ band on stage; Pallas Athena from Manchester, jury winner of the UK battle. Several times, singer Vickie Harley mentioned to be surprised and overwhelmed being here. Pallas Athena offers progressive symphonic metal band in an atmospheric stage performance. They redecorated the stage with loads of candles and the guitarist and bass player appeared in monk’s pie. It was Sunday, so we could have a mass. It was an interesting fresh mix of symphonic metal with elements of extreme metal. A bit more variety could help to keep the attention a bit better. Nevertheless a good set.
Next up was UK Based (London) Eight Lives Down. Fun thing is, it’s a band without a British member. The Singer Aliki Katriou has Greek / New Zealand roots, the bass player is Polish, the guitarist is a French Man in the UK and a Brazilian baterista. They surprised at the German preliminary to be the audience winner. The music fits to the 1000 faces of Aliki and because of that very hard to classify. It’s authentic and refreshing. Maybe the blend of cultures and background combined with the love for music is debet.
Something completely different is Toxic Army from Spain. They were in the Box before and won the jury vote at the Dutch Battle. The front is formed by three very expressive ladies; singer Laura Galiano (aka Laura Diablo), a guitarist and bass player. A male drummer (in the back) completed this band. The stage performance was again very dynamic. The Industrial, techno beat driven metal was again impressive.
The schedule was never in danger, so exactly 8pm Swiss Xordia hit the stage. They were jury winner of the German Preliminary. They added some special effects to their show with additional lights and smoke. The symphonic metal is very dynamic and the big stage allowed moving around. Singer Alyn Bühler with her dreadlocks was definitely keeping the attention by her active performance.
Dutch Pandora’s Key, audience winner, was closing the long day. This time singer Kelly Thans was not struggling with her voice and that made a difference. Especially with the emotional ballad. The violin was again discriminating in sound. The classic ’female’ symphonic metal got again impact because of all the emotion that is included. A duet with a male guest vocalist completed the show.
After all the musical highlights it was waiting for the moment of truth. The audience had to vote. Also the band members were allowed to vote, only they were not allowed to vote their own band. And also important, the jury had to decide. A great compliment to all bands. The quality of the bands, the variance in music styles, the friendliness and the willingness to work together even when being in competition makes the battles every time a great experience. Unfortunately only two can go to FemME in October. As organizer I’m biased and involved, and due to that I’m not allowed to vote and I’m not part of the jury. But still I do have my preferences. My preference Eight Lives Down was audience second, however the audience voted Pandora’s Key as their number one. The Jury was asked, as always, to bring in two names. Runner-up for the jury was Toxic Army and jury winner was decided Cathubodua.
A great day ended. Apologies to the band members as just the name of the singer is mentioned. They are the backbone without the singer could not perform. But the text is too limited to mention all. Again a big thank you for the great bands for their investment for participation, the venue for hosting this event and the audience from all over Europe for their support.
Full set Photos: Meridian4, Cathubodua, Secrets of Mariana, Pallas Athena, Eight Lives Down, Toxic Army, Xordia and Pandora’s Key.