When Evanescence and Within Temptation first rose to prominence in the early 2000s, it was an unfortunate inevitability that people would try to play the bands off against each other. Never mind that one arose from the down-tuned realms of nu metal and gothic rock and the other symphonic metal; the fact both bands shared a female vocalist was enough to drum up a perceived rivalry between the groups.
Thankfully, this nonsense was never enough to hold them back and a rotating headline slot ensures there's no sense of inflated ego as Evanescence and Within Temptation take their grandiose vision across Europe and the UK. And what a vision it is; a bustling arena greets Evanescence for the first of the night's two headline sets and from the opening notes of Broken Pieces Shine it is readily apparent just how stunning a production the Americans have brought along for the ride.
With a pyramid-like backdrop and more illuminations than a fireworks display in a fairy light showroom, Evanescence are immediately striking. But as ever, even with guitars buzzing and crunching amidst a sea of coloured lights, it's vocalist Amy Lee that remains the band's most potent and captivating force, her titanic pipes towering over just about everything else on-stage.
Shedding the orchestral format of 2018's Synthesis has clearly given Evanescence a sense of bite and urgency that beefs up the heavier aspects of their music; material from last year's The Bitter Truth in particular feels especially hefty, tree-trunk riffs and deep-set grooves throwing back to the band's earliest days while Use My Voice feels so colossal it is already well on the way to being a classic.
The beauty of this set is in its dichotomy however, the heavy numbers being off-set by grandiose piano ballads that inject a sense of vulnerability and intimacy into the arena setting that makes the show feel especially powerful. Lee is captivating the entire time; whether on her knees headbanging or belting out a ballad at the grand piano, she brings a gravitas that puts her firmly in the spotlight.
"If there's one thing I've learned in this difficult time, it's to appreciate the moment we're in," Lee offers to a screaming crowd. It's a lovely sentiment, but a little lost on the sea of phones that continuously appear to film massive hits Going Under, Call Me When You're Sober, My Immortal and career-making closing number Bring Me To Life. Even with Ev's truer vision of the song cutting out rapper Paul McCoy's sections, the echoes of his verses still shine through as the crowd sings along, proving that sometimes nostalgia trumps all.
Maybe it's the gigantic face in the middle of the stage or maybe it's the Churchill speech that introduces them, but there's something decidedly Iron Maiden-like in Within Temptation's latest stage production. Not that it matters, of course - the comparison is entirely complimentary considering just how much has gone into the stagecraft for their arena run, a sense of theatricality matched only by the enormity of the band's sound when things kick off.
Opener Our Solemn Hour showcases WT at their operatic best, Sharon Den Adel's angelic pipes underpinning the sheer grandiosity of everything on-stage. Interestingly, where Evanescence have picked up more classical elements across their career, WT seem to pass them going the opposite direction in live arrangements.
By nature, the relegation of classical elements to backing tapes means the band has a more prominent and powerful feel in the mix, the jets of flame underpinning a driving intensity and enthusiasm in the band's performance. That doesn't mean the symphonic elements are dispensed with entirely however; Paradise (What About Us) soars on strings and synths, Tarja Turunen's face beamed onto a big screen above the stage as a firm reminder that Within Temptation are symphonic metal royalty and helped shape the genre as we know it today.
The set pieces throughout the show help cement a sense of theatricality that really flourishes in an arena setting; Sharon singing Angels from atop the gigantic head feels truly Wagnerian, a heavy metal opera with stunning visuals to match as the screens cast flaming wings against her silhouette.
When she's not cast as an angelic-voiced Valkyrie, Sharon can be found dashing across the stage, whipping the crowd up. To say she's playing to thousands of people, Sharon treats the crowd like it's an evening in a local bar, frequently chatting and checking in on the audience. Entertain You is aborted partway into the intro when she spots a fan in distress, arranging security to attend to the stricken party and get them to safety. This ends up happening a couple of times during the set, but she takes it in grace, quipping "I don't know what you're drinking, or if you skipped dinner, but you need to look after yourselves!"
It's that easy manner and good humour that makes Within Temptation so eminently likeable, their set balancing incredible spectacle and community spirit. Raise Your Banner is dedicated to Ukraine while Sharon laments on recent developments in Poland, Sharon waving a massive Ukrainian flag to once again drive home those Iron Maiden similarities.
By the time Sharon is lifted into the heavens on a huge hoop swing, there is no denying the sheer spectacle that Within Temptation have achieved on this latest tour, bringing along a production to match their grandiose vision. Closing numbers Ice Queen and Mother Earth end things on an incredible high, a final blitzkrieg of flames, lasers and kaleidoscopic spotlights highlighting that Within Temptation became symphonic metal royalty for a reason, and are still growing bigger, grander and more spectacular with each passing year, even 25 years on from their debut.
Evanescence and Within Temptation both play Download Festival 2023. Evanescence are on the cover of this month's Metal Hammer, on-sale now.
Evanescence Setlist, Utilita Arena Birmingham 15/11/22
Broken Pieces Shine
Made Of Stone
Lose Control/Part Of Me/Never Go Back
Far From Heaven
End Of The Dream
Better Without You
Call Me When You're Sober
Use My Voice
Bring Me To Life
Within Temptation setlist, Utilita Arena Birmingham 15/11/22
Our Solemn Hour
Paradise (What About Us?)
Stand My Ground
Raise Your Banner
Don't Pray For Me
All I Need