It’s October and as Prog heads to Academy 2, housed within Manchester University’s student union building, the still-fresh madness of the city’s returned student population is in full voice.
By contrast, through double doors and up stairs, Manchester’s assembled metal community feels almost hidden, though with a capacity of 900, Academy 2 is no garret. The headliners tonight are Dutch symphonic metallers Delain, but Prog is here for fellow countrymen The Gentle Storm. And we’re not alone – the venue is already packed.
Formed by ex-The Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen and composer Arjen Anthony Lucassen (who doesn’t usually tour), the duo’s 2015 Jekyll and Hyde debut, The Diary, doubles a collection of 11 songs into soft and heavy variants. However, given the setting, we assume we’re in for a night of horn throwing and head banging, settling in to ride out the band’s stormier incarnation.
Heart Of Amsterdam’s boisterous piratical fiddle sample heralds the band’s arrival and the follicly-equipped are straight in with the hair-flailing windmills. It’s aurally and visually impressive – all crashing waves of drums, bold brass samples, complete with a two-minute mid-song solo duel.
The concept of The Diary is “a historic love story”, which really translates as an excuse to write songs about boats, bodices and big storms. The musical sensation is somewhat Pirates Of The Caribbean then, and as the band heat up we start hoping for a fully-rigged man o’ war to burst through the backdrop, or for
a blue whale to breach and arch majestically over Manchester’s melodic metal community. Sadly, the realities of the modern live circuit once prove more prosaic.
The musical sensation is somewhat Pirates Of The Caribbean; we start hoping for a man o’ war to burst out.
More achievable would have been a synth wrangler to handle the classical instrument emulation, but the Storm rely on playback instead – an increasingly common occurrence for those that have gone, er, ‘overboard’ with Pro Tools. Fortunately, authenticity is supplied by van Giersbergen’s astonishing operatic tones, which provide the kind of pitch-peaking vocal theatrics that make you relieved to be holding a plastic glass.
A performance of van Giersbergen’s non-Storm number Eléanor is followed by a request for “more Gathering!” and the band oblige, gamely launching into Strange Machines with a unison that’s tighter than Captain Bligh.
Parting shot Shores Of India is hair-raising on record, but while you could say this all-guns-blazing incarnation lacks the album’s nuance (and that the intro melody sounds like Belinda Carlisle), you’d miss the point. It’s all, obviously, resolutely ridiculous, but that doesn’t stop the Dutch naval-gazers from being highly entertaining.
If anyone ever pens Master And Commander: The Musical, The Gentle Storm should be their first port of call.