Monday, 23 June 2014

Guest Post: The (Not So) United Kingdom of British Symphonic Metal

By Jarl Solheim

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this piece are the opinions of the author, Jarl Solheim, 
and do not reflect the opinions of Femetalism as a whole. 

Great Britain; the birth place of heavy metal and some of the iconic metal legends such as Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and Rob Halford (Judas Priest) to name a few. Despite this, the metal scene these days is heavily domineered presently by acts from Europe and the US – Of course, this isn’t a bad thing since there are a number of brilliant acts from both Europe and the US.

Narrowing my scope down to what is my preferred style of metal – symphonic metal – the scene is vastly enforced by our European metal siblings, with bands such as Epica, Within Temptation, Delain and Serenity amongst many more. If we start to include the symphonic extreme metal bands then we have the likes of Norwegian stalwarts Dimmu Borgir, Dutch powerhouse MaYaN and Italian maestros Fleshgod Apocalypse keeping the European scene strong. But where does this leave the UK? At the bottom of the list, unfortunately, when it comes to symphonic metal bands (even Britain’s esteemed Cradle of Filth isn’t spoken of as frequently as they once were).

This isn't to say that Britain’s symphonic metal is poor compared to its European counterpart, considering we have talented acts such as Sarah Jezebel Deva (whom is also the front woman for Angtoria), Divided We Fall (who recently supported Xandria and Stream of Passion at the Dames of Darkness Festival) and Aonia (with the addition of their full time keyboard Tim “The Machine” Hall). So, what makes Britain’s symphonic metal so unappealing compared to Europe’s? Is it the bands? Is it lack of support from fans and venues? Maybe it’s just demographics? Or maybe us Brits are too lazy to seek out new bands? 

I took the question to a few differing social media platforms to help understand why people prefer Europe’s symphonic metal to our own symphonic metal. Surprisingly, no one answered “coz Nightwish r da berst”.

Philippa - Divided We Fall & Melissa - Aonia

The first answer I received came from Jaime Cross, keyboardist of Scottish symphonic black metallers Maelstrom. He basically said that Europe has the better scene (in terms of support and number of bands) because "no one over gives two flying shits". He then further elaborated that in Scotland, or at least his local area, people are still of the mentality of “lol keyboards in metal?”. In his original statement, I understand what Jaime means. When a band like Within Temptation, Delain, Epica or even (the highly overrated) Nightwish announce a UK tour, virtually every symphonic metal fan in the country wets themselves in excitement but when an act from the UK like Sarah Jezebel Deva or Winter In Eden announces a tour around the country, the turn outs aren't that great given the amount of symphonic metal bands in the country. I've seen Sarah Jezebel Deva on tour twice (October 2011 and May 2012). Given the amount of different acts she’s worked with, such as Therion, Cradle of Filth and Hecate Enthroned, one would think she’d be playing venues such as Manchester Academy or The Robin 2 (a 700 capacity venue in Bilston which plays host to The Dames of Darkness Festival). Instead, on the two UK tours I caught her on, she was playing small venues that could probably house 200 people max. That might seem like a lot of people to some but given that at the most there were 50 people, give or take, at both of the shows, it just proves Jaime’s point about the fans’ attitude towards home grown symphonic metal. 

Sarah Jezebel Deva

From what I've seen of the symphonic metal scene in Europe, especially Holland, the bands, as well as the fans, support one another. For example the bands don’t just gig and tour with each other but attend each others’ shows and share promoter contacts as well. Perhaps this is something that factors into the UK’s symphonic metal scene? It could possibly be, as it’s rare that I've seen members of the symphonic metal in the UK actively support their fellow bands, apart from at gigs they’re playing together. There are, of course, the odd few such as Aonia and Powercake, who both attended the entire Valkyrian Festival last year to check out the bands that were playing on the days that they weren't playing. Of course, it can’t be expected that bands from any genre go to every gig possible as they’re either playing a gig themselves or their members go to a magical place called work – much to the disbelief of some people. 

Elina - enkElination

Of course, if we’re talking about the lack of support from the British scene, what about the lack of support from our European counterparts? I don’t mean the gig attendance, per se as it’s too costly to just casually jet across from Norway or Holland to the UK for a gig but more in terms of when say Epica (for arguments sake) tours the UK, it’s usually with a non-UK band (in 2012 it was Stream of Passion and in 2011, it was ReVamp). Of course, this is down to the booking agent to sort that out but it would be cool if more British symphonic metal bands were to tour with their European counterparts, much like how Sarah Jezebel Deva did a European tour in 2012 with Tristania, enkElination touring with Imperia in July this year or Pythia when they were main support on Leaves’ Eyes’ UK tour back in January.

Winter Storm

Now that I've brought booking agents into it (le gasp), a lot promoters and festivals don’t give a chance to our own symphonic metal bands. I get that a promoter needs to book bands that people want to see in order to make profit or at least break even whereas in mainland Europe, from what I understand, promoters, festival bookers and venues are supported by their governments. I can think of a few British symphonic metal acts that have been given some sweet supporting slots, such as Winter Storm who have supported Alestorm and Maelstrom who were booked to support Tyr in 2012 in York alongside Ravenage (okay, yeah, Ravenage are folk metal but they have a heavy symphonic element in the music) and even Old Corpse Road who have supported the likes of Niklas Kvarforth’s Shining, Skyclad and Hecate Enthroned (who are another underrated symphonic black band and a damn good one at that).

But there are festivals and promoters here in the UK that given our home grown symphonic metallers a chance. For example, Sunk Fest near Hull has featured Brummie symphonic/power/prog metal quartet Dakesis in the past and Dames of Darkness Festival in the last two years has featured British talents such as Apparition and Divided We Fall. The Warhorns Festival in York, despite being a folky Viking metal styled festival has featured bands like Kull, Cryptic Age (Whose vocalist/keyboardist and guitarist have gone to form electro-symphonic metal outfit Quietus) and Old Corpse Road as well. The Valkyrian Festival in East Yorkshire also has a few bands from the home scene this year, including Divided We Fall, Aonia, Cnoc An Tursa and Ethereal from Liverpool (who recently toured with Gorgoroth in the UK). 

Diverting attention elsewhere, the media also has a hand in what bands people are introduced to. I don’t just mean the big boys like Metal Crapper – Sorry, I mean Metal Hammer – or Kerrang but the smaller outlets as well, including blogs and podcasts and everything in between. It’s generally bands like Leaves’ Eyes or Epica or even everybody’s favourite symphonic metal act Nightwish, who were apparently better with Tarja, that get the features in the magazines or on the radio or whatever which is understandable enough since it’s the bigger acts that bring in the readers, listeners, site hits, etc but if more magazines and other media outlets paid a little bit more attention to the home grown talent, there’d be a booming scene for all. 

It is hard for bands to get noticed by someone in the media, especially if the bands don’t have the right contacts or a sound marketing plan. After all, a journo or radio person won’t pay much attention to a generic email that reads something like “Hey! We’re Band X! Check us out. We’re heavily influenced by Nightwish”. So, obviously this is something that bands and the media must work on together.

Black Metal

Another thing that should be taken into account is the varying sizes of the two areas. The UK is significantly smaller than mainland Europe which obviously leads to a smaller population, meaning more diversity and more isolation when compared to Europe. The social circles I walk in are very close-knit and unsupportive of anything that doesn't fall within their preferred genres. Not everyone I know is like that but a lot of them are. For example, one of my associates, who we shall name Bob, is heavily into black metal and folk metal and gets a bit funny when his band is offered a show with a band that isn’t to his tastes – Bob’s band mates share near enough the same tastes as him, which is apparent in the fact that they play black metal, so obviously they avoid playing gigs with a non-black metal act, even if the rest of the bill is full of black metal bands. 

Mainland Europe on the other hand seems to be a lot more diverse and open. A perfect example of this comes in the form of Epica’s lead guitarist Isaac Delahaye who was once a member of Death metal band God Dethroned. Most of the members of Leaves’ Eyes also play in Atrocity and Luca Turilli (Rhapsody), from 2005 through to 2011, had his project Luca Turilli’s Dreamquest, which mixed symphonic metal and electro music. Like Matt from Curvature told me, he’d like to see more diverse audiences at shows in the UK, similar to the diverse crowds you find at European shows.

Lacuna Coil

A few people have argued that it’s the distinct sound that Europe’s symphonic metal outfits have developed as Europe has had the monopoly on the sub genre for several years now and with bands such as Lacuna Coil, Delain, Within Temptation and Nightwish (who seem to rehash the same old sound with a different vocalist because Tuomas decides to fire the old one in a childish fit) having commercial success, it’s no wonder that Britain’s symphonic metal acts can’t get a look in. I agree completely that Europe has pretty much established the sound for the sub genre, although I don’t agree that the British ones would seem like they’re replicating the European sound, especially if they bring in some new influences, like maybe some Iron Maiden styled medleys on the keyboards or dropping the beauty and the beast styled vocals. 

If British fans of symphonic metal want to see home grown talent get further afield than just their local area, it’s time to step up to the plate and begin supporting these bands. Start asking your local promoters to book these bands or ask for them to be played on your favourite internet radio station. Hell, even buy their merch if you can. You never know, you might help a band become the next Epica or Within Temptation.

Winter in Eden

And bands need to start networking with other bands from the scene, trade contacts; try get to each others’ shows (money and free time permitting) or even see about arranging a tour together – even if it’s just a weekend tour. Work on an efficient PR campaign, ask your fans to share your videos or ask them to recommend you to people that you think would like them! 

Our symphonic metal scene can only thrive if everyone – bands, media folk, fans, promoters, etc – puts their share of work into it. After all, we gave birth to metal so we can sure as hell build up a scene to rival Europe’s or we could end up just watching the scene die altogether.

Originally posted by Guest Writer Jarl Solheim on Femetalism.

What do you think?  Is the UK Symphonic Metal scene unsupported?  Could the bands, media, fans and promoters be doing more to increase the reach of our own Symphonic Metal bands?  Why do you think the European bands have more success in the industry?  Let us know in the comments. ~Emma

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Another great place to discover some of Britain's symphonic metal bands is the Black Phoenix Rising Metal Forums.