Southport Music Hall, New Orleans, LA
May 8, 2017
It’s funny. I’ve been regularly attending shows in New Orleans for 14 years. As of two months ago, I’d never darkened the door at the Southport Music Hall. Tonight marked my third gig at that venue since March, the others being Overkill and Night Demon/Anvil/Graveshadow. Southport’s a nice enough place, on the west end of town situated at a bend in the Mississippi River. But it was positively cavernous compared to the attendance tonight. Melodic and traditional subgenres of metal always face an uphill battle in NOLA, as this town’s all about the more extreme and aggressive styles, as well as the stoner kind of stuff. That fact, plus it being a Monday night, translated into a turnout of a few dozen hardy souls, just a small fraction of Southport’s capacity. It’s a shame too, because Seven Kingdoms and Evergrey are masters of their respective crafts.
Tonight marked just the third show on a 24-gig trek across the USA (including 5 shows in Canada), and the first outside the friendly confines of central Florida, which is Seven Kingdoms’ home turf. So for all intents and purposes, this was really the first day of tour life for these bands. It was nice to see the band and crew members be all smiles and cheerfulness, not dazed and exhausted, talking about their hopes and aspirations for the tour instead of how much they wished it was over. The killing road is a harsh and unforgiving environment, and it was a treat to see a tour that had had a couple of nights to work out the kinks, yet had not been going long enough for roadburn to set in. Fatigue may become a particular concern for Seven Kingdoms guitarist Camden Cruz, who is acting as tour manager and stagehand in addition to his performing duties each night. Hell, Evergrey were so fresh that they took an Uber into the French Quarter and stayed gone so long that Camden became a bit jittery about their whereabouts.
After a local opener and two tour openers (Ascendia from Canada, and Need from Greece), it was time for Seven Kingdoms to hit the stage. The band are promoting their newly released Decennium album, their fourth overall and their first to be released through Austria’s Napalm Records. For fans of fast-paced, guitar-driven, female-fronted, fantasy-based power metal influenced by the likes of Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, Decennium is an absolute triumph, a buy-or-die release. At this point, it’s the power metal album of the year for me, and it’s hard to imagine anything knocking it off that pedestal. Nonetheless, I will confess to being surprised that Seven Kingdoms devoted their entire seven-song, 40+ minute set tonight to Decennium material. (An eighth song, “Fragile Minds Collapse” from 2012’s The Fire is Mine, was on the handwritten setlist that vocalist Sabrina Cruz passed to me afterwards, but was cut because of time limitations.) I had expected older tunes like “After the Fall” and “Into the Darkness” to be staples of every Seven Kingdoms set for eternity, but they were nowhere to be seen tonight.
Still, the gamble paid off brilliantly because the new songs are fantastic. Straight out of the gate, the band tore through three speedy tracks in a row: the epic “Stargazer” with its infectious singalong chorus, the Blind Guardian-inflected “The Tale of Death Face Ginny” (which Sabrina introduced by pointing out that my Jen was wearing the purple t-shirt whose design was inspired by that song), and the excellent new video track “Kingslayer” (whose lyrics, like so many Seven Kingdoms songs, draw heavily from Game of Thrones). For the next two songs, Seven Kingdoms took their foot off the accelerator with the mid-paced (by their standards, at least) “Castles in the Snow” and “Neverending.” Somewhere during this period, the Evergrey guys were seen re-entering the venue, prompting a visible showing of relief on Camden’s face as he spied them from the stage. To finish their set on a high note, Seven Kingdoms treated us to the excellent “The Faceless Hero” (about Snape from the Harry Potter stories) before closing with the crown jewel in their catalog, “In the Walls,” a total speed metal assault on the senses with creepy Lovecraft-inspired lyrics, to boot.
Despite their limited room to maneuver on stage, the band looked and sounded great. It’s been heartwarming to watch over the years as Sabrina continues to develop and thrive as a singer and frontwoman. She has her own unique style, and it’s backed by confidence, experience and talent. The diminutive woman with the newly-blue hair has a massive voice that’s almost as big as her smile. The guitar team of Camden Cruz and the now-buff Kevin Byrd is locked in tight as hell, even from opposite sides of the stage and even with all that relentless speed picking. And the rhythm section of Aaron Sluss on bass and Keith Byrd on drums just attack their respective instruments. Songs, performances, energy. Seven Kingdoms have the whole package working for them right now. From humble beginnings, they have studied and honed their skills to evolve into a truly formidable live act. Their excellent show was worth the two and a half hour drive to New Orleans on a Monday night, all by itself. And their stunning array of merchandise choices (more designs and color variations of shirts than I can ever recall seeing at a metal show before) means that fans should be forewarned to bring extra cash to support the cause.
Setlist: Stargazer, The Tale of Deathface Ginny, Kingslayer, Castles in the Snow, Neverending, The Faceless Hero, In the Walls.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been the biggest Evergrey fan. Oh, I like the band and I own all their albums, but I don’t spend a great deal of time listening to them. A little too moody, depressive, keyboardy and modern for my tastes, I’d say. But live is a different story. I’ve seen the band on numerous occasions, dating back to their first appearance on US soil back at the old Powermad Festival in Maryland in 1999, and they’ve always put on a killer show. The sheer darkened, sinister heaviness of the songs, combined with Tom Englund’s anguished and emotive vocals, works a certain magic on stage. This time was perhaps more meaningful to me than most, as I’ve been working through some profound personal sadness of late, and the melancholy vibe of Evergrey’s performance resonated particularly well with me on this night. It was cathartic. The band kicked things off a few minutes before 11:00 p.m. with “Passing Through” (in my opinion the strongest track from their most recent album The Storm Within) on a mostly spartan stage setup with an expertly executed light show, in front of no more than a few dozen punters. After a couple of songs, Englund addressed the crowd thusly: “We are Evergrey from Gothenburg, Sweden, and make no mistake: Whether there are 6,000, 60 or 6 persons, we play the same show for you tonight.” And he and the band kept their word, delivering a sprawling 16-song set that spanned a full 90 minutes. I suppose here’s where a band’s professionalism and attitude make all the difference. They could have sulked or pouted, mailed in the gig, or cut things short. But to their credit, Evergrey did none of these. Sure, there were times when I detected the energy coming from the stage to be a bit lower than usual, but you know what? There wasn’t a hell of a lot of energy coming from the floor either. Good live bands feed off their audiences, and there simply wasn’t much for Evergrey to eat tonight. Englund only rebuked the crowd once for being lame, asking why it was so quiet in here because, after all, this was Monday and church was on Sunday. But this was a momentary lapse from the graciousness that otherwise characterized his demeanor. Upon addressing the audience near the end of their set, Englund said that it was not a disappointing turnout tonight and the reason it wasn’t disappointing was that we were there. Well done, Tom, well done. Evergrey’s a pretty big professional band that’s not used to tepid attendance, but they acquitted themselves really well by muscling their way through the adversity.
In terms of song choices, I was a bit surprised to see Evergrey’s set skew so heavily toward newer material, with four songs culled from The Storm Within and a shocking five from Hymns for the Broken. Add in two from Monday Morning Apocalypse and the expected “hits” (“Touch of Blessing,” “Recreation Day,” etc.) and there wasn’t room for much else. It was a bummer not to hear anything from In Search of Truth (my favorite Evergrey album) and only the piano ballad “Words Mean Northing” from Solitude Dominance Tragedy. Still, what they did play was really solid. Evergrey is one of those bands that expertly and accurately judges what their strongest songs are and focuses on them. New songs like “My Allied Ocean” and “In Orbit” are simply killer. Before the latter, Englund mentioned that they originally recorded the song with Floor Jansen on guest vocals, but he got tripped up with his English conjugation of the verb “to have.” He recovered well, though and ended it with a joke about how “it’s nice to say you had Floor Jansen,” haha. “Leave It Behind Us” and “Broken Wings” also work exceptionally well in the set, and “King of Errors” rightfully deserves its place as final encore, just a tremendous song. The only part that lost me was “The Grand Collapse,” a long, meandering, mostly instrumental cut that closed out the regular set. All in all, it was another fine performance from Evergrey. They even came out after the set to sign autographs, have a few beers and so on with everyone who stuck around. Classy move.
Setlist: Passing Through, The Fire, Leave It Behind Us, Distance, A New Dawn, My Allied Ocean, Black Undertow, Still in the Water, Monday Morning Apocalypse, In Orbit, Broken Wings, The Grand Collapse. Encores: Words Mean Nothing, Recreation Day, Touch of Blessing, King of Errors.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~