Live Review : Imperial Age + Apparition + Stormrider + Pallas Athena @ Rebellion, Manchester on February 1st 2019

Rebellion has had a facelift. My central Manchester spiritual home is practically sparkling, the bar is, frankly, in a much better position and the whole place feels bigger. But this is not an interior design website so let's get to the important bits.

Pallas Athena are first on and they very much a game of two halves. Vickie Harley's vocals and stage presence are both fantastic, she has an other-worldly operatic delivery that is very much the band's USP. But on the negative the lack of drummer is both obvious and jarring. There is a highly noticeable backing track (the guitar player put them on from his phone) and whilst the sound guy does a grand job of mixing the rest of the band with the track it still feels like something is missing (a drummer?).

Pallas Athena go to a lot of effort to create an atmosphere (plastic candles - check, Monk cowls - check) and there are some good tracks in here (very much led by Vickie's vocals which make the hair on the back of neck stand on end) but, and sadly it’s a big but, the backing track comes across as amateurish and disjointed and spoils what is otherwise a highly impressive set up.

The best way to get a hometown crowd going, is to start with a sing along. Stormrider's opening number "Made of Metal" maybe cheesy as the cheesiest of cheese shops but it instantaneously connects with the audience. In fact, infectious is the word I would use to describe the whole set, vocalist Mike Coyle (sporting a very fine pair of cargo shorts) oozes charisma and manages to get the crowd singing along to songs that the vast majority had never heard before. He has great but effortless stage presence and looks in his element managing the throng of Friday night revellers. Their material is less bombastic and complex than the rest of tonight's bill but they come across as highly enjoyable and its a crying shame the obviously impassioned calls for more go unheeded. 

Apparition start well and for their first three tracks they come across a technically proficient Epica-esque act with goth tinges, but then just as I am starting to fall in love with their bleak but intoxicating atmospheric metal it goes all south. "The Other Side" should be dark, forbidding and emotionally wrenching, instead it is plagued with disconcerting crackles that completely upstage Fiona Creaby's attempts to articulate the breaking of her fragile heart. The mix just gets worse from then on and Fiona's vocals almost disappear completely. Come final track "The Dames of Darkness" she decides to ditch the crackling wireless system altogether in favour of a good old fashioned hard wired mic. The track builds in ethereal majesty but Fiona can’t hear herself in the monitor and after two verses, she decide to go back to the wireless mic and ends up finishing the show apologetically with both appendages in her hand. There was so much potential and talent here but it all ends on a damp squib, sabotaged by technical failures and a terrible mix.

Imperial Age are a big deal back in their homeland and there are a number of Russian fan-boys here tonight scattered around the room, getting rather over excited about seeing their heroes in such close confides. This is highly professional, heavily choreographed, exquisitely synchronised and stunningly over the top symphonic metal. Even though at any one time there at least six costumed performers on Rebellion's tiny stage (to be honest there may actually have been more but I simply lost count) it never seems crowded. Imperial Age's numerous members move so elegantly and gracefully around each other in a serious of highly rehearsed set pieces that whoever is singing is always centre stage. This is operatic metal with all the bell and whistles included and you can't help be swept away by their majestically bombastic show. The music may be deliciously pompous with serious delusions of grandeur, but the band themselves come across as humble and genuinely pleased to be here (we are told, proudly, that this is their fourth visit to Manchester in three years) and they all (no matter how many of them there actually are) put their all into their highly polished set. This is clearly a band designed for much bigger places but they have the ability and the attitude to slum it in the name of bringing highly operatic metal to the masses.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki