On Thursday 19th September, Dutch progressive metal band Scarlet Stories released their debut full-length album Necrologies and played an album release show at Willem-Twee Poppodium in Den Bosch, Netherlands. I’m happy to say I was present to experience their debut album performed live in its entirety for the very first time and it was certainly worth being there. Scarlet Stories has been around for a while and have released an EP titled “Resurrection” back in 2015. And in order to release Necrologies they organized a very successful crowdfunding campaign so they already have some dedicated followers who were anticipating this event. I found the band quite recently but have had the privilege to hear the full album pre-release (See my review here) and based on that, I was expecting quite an impressive performance.
Opening the evening was Noctambulist. I had never heard them and had no idea what to expect. To my surprise, they are an atmospheric post-black metal band, and though I wouldn’t normally expect a band playing this genre to share the stage with a progressive metal band, they actually made quite an impression and worked well in the context. Despite a very raw, unpolished black metal sound, their use of atmosphere and melody made them a fitting opener for the main act of the evening. They managed to deliver a sound that was both aggressive and controlled and allowed for all the instruments to be heard while also sounding properly black metal. Some high soaring tremolo picking melodies, interesting contrasts and clean atmospheric sections really took me by surprise and I really enjoyed their performance as a whole.
But then it was time for the main act and as the Scarlet Stories logo showed up on the screen behind the stage, you could really sense the anticipation building in the entire venue. As vocalist Lisette van den Berg started reciting the first lines in the “Prologue” to “Necrologies”, the audience went silent, and remained that way as the instruments started building the atmosphere that I so much enjoyed on the album. You could just sense that everyone was completely hooked. And let me tell you, whatever expectations I may have had from this band, they completely crushed them. First of all, the sound quality was impeccable. They are more than capable of staying true to their studio sound, allowing everything that you hear on the record to also shine through in their live delivery. As opposed to a lot of live shows I’ve seen where it was considerably more difficult to hear and take in all the instruments than it is in the studio version, Scarlet Stories had everything perfectly calibrated to not allow a single note to slip away unnoticed and thus deliver the atmosphere, emotion and energy in their songs at the full potential they have on the record and even expand them further. The same level of quality could be noticed in the instrumental performance. From gentle guitar arpeggios and fluid violin passages to furious drums, massive guitar and bass tones and incredibly virtuous solos, everything was a delight to both see and hear. Every single one of the band members stood out and I was just trying to pick up and notice everything that was going on. Drummer Tim Kuper definitely made an impression on me, showing that he is not only a true professional but he’s also really feeling it behind the kit, striking with both precision and energy. Carmen Maats’s and Maarten Grimm’s heavy guitar and bass tones definitely tickled my metal fancy while Bram te Kamp displayed true virtuosity on solos and also spiced up the atmosphere with some acoustic tunes.
One thing that really surprised me is just how much energy they could unleash. While on the studio, I was completely immersed in the atmosphere of the songs, in the live performance it was the sheer power that came from the instruments that really knocked my socks off. If by any chance you think this band is not “metal enough” based on their album sound, they will prove you wrong in the live performance. It was massive! Not to say that they neglected the gentle or emotional side of their music in any way. In fact the clean parts of their music were even more striking than I expected. Somehow I feel like they took the extremities of their soundscape (calm against heavy) and pushed them even further. Where the album was immersive, the stage performance was hypnotizing and where it was heavy, the live delivery just blew the roof off. And that violin! The intro of Nostalgia in a Closed Mind might have been Sophie Ansems’ moment to shine after Lisette introduced her to the crowd but actually “Living, Breathing, Yesterday” is where I felt most captivated by it. And that moment in “The Tell-Tale Heart” where the guitar riffs first kick in is proof that violin isn’t only soft and calm but can also be truly menacing!
But all these elements just build towards one thing: Lisette’s vocal performance. Honestly, I always tried to avoid being the guy who just over-hypes and praises the lead singer because on some level I felt it’s what always gets the attention, even when that shouldn’t be the case. But with Scarlet Stories, it is what it is. You just get this feeling that every element in the instrumentation is driven to support her delivery and to create this fantastic feedback between the vocals and instruments that keeps the song just constantly building. And that only makes sense when you come to think that their music is so focused on story-telling, Lisette obviously being like a narrator. Since a lot of the compositions and all the lyrics are her creation and she obviously feels very strongly about them, you can see just how deeply she connects to the songs. At times it almost looked like she was in a trance. The ending of Craving genuinely shook me and I couldn’t believe just how much power and raw emotion she could bring to that song. And it’s a crazy thing that that was actually one of my least favorite songs on the album but definitely one of the highlights in the live performance! Because they just transform the songs. Hearing it live is an entirely different experience than the album despite the sound being so accurately replicated, simply because of the way they interpret everything. And she’s not just a singer but an actress, feeling and delivering the story with everything from her voice to her attitude, posture and facial expressions. It’s majestic, theatrical and very dramatic and it’s guaranteed to get those goosebumps going! My favorite live vocal performances that I’d seen so far were undoubtedly Russel Allen from Symphony X and Nightwish’s Floor Jansen, but now I really have trouble deciding whether that still stands.
In this way Necrologies was delivered in full. It felt like a book opened during the Prologue and closed during the Epilogue and there was a whole adventure in between. But it still wasn’t over. After completing the album, they closed the show with “Dance of Narcissism”, a song from their 2015 EP “Resurrection” which was probably one of the heaviest songs they played. And then they surprised the audience once more by premiering their new official video for “In Blood and Limbs and Gore and Clay” which you can see below. After the show they also took the time to hang out and meet the fans which was the perfect way to wrap up this incredible event. I just want to say if you ever have the possibility to see this band live, go for it without a second thought. They’re not exactly a touring band yet but based on what I’ve seen at this concert, it won’t be long until they start going places.