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Epica at Culture Room, December 15

With Scar Symmetry, Blackguard, and the Agonist
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In the world of metal, Epica frontwoman Simone Simmons is a queen, and these black-clad, mostly unwashed, tattooed, and pierced folk are her loyal subjects.

With nothing but their long black coats (actually, they often wear long black coats when it's not 45 degrees out) and their unkempt hair for protection against the bone-chilling Fort Lauderdale night, dozens of metalheads braved the elements Wednesday night and invaded Culture Room. The reason? They'd tell you it was to witness the moving performance by the Dutch symphonic metal band known for elaborate instrumentals and the juxtaposition of angelic female vocals with Cookie Monster death-grunts. They'd tell you it was to witness Scar Symmetry, Blackguard, and the Agonist, a few up-and-coming metal acts with strong sets and powerful guitar work. Adored by the men and adored even more by the women, Simmons is the true reason for the fans' attendance, despite the bone-chilling winter night.

When the dark stage exploded into flashing indigo lights and thrashing guitar licks, fans screamed and threw the horns. Guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye along with bassist Yves Huts soon began synchronized head-banging, and the fans were pleased -- after all, those three heads together account for approximately 50 feet of long, brown, stringy hair. The flashing lights, the throbbing drums, the undulating manes -- it was power metal at its finest. But cell phones and Flip cams immediately began flickering through the crowd when Simone, a redhead with the voice of an angel and body of a goddess, took the stage. Clad in a tight black corset, matching skirt, leather leggings, and spike heels sharp enough to strike oil, she opened the set with a soaring vocal riff capable of not just shattering glass, but actually picking up the shards and slitting your throat with them.

Her eyes shone as she skimmed the crowd, and the pink strobe lights kissed her pale, smooth skin. At the end of the intro, she called out to the crowd: "That is the earliest mosh pit we've ever had during a show!" (Read with an adorable, overenunciated, super-bright Dutch accent.) In response to which Mark Jansen simply pointed at the mosh pit and announced the next song in a full-fledged death grunt: "FOOOOOOOLSSSS OF DAMNATION!" (From their 2007 album, Divine Conspiracy.) Then he poked holes in some water bottles and sprayed the already-freezing crowd as Simone exploded into a barrage of ear-splitting notes accompanied by pounding drums and a lot of heavy bass.

The fans immediately began moshing in approval. A tiny woman held her hands above her head and swayed with the music, clearly in rapture. A dark-haired lady wearing a leather jacket decorated with pentagrams was so overcome by the music that she kissed a burly girl standing nearby. A father chased his young daughter through the tight-packed crowd.

Still, the best moment didn't come until they played "Cry for the Moon," their intensely popular single appearing on 2003's The Phantom Agony album. Besides covering the heady topic of child abuse by Catholic priests, the song calls for a crazy drum solo, plentiful shredding, and Simone's beautiful voice soaring above it all. She even invited the audience to sing the chorus a few times along with her. And horns raised, they obliged. Of course. Because when the queen tells you to sing, even the surliest, burliest metalhead obliges.

Critic's Notebook

Better Than: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire in the warmth of your well-heated home.

Personal Bias: Simone Simmons, I LOVE YOU.

Random Detail: Epica takes its moniker from the title of Kamelot's 2003 album.

By the Way: This band played a seriously freakin' sweet version of the Imperial March from Star Wars.

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Tara Nieuwesteeg

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