Gig Review: Evergrey / Fractal Universe / Virtual Symmetry – Thekla, Bristol (19th September 2022)

A rescheduled gig which was a year in the making saw the original support bands fall by the wayside and even the venue change. This was an evening of triumph for all three bands who finally made their way to the UK as part of the Recharging Europe tour.

Virtual Symmetry (c) Paul Hutchings

With doors opening at 7:00pm, it was something of a shock to see the set times posted in the venue confirming that opening band Virtual Symmetry were on stage a mere five minutes later. The Swiss-Italian progressive outfit were ready to go by the time the few early fans descended into the main hull of the boat. Thankfully enough punters had decided to get to the venue early and it wasn’t long before Virtual Symmetry had the audience that they deserved.

Opening on a Monday night must be a huge challenge, but the quintet stuck to their guns, even with their 30-minute set a little curtailed. A blisteringly good set saw the band play tracks from their back catalogue as well a new song from their freshly released self-titled album. Their blend of intricate progressive metal works perfectly alongside vocalist Marco Pastorino, the front man clearly enjoying the tour. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more cheerful band around, for the entire outfit had Cheshire cat-sized grins throughout, with keyboardist Marco ‘Mark’ Bravi winning the widest of them all. Founder Valerio Æsir Villa wasn’t far behind, his eight-string dexterity impressive as he peeled out solos to compliment the band’s unique musical style. It’s a fusion of many styles which makes Virtual Symmetry so intriguing. Enthusiastic, passionate, and damn bloody good, this was a fine start to the evening.

Fractal Universe (c) Paul Hutchings

I’ve reviewed a couple of Fractal Universe’s albums in recent years, with their 2019 album Rhizomes of Insanity a particularly decent release. The French quartet released their third LP, The Impossible Horizon last year and set about making sure they weren’t forgotten in a hurry. Their powerful set comprised tracks which ranged from ferocious death metal blasts through to progressive, almost jazz fusion numbers with saxophone included. Cloaked in darkness for much of their set, the French band powerfully navigated their way. Dashes into the audience by guitarist Hugo Florimond were only the beginning as a dramatic finale saw both Florimond and singer Vince Wilquin race into the crowd, Wilquin ending the emotionally charged show on his knees.

Formed in 1995 in Gothenburg, Evergrey has always stood apart from the melodeath sound that many of their compatriots spiralled toward. Led by Tom S. Englund, the band’s progressive metal is subtle and carefully crafted. Arriving to a hero’s welcome, this was an evening where those who had made the effort were rewarded with a powerful performance and superb setlist.

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With two albums to tour, the set was always going to be top heavy towards 2021’S Escape of the Phoenix and this year’s fine A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament), and seven songs featured. Evergrey were in fine form, Englund’s rich vocals benefitting from a good mix and sound, which allowed him and fellow guitarist Hedrick Danhage to shred for fun. From the strains of  song “Save Us”, it was clear that this was going to be a memorable night, with crowd and band both up for it.

Evergrey (c) Paul Hutchings

Although they may not be as heavy as many of their countrymen on record, Evergrey are crushingly heavy live with waves of huge riffs and blistering drumming pouring forth. It was only when “In the Absence of Sun” arrived that the pace slowed, the opening part a combination of Englund and keyboardist Ricardo Zander before the rest of the band kicked in later. There’s plenty of humility too. Englund has been in the game for 30 years, yet his genuine thanks to those that attended was humbling. He’s not without humour either, as he and bassist Johan Niemann showed when the latter used a wah pedal, introduced as Evergrey’s only special effect.

With 13 albums in the catalogue, pleasing all is impossible. A shrewdly curated list did the job though, with “Resurrection Day” and “A Touch of Blessing” going back over 20 years and pleasing the old school. Ultimately, Evergrey ensured that it didn’t matter if you were a huge fan or a newcomer, this was a performance of majestic proportions. As the five took their final bow after an epic “King of Errors”, one could only hope that they would be back sooner rather than later.

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Photos by Paul Hutchings

Evergrey: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | youtube

Fractal Universe: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | bandcamp | spotify | youtube

Virtual Symmetry: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | youtube

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