They'd billed it as one of the "extra special" gig they like to drop into their tours occasionally, and I'd booked it six months ago as a 40th birthday present to myself, inviting my friend Clare, who's also a huge WT fan, to come too. Needless to say, it sold out completely several months ago, so we knew we were in for something special.
In the event, it turned out to be the best gig I've ever been to.
The support bands were brilliant. First up was Agua de Annique, Female-fronted rock, with a drummer, bass, guitar, and a singer who also played keyboards. They had some wonderful material and the singer's voice was in a similar register to Sharon den Adel's.
Then came Threshold, a six-piece who played very competent and beautfully developed traditional northern-European heavy rock.
They were magnificent, and entertained the 8000-strong capacity crowd with frequent references to WT, which got the expected roars of approval.
And then Within Temptation came on, and proved themselves once again to be the absolute and undisputed grand masters of the European Goth Metal scene. Other acts may aspire, but no-one does it like these guys do.
The stage was enormous, at least 40' long. At the back there were three vast projection screens, with two huge statues of winged angels dividing them, and gryphons overlooking fire-dishes at either end. All through the show, the screens were lit, sometimes with the relevant video for the track being played, sometimes with imagery and graphics done specially for this show. The effect was like being on some great ship, the angels giving a frame of solidity while we whirled and flew through the magical worlds the band's music conjours.
Then there was the pyro. There were eight large fire-dishes at different levels across the stage, all eight were lit at the start of the acoustic section a third of the way in, and burned for the rest of the gig. But those weren't all, there were vast columns of real flame, at least 30' high, which erupted from the front of the stage and roared towards the lighting rig, the heat of them sweeping across the audience. There were fireworks everywhere, in the lighting, across the stage, all fired in perfect time with the music.
And then, of course, there was the music. After that wonderful gig in London back in 2005, when they managed to play my three favourite tracks, in rising order of favouriteness, I'd deliberately told myself not to be fussy about the setlist and just enjoy whatever they played. I'd decided I'd be happy if they played just a couple of favourites off "The Silent Force", plus Mother Earth (which is pretty much a given as the track that really launched them into the big league), and I was kind of expecting the core of the set to be from the newest album, "The Heart Of Everything".
But the band clearly had other ideas. They opened with tracks from "The Silent Force", much to the delight of Clare, who got her favourite track first. Sharon emerged from a stairway in the centre of the stage looking like a time lord, complete with fancy red headdress, and proceded to sing as only she can. The band were on top form, the effects were in perfect time, and almost before we knew it they'd stormed through three tracks, Sharon gradually shedding the more elaborate bits of her costume as she went.
I will confess I can't now remember the full running order, but the spectacle was truly incredible. A third of the way in, the band changed to classical instruments, and we got several tracks played flat out on grand piano, electric bass, twin acoustic guitars and classical double-bass, which was both impressive and incredibly beautiful. It was during the acoustic section that the fire dishes were lit - and then when they switched back to Electric instruments, with Sharon, now in a long black dress and carrying a sceptre, rising from the centre of the stage like Hecate enthroned, it was for a no-holds-barred maximum power onslaught of the anti-war epic "Our Solemn Hour", blasting from the PA like a live thing.
From here the performance just built and built, track after track and just as you convinced yourself they couldn't top what they'd just played they did it, all concept of time vanishing as the truly awe-inspiring spectacle swept us all away in an unstopable thundering cateract of music and power and emotion. Somewhere in the mix we got Angels, a very powerful Mother Earth, The Truth Beneath The Rose, Jane Doe, and multiple tracks from the new album.
It really does not get any better than this.
Eventually, the main set ended. I was more than satisfied, I'd heard all the tracks I'd hoped to hear and far more besides. But of course there had to be an enocore, so we all screamed for more. And then the band returned to the stage - and launched into Deciever of Fools! It's my all-time favourite WT track, and it was to my everlasting delight that they played it in London in 2005. It's seven minutes long, as far as I know was never a single, and is fantasy goth metal at it's absolute finest, but I'd assumed I'd never hear it at a gig again.
Within Temptation live. Absolutely the finest gig experience I've ever had, anywhere.
I'll definetly be back for more!
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