The concert from last Saturday felt more as a journey than just a gig from the very start: when arriving to Rockstadt Club in Brasov you could see a mixed crowd, gathered from all over Romania: a large crowd from Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi – and these were only my personal acquaintances.
The night kicked off with Jo Quail: After listening to her music and noticing her more and more in the past years as she joined forces with bands that I personally admire, I was beyond intrigued to see her live for the very first time. And the expectations, if there ever were any, were more than surpassed. Even from the beginning, from her first songs, her music had an enchanting effect on us, the listeners: by firstly drawing you in with calm, classical solo cello melodies, she skillfully builds up tension, intensity, boppy rhythms or aggression even by overlapping layers and layers of different tunes. I was personally taken aback by a part in which she added distortion – yes you hear me right, the same thing metal uses on heavy guitars – on a cello! And not only the effect itself, but the piece was composed so well that it felt like it was natural to have a distortion-filled cello right there. I have only once experience a similar performance live, albeit with a different instrument as the main source of wonder: at Dark Bombastic Evening (DBE) in 2013, Sieben with his violin and voice first introduced me to the idea of live looping an instrument. Returning now to Jo Quail, this looping technique impressed the audience visibly: everyone was perching their heads to try to take a glimpse at her pedalboard.
It takes a certain amount of creativity and personal character to be able to entertain a room full of people when you are alone on the stage, only with your instrument. But Jo Quail’s creative and personal energy was enough to capture everyone’s attention: by every stroke of her bow you could feel she puts her heart into every tune created. Along with the physicality of her movements, she also played a lot with her eyes closed, giving the impression sometimes that she is far away from the club and that she is playing whatever the music and the feeling of the moment dictates.
This impressive opening act is one more reason why I find it is extremely important to see all bands on a bill: even if you don’t know an artist, or if that said artist is not as well-known as the main act, you might find a hidden gem which will stay with you from then on, like Jo Quail will stay with me. I am sure we will hear more from her in the future.
Now that one part of the journey was over, it was time for Amenra.
It cannot be stated enough how much their performance resembles a ritual, every time you see them live. This time in Rockstadt, when all the lights suddenly went out in the club, they chose to summon the crowd to begin their musical journey together by opening with their song Boden – a song that starts with a rhythmic metallic banging, not unlike the call to sermon, but instead of the warm wooden sound, on Boden we have a cold, metallic summon. The song gradually grows in intensity, until the wall of sound and emotion hits. This is the crux of an Amenra show, in my opinion: the contrasts between Colin’s high intensity shrieks, full of anguish and sorrow, paired with solid and powerful riffs and beats, and the introspective quiet that follows.
Their setlist was a very carefully crafted combination of songs off of their previous albums: from Mass III, Mass IIII, Mass V and Mass VI to their latest album, De Doorn.
The first song they played from De Doorn was Het Gloren. An 11 minute song, it twists and turns from spoken word, to calm guitar riffs to a quick shift into their characteristical wall-of-sound, and then back again to spoken word and melancholic melodies. As all of the songs off of their latest album, the lyrics are in Flemish. Even if most (if not all) of the people present did not speak this language, the emotion carried with every word and shriek can be felt and ultimately understood – that is, in my opinion, the beauty of Amenra music: it speaks to such a raw, primal part of oneself that it can successfully transgress any barrier such as linguistic differences.
I would advise first-time listeners to view their live performances as a place where everyone present can purge their inner demons and emerge stronger, into the light. Because even if they undoubtedly create a dark atmosphere, Amenra also has a strong positive (yes, positive, stay with me) message to deliver: from the darkest of darkness, light always follows. From pain you can get hope. You can see this duality in their lyrics, as well as in the stunning video graphics that created the backdrop of the evening: always in black and white, we see running water, a solitary church that is seen from afar, thorns and horned beetles. Every imagery used in their shows carries a meaning, nothing is left for change: for example the beetle and thorns that are currently prevalent in their tour, Colin explained in an interview, come from his fascination from nature’s way of protecting itself from harm, by becoming stronger, by using thorns and hard shells as protection.
Amenra likes to defy convention and preconception, even when it comes to their well-known stage performances: everyone knows that Colin prefers to sing with his back to the crowd, to be able to focus on his inner-world more while singing. Maybe defying this already established trope, or maybe just because he felt like it, this time he turned to face the audience multiple times, especially while delivering the more soft-spoken parts, as was the well-loved clean vocals on A Solitary Reign.
Seeing Amenra live is a powerful experience that cannot be expressed fully in this article. To conclude a story about what was a transformative journey for everyone present that night, I will leave you with the two words that Amenra plastered on their backdrop, at the very end of their show:
Liefde en licht
Love and Light.