The Dome is just the kind of unassuming little hidden gem of a venue where true magic happens. Tucked away in Tufnell Park, a down-at-heel, god-forsaken patch of North London at its dreariest, this is a tatty, sticky-floored, poster-spattered delight where some of the best gigs in living memory have taken place. At Sunday night’s spectacular Sirenia show, the atmosphere in the modest yet iconic space was positively electric.
Gothic metal titans Sirenia have been hell-bent on releasing their potent blend of spell-binding symphonic metal, operatic vocals and heady rock across the globe since Morten Veland, formerly of Tristania, spearheaded the band in 2001. They gradually gained a solid fan base through tireless hard work, producing nine studio albums and putting in the flight time to tour everywhere from Europe to Asia, the States to South America. Tickets might not have sold out as they landed in old London town, but Sirenia attracted a decent crowd, clutching plastic glasses of gut-churning, low-grade beer and waiting patiently through the support acts before surging forward into a compressed, excitable rabble when Veland and co finally emerged. Still, it was possible to get within spitting distance of the stage, leading to a curiously intimate, utterly enthralling experience.
Granted, there were some technical hiccoughs, but Sirenia were on top, untethered form. In live performance, despite the dizzying, dazzling melodies and soaring synthetic symphonies of the goth-inspired studio albums, they are essentially, at their deepest, darkest core, a metal band. A wilder, more untamed side is unleashed on stage, as the mellifluous vocals turn fiercer, the soul-reverberating chords get grittier, the riffs turn savage and raw, and the death growls take on a blunted, brutish edge. Launching straight into whirlwind-paced 'In Styx Embrace' from their latest album 'Arcane Astral Aeons' with their customary vigour, the underlying heavy metal elements were wrenched to the fore. The pure, unadulterated hard rock at the base of popular tracks 'Dim Days of Dolor' and 'The Other Side' was invoked to rousing effect, and going back to their roots, they dug out some headier, heavier material from their mighty debut album, 'At Sixes and Sevens'. With swagger and panache, the guitarists flaunted their stupendous technical skill with a series of excruciating, earth-shaking guitar solos played at a punishing, faster-than-lightning speed, sending the audience, who were already losing their minds, into rabid ecstasies.
Having already stamped her bold presence on Sirenia’s recent lyric videos and last two albums, relative newcomer Emmanuelle Zoldan, their latest classically trained vocalist, did a stellar job but perhaps needs to remember she’s as much a major player now as the other three and step forward to own her place. A shocking failure of the mic knocked her confidence at the beginning, and as awesome as the guitar solos were, they left her looking a little stranded on stage. However, Zoldan eventually seized the bull by the horns as the set rumbled on, and when Sirenia were urged back by the frenzied cries of the now-delirious fans for a heart-rending, breath-stealing performance of 'The Path to Decay', she had really hit her spirited stride, whipping up the crowd like a human hurricane.
Overall, Sirenia’s unorthodox diversity and contrast of styles and genres can feel chaotic at times and often invites a kind of disdainful, puritanical metal elitism, but their idiosyncrasies make boisterously entertaining live shows and there is usually something for everyone to enjoy. At a time of year when the nights draw close and the cold grips tight, their gluttonous feast of forms was, like the seasonal fireworks punctuating the inky night sky beyond, an intensely vivid, memorable and stirring spectacle to behold.