I love Epica! I have all of their studio albums, (except the instrumental one) plus their live album The Classical Conspiracy, and each one is fantastic. The band is a relatively new obsession for me but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t looking forward to their latest effort, Requiem for the Indifferent, which was released this past week in the US. Oh, and if you hadn’t heard, it’s good!
Probably like a lot of the band’s fans, I was introduced to Epica through Kamelot. The band actually began as Sahara Dust, but changed it to Epica after several of the members heard Kamelot’s album of the same name. This must have got back to the members of Kamelot, as soon they were taking Epica on the road with them. Epica’s primary vocalist, Simone Simons, did a guest spot on Kamelot’s follow-up to Epica, The Black Halo, on the song “The Haunting.” Simons would join the band on stage for live performances of the song, and Epica’s other vocalist and primary song composer Mark Jansen, would also show up to do the death growls featured in the song “March of Mephisto.” Kamelot’s then vocalist Roy Khan would also appear on Epica’s sophomore release, Consign to Oblivion, on the track “Trois Vierges.”
This relationship has continued on to this day. Simons even began dating Kamelot’s keyboard player, Oliver Palotai, which has made working together fairly easy. Palotai has even played with Epica when their keyboard player Coen Janssen was unavailable. Simons has had a vocal part on all of Kamelot’s albums ever since The Black Halo and was part of the band’s most recent tour where she not only sang her parts from various songs but also performed lead vocals for the Kamelot song “Don’t You Cry” at several shows.
It was love of Simone Simons’ vocals that got me to ultimately pursue Epica. Her early appearances with Kamelot mostly added color and character to the tracks she appeared on. Her voice was basically in the background, but on Kamelot’s latest effort, Poetry for the Poisoned, she was moved into more of a duet type of role and really shined. I had checked out some of the band’s stuff on youtube and had a muted experience. Epica is a symphonic metal act at it’s core but adds dashes of death metal as well, mostly through the vocals of Mark Jansen. I like all metal to some degree and have written about acts that use death growls with great admiration like Opeth and Children of Bodom. That said, I found Jansen’s vocals off-putting. They sometimes sound like they exist just because someone in the band feels that they must. There’s usually little melody to how they’re presented and are very monotone. It didn’t help that I was checking out Epica primarily because I enjoyed the work of Simone Simons with Kamelot and mostly wanted to hear her front a band. Eventually I decided I needed to give the band a real chance though, and picked up their album Design Your Universe.
As with most things, repeated exposure to Jansen’s vocals softened my opinion of them. I gravitated towards the tracks that featured them minimally, but then I started to enjoy the others as well. Design Your Universe is a great, fantastic album. I’m still not a big fan of the use of death growls, as they sometimes just don’t fit, but they don’t bother me. The musicianship and composition of the songs stood out to me, as well as the work of Simons. I soon sought out the album that preceded DYU, The Divine Conspiracy, and found it hard to decide which I enjoyed more. I stopped there for awhile, as Epica’s other albums are a pain to locate in the US, but eventually I ordered the remaining ones off of amazon and have enjoyed them all. I really can’t pick a favorite, though the debut album The Phantom Agony is probably my least favorite. Not because it’s bad or anything, it’s quite good, it just sounds like a band still finding its voice.
Which brings me to the latest effort from this Dutch outfit, Requiem for the Indifferent. At it’s heart, Requiem is a natural extension of the last album, Design Your Universe. There’s a metal base to the record that’s accentuated with classical and Hollywood style orchestration. There’s a bit more ambition this time out in terms of song structure. Even the album’s lead single, often the album’s “safest” track, experiments with interesting time signatures. It’s a bit more of an aggressive lead over something like “Never Enough” from The Divine Conspiracy, but also a superior track. This lead single, “Storm the Sorrow,” is arguably the album’s best song which is a rarity for a single. This makes the album a more challenging listen, but a very rewarding one. Epica is the rare band that seems to get slightly heavier in sound with each subsequent album.
The album begins in the same fashion as the last few, with an instrumental that leads into a soaring epic. “Monopoly on Truth” is an excellent choice for an album opener as it serves as a pseudo preview of the whole, but still is a viable song on its own merit. It’s one of the heavier tracks, and there are quite a few of other such tracks. “Internal Warfare,” dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attack in Norway last year, is another heavy and bold track that gives the head-bangers something to get excited over. There’s also plenty of softer moments. “Delirium” is the token ballad of the bunch where a pleasant composition is content to stay in the background while Simons does her thing upfront to really drive the song along. The US exclusive track “Twin Flames,” is another similar ballad though distinct enough from “Delirium,” and a very capable ballad at that.
The band is often at it’s best though when it can intertwine the heavy and the serene. The title track is one such instance. It begins with an unusual (for Epica) “jangly” guitar riff that soon introduces a sitar before the song gets going. There’s a soaring chorus and lots of extension as the song finds a
way to fill eight minutes without feeling long. Epica is quite fond of exceeding the six minute mark with its songs, and usually does so capably. “Deep Water Horizon” is a song most will probably find stuck in their head. It contains an almost out of place chorus, but it’s so good that the song makes it work. It intertwines the dark and the light and is the kind of song that temps the listener to immediately “rewind” and listen to again upon completion. The closing number (not including bonus tracks), “Serenade of Self-Destruction,” is the album’s most ambitious song and possibly it’s brightest moment. Every aspect of the song works well in it’s favor and the chorus has an appropriately “epic” feel to it. For the track, Epica makes liberal use of choirs and Simon’s more operatic vocals while Jansen adds some brutal undertones with his grunts. There’s even a spoken word section, something Epica would probably do well to make less use of, that doesn’t derail the song’s momentum as it doesn’t stop to let the speaker speak. The CD version of the album was actually released without the final version of this track and the lead vocal tracks are missing. Nuclear Blast, the label for Epica, wisely corrected this error by releasing the song for free over the internet in both .mp3 and .wav formats. Future pressings will most likely include the full version of the song, but the instrumental version is still an engaging listen and allows the listener to appreciate the composition. The chorus is so expertly crafted that it works just as well without the lead vocals.
Requiem for the Indifferent is another excellent release from this now firmly established Dutch outfit. There are moments that do not shine as bright as others, but there is not a single bad composition here. The production from noted producer Sascha Paeth is fantastic. The drums are full, the guitars distinct, and the bass audible where it needs to be. This is Epica’s best album in terms of guitar playing and composition. There are some great lead riffs and just a ton more variety than their previous albums. Vocally, Simone Simons is excellent, as always. There is slightly less ambition as most songs are content to keep her in mid-ranges. There’s no “Tides of Time” moment, but she stays within herself and when she does push her range it’s with great effect. It’s much too soon to declare if this latest release is Epica’s best, but the fact that it’s already in the discussion is a very good thing. Don’t sleep on this one, folks!
- Storm the Sorrow
- Deep Water Horizon
- Serenade of Self-Destruction