When it comes to Epica and their music, people seem to either love them or they can’t stand them – I actually don’t fall into any of these categories. Trying to understand the hype about the Dutch symphonic metal band for years now, I found myself listening to their music way more than I ever intended to. And their music is indeed quite enjoyable and catchy. Well, most of the time. “The Divine Conspiracy”, Epica’s third record, was their first album I truly enjoyed, mainly because of its oriental vibe. Additionally, Epica’s 2014 release “The Quantum Enigma” is probably one of the most joyful records I know – I have several people who can attest that I regularly dance and sing along to both of this records. No shame. Their mix of the “beauty and the beast” concept for the vocals, their epic instrumental songwriting, additional choirs, beautiful melodies and, last but not least, exciting lyrical topics and concepts, simply works – even someone as cold-hearted as me will eventually have to admit that.
Looking back at the very beginnings of Epica, it is obvious that they have been growing immensely as musicians and songwriters. That is what leads us to their most recent release, “The Holographic Principle”. Lyrically, this new record sounds very promising: Most songs are based on the emerging theory that our universe is a massive hologram. Musically, this album may be the most diverse Epica output to date and if you are new to the band, “The Holographic Principle” may be a good starting point for you. Tracks like the instrumental intro “Eidola”, the darker tracks “Ascension – Dream State Armageddon” and “Universal Death Squad” (most progressive track on the album) and the semi-ballad “Once Upon A Nightmare” definitely have a musical vibe to them. “Dancing In A Hurricane” is another highlight on this record: It contains different elements like tribal drumming, oriental melodies, a catchy chorus and a massive instrumental bridge which sounds inspired by the Star Wars movie soundtrack – it is definitely one of the best Epica songs of all time. “A Phantasmic Parade” is another track worth mentioning – the violin picking at the beginning is particularly exciting. “Divide And Conquer” and “Beyond The Matrix” sound like classic Epica songs, the latter reminding me of “Sensorium”.
I have mixed feelings about “Edge Of The Blade” – this track sounds like it was compiled of two absolutely different songs; the chorus sounds very beautiful, though. I also feel like the last two tracks “Tear Down Your Walls” and the epic “The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding Of Reality” lack any kind of interesting parts. If the last two songs on a record are boring, it does affect the overall experience quite a lot. Also, I still don’t see any reason why Epica’s frontwoman Simone Simons is considered one of the best (if not THE best) vocalist in symphonic metal. Yes, everyone who has ever tried to sing along to any Epica song will know how challenging it is. It is just ironical that their own singer seems to be struggling, too. Anyone who hasn’t been blinded by Simons’ bright blue eyes and fabulous hair will hear that she is not the strongest live performer in general, and even on CD, you will notice that it is Marcela Bovio, Epica’s studio background vocalist and former frontwoman of Stream Of Passion, who makes Simons’ voice shine most of the time. The fact that she tries to improve her singing with every new release is praiseworthy, though – she probably tried everything from classical and slightly oriental to pop singing. But to be fair, Simons does have her great moments in general: She shines with her soft operatic vocals and mostly when she is singing at medium pitch, as found in “Once Upon A Nightmare” and “Dancing In A Hurricane”.
Overall, Epica have done a really good job on this new record, but it is definitely not their best. The predecessor “The Quantum Enigma” felt a lot more consistent, while “The Holographic Principle” contains some really interesting twists. You should for sure check out this record if you like cinematic, soundtrack-inspired and classical music mixed with aggressive music, as the instrumentals on this record really speak for themselves.
All in all, “The Holographic Principle” is a very solid record that does contain some inconsistencies, but in general, Epica are continuing to do what they do best: Beautiful, catchy and powerful music.
2. Edge Of The Blade
3. A Phantasmic Parade
4. Universal Death Squad
5. Divide And Conquer
6. Beyond The Matrix
7. Once Upon A Nightmare
8. The Cosmic Algorithm
9. Ascension – Dream State Armageddon
10. Dancing In A Hurricane
11. Tear Down Your Walls
12. The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding Of Reality
Label: Nuclear Blast Records