on 15 October 2009
After the previous masterpiece under the title "The Divine Conspiracy" I was really anxious (and sceptic) about what Epica could offer next. Don't forget that Epica's main composer, Mark Jansen, has been sharing his vision and writing abilities since the glorious days of After Forever (R.I.P.) (remember Prison of Desire & Decipher anyone?). However, there is no need to worry! Mark Jansen & Co are a reliable and massively talented band and have a lot more to offer. This new brilliant album just proves that and shows how hard the band has been constantly working through the years. Honestly, "Design Your Universe" has so many things one can enjoy!
The album is epic and bombastic with amazing melodies, huge choirs, impressively tight rhythm section and on top of that it is complemented by the heavenly voice of Simone Simons (if anyone still has doubts just listen to her voice shining in the superb ballad "Tides of Time"). Even the grunts are generally better in this album. Also, I am sure that having two ex-God Dethroned members in guitars and drums has given much more flexibility in the writing process and added more value to the technical proficiency of the band's music. This explains the existence of more solos, progressive elements and many thundering double-bass parts that make you want to start learning drums yourself (yes, Ariën van Weesenbeek is that good!). I mean there are riffs and crushing songs that even the mighty Amon Amarth will wish they had written. For instance, you can hear that in one of my personal favourites "Martyr of the Free Word" (and oh my god, what a heavenly Gregorian chant comes in out of the blue in 2:45!!). "Our Destiny" is another great song with catchy melodies and blends Simone`s vocals with the choir so nicely in the end! The big epic song of the album is called "Kingdom of Heaven" and clocks at 13:35 (no comment on that!). Songs like "Unleashed" (for which they made a video), "Burn to a Cinder" or "Deconstruct" bring to mind After Forever at their best. Interestingly, in "White Waters" we can enjoy a nice duet between Tony Kakko (from Sonata Arctica) and Simone. The (over 9 minutes) title track closes the album with massive symphonic sounds and great choirs. If this is not enough for you, the limited edition offers a bonus track and of course a very nice packaging.
Overall, Epica's new album is an adventurous journey for the listener: grand, epic, cinematic, highly symphonic, emotional and very heavy. Only a few symphonic metal bands (I don't really approve the term female-fronted) can claim that they have these attributes and maintain the high quality in their compositions combined with the strong vocals which this genre requires (for whom the bell tolls?). Once again, well done Epica!
on 13 October 2009
It seems that EPICA have found a winning formula to keep the standard high in all their albums.
'Phantom'was an astonishing album and it made me a fan. They haven't returned to that symphonic sound ever since. 'Consign' was a bit more commercial with less growls but still good. 'Divine' was heavier and probably the best one of all their albums (even the new one).
In 'Design' they return to the symphonic sound they had in the first album but they maintain the 'heaviness' of 'Divine'.
The intro to the album is one of the best instrumental pieces they ever wrote. 'Resign to surrender' is one of the best songs of the album, while 'unleashed' (also the video) is not a good representative of the album. 'Martyr of the free word' is almost thrash and 'our destiny' is quite a good song. 'Kingdom of heaven' is a 13-min long epic, with death metal growls, power metal guitars and beautiful ethereal voices from Simone (who by the way sings less and less operatically with each album). a small pointless interlude follows and then comes my favourite song of the album 'burn to a cinder'. 'tides of time' is simply beautiful and 'deconstruct' reminds me a bit of AFTER FOREVER (To tell you the truth, the whole album brings a bit of AFTER FOREVER to the surface). 'semblance of liberty' and 'white waters' im not crazy about and finally 'design your universe' is another epic that reminds me of 'divine conspiracy' (the song)..
this is a very good album by EPICA. More symphonic, heavier...Maybe a bit too long and definitely not as good as the previous album but still GOOD!
on 20 October 2009
Wow! Well, what an album this is! I got into Epica by purchasing The Divine Conspiracy, don't know how I came about buying it (must've heard a track on a free Metal Hammer CD), but I did, and I loved it. On hearing Epica were bringing out a new album in October I was eagerly awaiting to hear their new material, so eager in fact that I pre-ordered it from Amazon, something which I've never done before. Now onto the music:
This album just draws you in from the very beginning, the first track being a short orchestral piece and seeping into track number two. Not a single song gives this album any flaws, it's constant beauty on the ears from start to finish. Massive orchestras, choirs, head banging metal, head nodding and weeping ballads, each song sweeping you along in a whirlwind of emotion, with Simone Simons gorgeous vocals at the front, backed up by some of the most amazing music that metal has to offer in this day and age.
on 19 October 2009
From the first track to the last, Design Your Universe is one of the best albums I have heard in a long time. It is good to see a band that has evolved so much since their debut, yet changed so little. They retain the lightning fast guitar solos, but added are much more prominent growls and drum beats. Simone Simmon's voice has grown so much and she is much more confident, from the smooth, calming ballad of White Waters, to the thunderous Burn to a Cinder to the 14 minute Kingdom of Heaven, she is still just as stunning in her vocals. Dare I say that symphonic metal has a new master? Nightwish move over, Epica is on the rise. They have truely excelled themselves with this album, and Designed their own Universe within the crags of the metal genre, and all without becoming too mainstream. Bravo to Epica! They deserve much more attention than they get. This album is brilliant. And, well, quite simply Epic.
on 16 December 2009
I have to admit that I have been (discracefully) late in discovering Epica. I was aware of them a few years back but thought I was quite content with listening to the female-fronted metal of bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation, Evanescence, Tarja's solo album etc. Well, how wrong I was. What a treat I have been missing.
I have held off reviewing this album until I had given it a good few listens - just to ensure I was not mistaken. Not mistaken in believing that this is quite possibly the best female-fronted symphonic metal album there is. Right now, the only other album I can think of in this genre that comes close is Nightwish's `Once'. No disrespect to their peers, but Epica have set the bar so high, it will be interesting to see how other bands respond.
Epica are fronted by the most gorgeous woman in metal, Simone Simons. Luckily, she has the vocal talent to back it up. In spades, in fact. She may not have the vocal power of e.g. Sharon den Adel from Within Temptation but she is arguably more versatile than any of her peers, switching from rock singing to opera with ease and with great effect. Her vocals on this album are simply fantastic.
Epica are a curious mix of musical styles. They have a very clear operatic Nightwish influence, but with the 7-string heaviness of Within Temptation and the compositional complexity of progressive bands like Dream Theater. The great thing about this album is that, although it's a very long album, it never feels like it - and there's so much in here too. Every time I listen to it, I hear something new, something I missed last time. Now that's value for money!
Ultimately, Simone's vocal melodies are the driving force of this album. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by her singing on `Tides of Time'. This song shows of her talent to its fullest. What a beautiful voice. On the previous album, she sometimes sounded uncannily close to Amy Lee from Evanescence. But on this album, she finally comes into her own, finding her own style. And what style!
Yet the rest of the band support her with some of the greatest music I have heard for years. The riffs are tight as a hamster's bum, sometimes bone-crunchingly heavy but never getting in the way of the song or overshadowing of the song. No one tries to shine - everything is done with what's best for the song in mind. The drums are at times utterly frantic, providing a beat so solid, I can't help abusing my steering wheel every time I play this CD in the car. And the quality of the songs never drop as the album goes on - in fact, some of the best tracks are towards the end of the CD. And the production is brilliant - Sascha Paeth does a fantastic job of capturing such a wall of sound. Every instrument and voice is perfectly balanced.
This album sets the bar for all other female fronted metal bands. Do yourself a favour and get this album. I can't recommend it highly enough.
I expect a few vitriolic comments for this review but what the hey. If you know what this band is about then you will not be disappointed. That's about the best I can say. My musical tastes are a broad church but this form of symphonic rock just doesn't do it for me, and I recommend that anyone looking to dip their toe in the genre look elsewhere. I would recommend Within Temptation myself. My problem with this lot, and I've said this before about Nightwish I think it was, is that what passes for symphonic rock, when produced like this, is a sort of Andrew Lloyd Webber style of melody with overwrought singing attached, tagged on to some fierce base drumming and the odd twiddly guitar flourish. And oh look, there are preludes and interludes and general taking ourselves too seriously nonsense. I know, I know other bands do this as well, most recently Muse, but for some reason Epica just don't pull it off for me, mainly because they are so po-faced about it all. I do like a lot of stuff that fans of this band probably would like, Kamelot, Firewind and Sonata Arctica for example, so I just don't know why this group and album don't rock my boat. Perhaps some kind comments could change my mind.
on 28 December 2010
When Sid Vicious began a revolution with his "I Hate Pink Floyd" T-shirt he didn't really hate the band. Rather, they had become symbolic - to him - of the absurd pomposity and alien character of the progressive rock bands of the mid-70s. What on earth were those bands going on about? How were they relevant to young people? How could anyone learn a few chords and play such numbers to some vaguely acceptable amateur standard? It was all leading nowhere. And hence Punk.
The same sort of comments could, I suggest, be made about Epica. Indeed, even at their daftest, the prog rock dinosaurs (OK, there may be the odd exception) failed to bring orchestras and massed choirs on-stage. And the problem with using a semi-classical female vocalist is...well, if you want to form your own Epica-type band, they are very very hard to find. And I should know - I've played keyboards in one or two female-fronted symphonic metal bands. So yes, I am a fan of this style of music. But speaking as a fan of ELO that's hardly surprising - for this is like ELO on steroids, with their high-pitched male vocals going up half an octave and changing sex. No problems with that - but there are a couple of "buts".
The first is that the melodies here are not as stong as I think they could be. There are undoubtedly some good melodic sections, but too much of it seems - to me - to wander along a bit too much. I have played this CD a lot of times, and it does seem, to my ears, to lack some degree of structure. The second is the growling - some of it actually works really well, which rather surprised me. But there is still too much of it.
I'd say that overall this is a very good CD - even though I prefer Nightwish and Within Temptation, because those bands have more excitement, energy and 'lift', and also better melodies (especially in the case of Nightwish). In my opinion, this album could have been quite a bit better - in which case it would surely have been sensational. All the basic ingredients are there for Epica to create something really special, but my feeling is that some new songwriting input is needed for the next album, so as to strengthen it musically and introduce a different approach to the male vocal dimension. Of course, Punk's popularity only lasted for a couple of years...prog rock simply won't go away!
on 1 December 2009
I've been following the Symphonic Metal scene quite closely since Nightwish's release of "Once", over five years ago, and have since then discovered with joy the amazing bands that are Within Temptation, Kamelot, After Forever, Therion... However, nothing I heard seemed quite as good as "Once". At the time, Epica were just starting, and although promising, their debut album "The Phantom Agony definitely lacked maturity and bore the mark of a band trying to find itself. Consign to Oblivion marked a steady progress but still did not have that X factor that one can find in Kamelot's "Epica"/"Black Halo" concept. Then came the "Divine Conspiracy" and suddenly I got very excited: the band was moving in a new and brilliant direction. What felt like it could have been a pop act (I've heard Epica play a disco version of TPA live! I kid you not!) at times became darker, stronger, more epic and definitely to be taken seriously.
After a proliferation of new albums in 2007 (Ghost Opera, The Heart of Everything, Dark Passion Play and the Divine Conspiracy), the Symphonic Metal scene went very quiet. It seemed like all my favourite bands were losing heart and the will to produce good metal. After Forever disband, Within Temptation start producing pop songs and God only knows what Nightwish are up to!
But Epica kept working hard and revealed "Design your Universe" to us in October. The hard work has paid off. This is an epic masterpiece which locks together to form a very complete, dark and bewitching ensemble. Simone Simons' voice improves with every album, and this is quite obvious in songs like "Tides of Time" and "White Water", but the album is that good that its impact does not rely on Simone's voice. Finally, after years of tentative grunting, Mark Jansen has found his place in his own music. The grunts which seemed odd and misplaced in Consign to Oblivion fit perfectly in the new Black / Death metal edge of this new album (see "resign to surrender" and "design your universe"). I think the new album's maturity can partly be attributed to the arrival of Arien van Wessenbeek and Isaac Delahaye who both infuse a very dark and powerful energy to the songs. And finally! Finally Epica have incorporated guitar solos in their music (Martyr of the Free World)!
Fans of "The silent force" be warned, this album is probably not for you! However, I've seen fans of Dark Tranquility and In Flames won over.
Enjoy, and go see Epica live if you can!
Until this album, I hadn't heard any of Epica's work. Tried this out on the basis of a little airplay and some very strong reviews here. Well, I'm happy to report that I certainly haven't been disappointed!
The combination of exhilarating guitar-work and Simone's beautiful soaring vocals is quite simply irresistible. As a veteran prog-rock aficionado who can remember the 70's, Epica's music reminds me a lot of their fellow Dutch symphonic/goth/prog masters Earth and Fire. Check out Earth and Fire's "Storm and Thunder" on Youtube and you'll see what I mean. That's not to say that "Design Your Universe" is derivative in any way - just carrying on that fine Dutch tradition of top-notch symphonic-prog! Or for another analogy, just think of Ensiferum with an angel at the helm!
Highlights for me here are "Unleashed", "Martyr of the Free Word", the acoustic and vaguely Metallica-like "White Waters", the achingly beautiful "Tides of Time" and probably my favourite track "Burn to a Cinder", which grabbed me on very first listen.
A couple of tracks could, if I were feeling very ungenerous, possibly be described as padding, but perhaps they just require a few more listens to get into.
Anyone who loves prog - be it from its 70s heyday or from the new generation of prog/metal bands keeping the flame alive, is sure to get a lot out of this album!
on 25 October 2009
I was pretty late in realising quite how stunningly amazing Epica are. I'd meant to buy The Divine Conspiracy for ages but never really got round to it. When I finally did, I was blown away and became instantly obsessed by the band. I am sure if you are a fan you will know what I mean. This album had some high expectations and I was a little worried it wouldn't live up to them. It didn't... it smashed them out of the water! This album is quite literally the best thing I have heard in years.
For a start, Epica certainly haven't cut down on the epic, melodramatic and symphonic elements of their music. Epic riffs, sweeping orchestral arrangements, dramatically gothic choirs and Simone's soaring operatic vocals are here in lashings. In fact, they have simply become even more epic, even more dramatic, even more stunningly beautiful and heavy. This album has more of a "heavy metal" feel to it than before, but not compromising on symphonic beauty, don't worry! There is basically not one single element I can complain about. Heavy male growled vocals are thrown in occasionally (see the wonderfully heavy "Incentive"), Simone's vocals stun even more than usual with a lot of variety and passion.
All of the songs are amazing, but perhaps the most standout tracks are the "A New Age Dawns" trilogy. "Design your universe" and "Kingdom of Heaven" are simply mindblowing. A bit of narrative and story telling are thrown in for good measure but not enough to detract from the music at all. "Unleashed" is the single, and is undoubtedly a great song, although I'd say they would have trouble in bettering "Kingdom..." or "Design..."
Basically, if you thought "The Divine Conspiracy" was good, you will be completely amazed by this album. If you have yet to experience Epica, don't hesitate to buy this. Symphonic metal can't possibly get any better than this.