Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Epica – The Quantum Enigma

Fifth album in from Epica the symphonic metal band who hail from Holland, but the first I’ve had the opportunity to listen to. Increasingly I’m hearing bands, and predominantly European ones, whose albums tend to be what you might term concept orientated, that is to say there’s an overall story or theme behind them.

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Each of the five digi-pak versions of Epica’s ‘The Quantum Enigma features impressive cover art by Stefan Heilemann, a long term contributor to the band, plus visual extras on some of them that expand upon the album’s lyrics that are said to refer to the end of an era. The theme is that mankind can no longer stick its head in the sand regarding tensions between different religions and cultures, wars, natural disasters, or financial crises. Further, that we are all connected; the universe, the earth, nature, animals and human beings, and this period in time will be the prelude to the end for those who still don’t want to, or simply won’t see it: a requiem for the indifferent but also a possibility for a new beginning with great new chances. Thus Epica see optimism beyond the current despair.

While that’s as it may be, I found I wasn’t really listening to the lyrics save on a few specific songs, nor specific instruments coming to the foreground or soloing really, but the overall sound of an orchestra with added rock instruments for good measure. We’ve come a long way since Deep Purple’s ‘Concerto For Group And Orchestra, and thank whatever deity, this time it succeeds.

Main vocalist Simone Simons does indeed have a fine voice, one that embraces both the right side of operatic, mainstream rock and a little Eurovision Song Contest lite with its clarity of sound. I am not a fan of the old death metal growl, partly because my personal demons speak with forked tongues not Darth Vadar voices, and partly because I often find it hard to decipher what the hell those singers are griping about; fortunately I can understand Mark Jansen’s voice and he’s obviously not the sole voice, plus when he does come in grunting it often counterpoints Simons, not just aurally but in commentary statement.

However, what is most impressive are the choirs, both male and female; they’re often full on and add so much. This is established right from the start with the mid-paced symphonic overture that is ‘Originem’ before swiftly moving onto my favourite track with lyrics, ‘The Second Stone’, as the guitars buzz about like a swarm of hornets and Simon tells us “As time goes by I hide the truth” in earnest hook line, Jansen’s growl coming in three quarters of the way through the song and the choir that’s been present becoming more mournful until guitar soloing takes over and then Simon returns to conclude the song.

 ‘The Essence of Silence is notable for its opening violin solo giving way to a thrashing metal race as Jansen and Simon direct question and answer style vocal lines at each other. ‘Victims of Contingency’ has double time drums playing menacingly over power metal guitars and the string section evoking a feel of unseen mystery to proceedings. Where Sense ‘Without Sanity – The Impervious Code’ is more reflective in nature, ‘Unchain Utopia’ features acoustic guitar and a tinkling bell effect during its opening section, taking in an almost Zeppelin type riff, but it is the choir and orchestra that really make this song. Gentler songs either on flute or keyboards again come to the fore with the instrumental that is ‘The Fifth Guardian; Chemical Insomnia’ includes two, possibly double-tracked, female lead voices, while ‘Living in the Heart’ features a chomping guitar that opens it jaws wider to snap as the vocals enter full throttle with the choir giving it some gusto even as it turns into a speed metal performance.

‘The Ghoulish Malady’ and ‘Canvas of Life tend to be gentler pieces, the first a ballad with piano opening that moves into a more symphonic rock sound with big hook lines, Simon and Jansen duetting; the latter almost a middle ages folk piece with rock elements. That elder time theme continuing with ‘Natural Corruption’ as acoustic guitar melody is picked out over a courtly piano based tune with some quite beautiful vocals from Simon, the choir gathering en masse towards its ending before finally concluding with the upbeat Gothic choir power metal of The Quantum Enigma – Kingdom of Heaven part II‘.

An album worth repeated listening, and a worthy introduction to the band for this listener, I trust long time fans won’t be disappointed.

7.5/10

Epica ‘The Quantum Enigma’ is out now via Nuclear Blast!

Paul H Birch
Paul H Birch
RAMzine Senior Writer - Writer of fiction, faction and fact, has edited several newsstand magazines. He declares himself a hack for hire but refuses to compromise on the subject of music.

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