Epica – The Divine Conspiracy (2007) Album Review

Do you remember the words I said back when I reviewed Xandria‘s new opus? That this year other bands might come up with interesting releases for the symphonic/gothic metal genre? Well, Epica is one of the highest anticipated artists that have an album ready to be unleashed this fucking month! With a title like Requiem for the Indifferent, Epica will continue their compelling stories about agony, sadness, love, hope, mythology and long lost civilization, revealing many more aspects that they’ve yet to discover and why not, we might be in for surprises as well, just hope they will be pleasant ones. This year began great so to say, we had the new Alcest opus that was absolutely fantastic, we have the new Xandria opus which revived a long lost era for the symphonic metal genre and soon we will get Epica’s new opus, which might have a big weight for the future.

Enough about the future, we now turn back in time to another Epica, a band that released back in 2007 a new album entitled The Divine Conspiracy. The first thing interesting about the album is the title, a title that is meant to attract the listener with a compelling story, a story that mainly refers about religions. Basically, this can be considered as a conspiracy theory unleashed by the divinity. Notice that I didn’t say god? Well, those who know me are aware of my radical thoughts about religion. I do not believe in the existence of a god through these atrocities called organized religions, though I believe that a creator does exist and that nothing was created out of the blue. Epica basically introduces us in a story where divinities released in the world a certain number of religions and then they gave the people the right to choose them with a certain mission, to find the correct one, the true religion. This is the premise, though the real reason behind this is that people need to encounter them, to understand them and eventually to overcome them in order to reach the universal truth, that all religions are the same in the end and that none of them is wrong neither right. Some people might thing that this album has an atheistic approach but believe me, it is more than that, it is simply a belief transposed into 13 tracks. Atheistic or not, I think that in this genre, we should cast aside our religious beliefs, because in order to understand this musical genre, religion is nothing more than a burden, an obstacle, a kind of thing that makes our thoughts and minds limited.

A few words about the band Epica. It was founded back in 2003 by a former member of After Forever, Mark Jansen. It is a dutch band that approaches genres such as symphonic, gothic, power and neo-classical metal. As of 2012, Epica has released 5 albums (the 6th is coming soon), 1 live album, 1 EP, 1 DVD, 2 Split Albums, 1 Compilation and 10 Singles. They proved through songs such as The Phantom Agony, Quietus, Feint, Solitary Ground, Never Enough, Unleashed or Dance of Fate, a wide variety of styles and approaches, an interesting vocal performance, and an interesting playing style as well. Basically, Epica represents what After Forever meant in the 90s and beginning of 2000s before Mark Jansen’s departure from this band. The quality present in Epica’s records has been constant, probably because of the very few line-up changes, the band maintaining 4 out of 6 of the original founding members, with the core member Mark Jansen in the spotlight, and the mesmerizing songstress Simone Simons as the goddess.

This album also marks the ending of the The Embrace That Smothers saga, a saga that began from the early days of After Forever in the album Prison of Desire and finished on The Divine Conspiracy. On The Divine Conspiracy, there are 4 songs which are part of this concept, songs such as La‘petach Chatat Rovetz (The Final Embrace), Death of a Dream (The Embrace That Smothers, Part VII), Living a Lie (The Embrace That Smothers, Part VIII) and Fools of Damnation (The Embrace That Smothers, Part IX). These songs contain a more accentuated anti-religious theme in contrast with the other ones featured on the opus, it approaches a rather sensible subject such as dangers involved in organized religions. So what can we see in this new Epica opus? A much darker atmosphere, a much better use of symphonic and orchestral elements, the same bombastic sound that impressed in early After Forever and in early Epica works as well, elements of speed and death metal (mostly given by the rough vocals performed by Mark Jansen, performing both gothic kind of growls and death screams in several songs), and the most profound aspect, an angry Epica. This album combines a series of emotions and feelings such as sorrow, sadness, hope, love, anger and desperation, offering both heavy, speedy, and dark elements in every song featured on this opus.

As always, Simone Simons voice is staggering. Even though she is not a soprano singer, with the singing lessons that she received from Amanda Sommerville, she managed to pull out splendid performances on all Epica albums. I came in contact with this band after I heard her performance in a Kamelot song, The Haunting (Somewhere In Time), where she made an excellent and perfect duo with Roy Khan. She is one of the most promising rising female vocalists in the metal scene, a very young artist at only 27 years old. Same like Kamelot’s Roy Khan, she manages to convey the emotions specific in every song to the listener, offering a splendid performance both on studio songs and especially in live performance, where this band is a feast for the eyes and ears of every metal lover. Mark Jansen has also a pretty big role to play as well with his harsh vocal performance which are present in every song of this album.

The album begins with a 7-minute track entitled The Obsession Devotion which was preceded by a prelude Indigo. From this first song you can feel the heaviness specific on this album. You can really feel that musically, the band has improved since their first opus and experimented a lot coming up with their unique trademark and style. Menace of Vanity continues this album offering a stunning audible experience, fast pace, emotional vocals and epic guitar playing. Chasing the Dragon is probably the most remarkable song featured on this album, a song that debuts in a slow-paced way with Simone’s voice flowing over an acoustic guitar performance and keyboard performance, turning afterwards into a heavy song, accompanied by a splendid orchestral performance, the best point this album features as well as a pretty well performed drumming. Sancta Terra, like the title says is a tribute to our planet, and in my opinion, a song that fights on par with the aforementioned one. It is a lot slower compared to the other songs featured on this album, but this is the point that makes it more unique and much more interesting, the bass guitar is much more predominant in this song while the guitar playing has been down-tuned a lot. Other interesting songs are, The Divine Conspiracy, the infamous 13-minute giant, Never Enough a song that strays a little bit from the Epica sound that we are used to, although I believe this song was mostly made for a commercial purpose and Fools of Damnation.

There are some songs that also kinda tick you off and might remove the pleasure felt in the first half of the album. Songs such as Death Of A Dream which is part of The Embrace That Smothers story excessively combines orchestral acts with metal elements and in some intervals it might seem a little bit chaotic and unorganized, a perfect mood breaker in other words. The voices are barely audible because of the instrumentals that block them.

This album features 3 bonus tracks as well, one of them being Replica, a Fear Factory cover song. A pretty energetic song and a rather interesting pick for a cover song. It does not fit in for Epica since the song differs a lot from their own style, but it is a pretty impressive performance, especially given by the two main vocalists. Simone’s performance is reduced in this song while Mark Jansen is the one that holds the ropes and pulls the strings with insane screaming vocals and grunts that would raise the dead from their graves. Replica, in my opinion, is the heaviest song featured on this opus.

All in all, Epica fans, you won’t be disappointed by this one. Basically, this band has done nothing more than improvement throughout the years, and this opus is a living proof. All the members are young musicians with a lot of potential. But what does make Epica such a distinctive band in a genre that you really cannot expect to overthrow some limitations, without venturing in the mysterious forests of experimental structures? Let me tell you something, it is the orchestra that makes Epica different. I don’t mean that other bands don’t use it, but an orchestra differs from one to another, and the way Epica places it in their songs is just perfect and offers an unique sound. Simone’s voice is another major aspect of originality that is oozing from this band, as her vocals are not that common in this genre, she manages to climb up to soprano voice and also pull out splendid mezzo-soprano performances, present in Never Enough. This album is just another one that shows promise, expectations and improvements. I recommend it with my whole being!

Overall Impression: 95/100

Kamelot – Epica (2003) Album Review

Kamelot has long been one of my favorite bands for some certain reason. This review is partly to show my reasons for admiring this band so much and also, to review one of the best albums released this decade, a concept album based on Goethe’s novel, Faust, the 6th studio album of Kamelot, entitled Epica (as the land of Epica, presented in the book).

Kamelot combines successfully genres such as symphonic metal and power metal. With blasting drums, powerful riffs, enchanting and addictive vocals and with some nice keyboard solos present in their soundtracks, Kamelot stands as one of the frontrunners of the symphonic and power metal genres.

Epica is the start of a two album project, having as a sequel the 2005 album release entitled The Black Halo. But unlike its sequel, Epica is the climax of the two albums because the depth and the most interesting side of the story is depicted in the songs that compose this album.

This band does not hesitate in showing that they actually have a very talented line up. With his voice, Roy Khan became one of the best metal singers in the metal community, recognized by both fans and critics. From aggressive acts to more melancholic performances, Roy Khan can adjust his own voice to any kind of atmosphere, be it violent or more sombre.

By far, Thomas Youngblood is the best musician in the band. With his furious riffs present in songs such as Farewell or Center of the Universe and with soft acoustics present in One Cold Winters Night, he can deliver quality in any kind of song be it fast or slow. Definitely one of the most underrated metal guitarists.

The lyrics of this album tell a story with a huge depth depicting themes such as love, loss, vanity, greed and sorrow. Characters are born in it. Ariel is the type of character that likes to play with fire until he burns himself. Wealthy and filled with lust, he falls into darkness and despair being pursued and threatened by a deceitful archangel called Mephisto. Mephisto’s objective is to bring harm on Ariel punishing him after the maiden that loved him so much killed herself overwhelmed by her own grief of Ariel’s vanity.

Epica begins with a short 1:07 second song called Prologue. The name is pretty much insignificant to the concept since it represents more like an introduction to the second track entitled Center of the Universe. This track has two tempos, a fast one which is present during the beginning and the end of the song and a slow one which feature a piano solo in the middle of the song and a conversation between Helena and Ariel.

The third track Farewell represents the breakdown of the second track, as the atmosphere changes, from the euphoric atmosphere in the second track it now turns into a resolute and more sombre one. Crushing guitar riffs and blast drum beats is what makes the atmosphere of this song. The fourth soundtrack entitled Interlude I: Opiate Soul has the same outlook like Prologue had, preparing the listener for the next chapter, the fifth track, The Edge of Paradise.

This one features the same atmosphere and melodic traits as Farewell. Near the end, orchestra sounds appear which makes the atmosphere even more melodic followed by another round of blasting drum beats and fast tempo guitar riffs. Wander, the 6th track of the album, is the first acoustic track song on this album which introduces a wandering Ariel speaking with Helena. The song also features the introduction of a female voice, Mari Youngblood, Thomas’s wife. It is followed by a piano solo in the 7th track called Interlude II: Omen with a thunder storm as its background sound.

The 8th track, Descent of the Archangel prepares the stage for the arrival of the antagonist, Mephisto. Roy Khan with his voice, plays as Mephisto in a majestic way, grasping the atmosphere of the song perfectly. It is followed by another short pause, the 9th track which prepares the listener for another feast, entitled Interlude III: At the Banquet. A feast for the Vain  represents the downhill of Ariel. Once again, Roy Khan plays Mephisto by introducing the crowd which is played by the orchestra.

The atmosphere cools down as we begin exploring the 11th track, a sweet and sad ballad, entitled On The Coldest Winter Night. This song is more melancholic, it introduces new sounds such as church bells. Same like Wander, this song is also acoustic, it is slow, even Roy Khan’s voice is kept at a low octave and Thomas’s guitar riffs can barely be felt at the end of the track. The perfect breakout from the atmosphere presented in the 11th track comes with the 12th track entitled Lost and Damned which begins with war drums followed later by a piano play, ending as a typical trait of Kamelot’s style, with powerful guitar riffs. Lost and Damned represents Ariel’s resolution to continue pursuing his desire to know the universal truth, discarding his love for Helena, unknowing that this decision will be the beginning of a tragedy.

From this point on, the album ends with a transcending for the upcoming sequel, The Black Halo. The 13th song, entitled Helena’s Theme represents a funeral song, depicting the scene where Helena commits suicide and the act is witnessed by the River God (played by Roy Khan) which blames Ariel for causing the death of his beloved. The 14th track Interlude IV: Dawn can be called, the grief song, since it’s the song which announces Helena’s death, murdered by her own hand, by the will of Ariel.

The last 2 soundtracks from this album act as a duo, The Morning After and III Ways to Epica introduces Ariel’s sorrow caused by Helena’s death and the anger of the people. With III Ways to Epica, Ariel is banished to the land of Epica by Mephisto. Thus, it manages to create a closure to this brilliant album.

If I were to summarize and state why should you listen to this album, then I would say that is worth listening because of Roy Khan’s genial voice, because of its enchanting and addictive music, because of its exciting story line and finally because of it’s flow and atmosphere. The only bad thing, this album is not available on stores however you can find it on Amazon and other sites as well. Do not miss it’s sequel which is coming soon!

Overall Impression: 100/100