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