Epica - The Quantum Enigma - (9.5/10)
Published on April 23, 2014
And the saga continues…
Originally starting out as an offshoot of one of the then leading symphonic metal bands, After Forever, Epica have far surpassed what the previous band had been able to achieve. In a very crowded genre, the band around Mark Jansen has taken the sound that had been revolutionized by Norwegian Theatre of Tragedy back in the mid-nineties and ran with it, expanding it into a highly layered mix of power, death, gothic and symphonic metal, adding more than one progressive tendency and a world class singer in Simone Simons. Over the course of nine years and six albums the Dutch sextet carved their own niche within the genre, garnering rave reviews left, right and center – much deserved I might add. Now anno 2014 we have reached album number 7 with The Quantum Enigma, continuing the elevated titling of albums and the question remains – can they keep up their impressive string of high quality releases?
To have an exceptional talent like Simone Simons on the microphone helps for sure, but she would be lost, if what is happening behind her could not live up to her performance. And one thing is for sure, Epica do not take the easy route to symphonic metal, for that they have too many changes and especially too many growls, yet they still manage to keep this stream of mass appeal that probably is part of their success and that sets them apart from many of their colleagues.
Even the intro goes beyond the often atmospheric keyboard swaths and is bombastic, dramatic and dense, setting you up for the first track to hit and “The Second Stone” continues the dramatic note in an epic yet heavy track that brings us the whole vocal gamut, from big choirs to Simone’s powerful voice and finally the growls of Mark and Ariën. And everything in this song screams Epica, up to the beautiful slowed down chorus, where we are treated to an exceptional vocal line that puts most of the rest of the genre to shame! A grandiose start to this album, now are they setting the scene or themselves up for failure by putting such a strong track at the beginning.
And “The Essence of Silence” does what we can expect from the Dutchmen – surprise you. Heavy, modern riffing with growls tears you out of your bliss (and potentially any expectation going with the title of the song), but it is woven into more symphonic metal with choir and Simone’s vocals, yet showing a very different side of the band. This is also one of these occasions I had mentioned before, where the casual symphonic metal listener might be thrown off a bit, but to me it is part of what makes Epica so special, because they masterfully combine these technically at-odd elements into tense and dramatic songs, at times transcending the borders between symphonic metal with growls and melodic death metal with choir and female vocals without sacrificing the album’s musical integrity (see “Victims of Contingency”).
And then they surprise by a Chinese inspired calm instrumental interlude in “The Fifth Guardian”, which serves as an oasis of quietude among the dramatic arrangements, a beautiful cinematic breather before we dive back into the symphonic maelstrom that is The Quantum Enigma. “Chemical Insomnia”, the song that picks up from the interlude, exemplifies pretty much everything Epica stand for, with the constant changes of tempo, intensity and heaviness, but forming it into a grandiose whole. The closing trio unites the whole gamut, with “Canvas of Life” playing the character of the ballad, “Natural Corruption” being the dramatic rollercoaster and 12-minute epos “The Quantum Enigma – Kingdom of Heaven Part II” the epic mammoth closer.
To come back to my initial question – yes, Epica have managed to continue their impressive string of high quality releases with The Quantum Enigma, the kind that many other related bands strive to achieve once in a lifetime. The Quantum Enigma is big, theatrical, deep, dramatic and epic, constantly challenging the listener while still giving instant gratification, symphonic metal as it should be!