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Epica - Design Your Universe (9,5/10) - Netherlands - 2009

Genre: Symphonic Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Playing time: 74:50
Band homepage: Epica

Tracklist:

  1. Samadhi (Prelude)
  2. Resign To Surrender (A New Age Dawns Part IV)
  3. Unleashed
  4. Martyr Of The Free Word
  5. Our Destiny
  6. Kingdom Of Heaven (A New Age Dawns Part V)
  7. The Price Of Freedom (Interlude)
  8. Burn To A Cinder
  9. Tides Of Time
  10. Deconstruct
  11. Semblance Of Liberty
  12. White Waters
  13. Design Your Universe (A New Age Dawns Part VI)
Epica - Design Your Universe

Many bands undergo evolution throughout their career, with very varying degrees of success. Dutch EPICA have more or less stayed true to their original sound ever since their inception in 2003, but with one grand exception: They took the extremes of their sound and continued to expand them while the core of the sound remained within their closer area of expertise, the continuously exploration of the neighbouring regions is, though, what sets them apart from bands that year in, year out release the same album over and over. The direction that AFTER FOREVER took after Mark Jansen had left the band and the subsequent foundation of EPICA and their musical scope clearly show that he had been the driving creative force behind the voluptuous and epic sound and with EPICA he was able to pair up his talent with the incredible voice of Simone Simons that has since taken the Metal world by storm and kicked something into motion that has not stopped since.

 

“Design Your Universe” picks up where “The Divine Conspiracy” had left off two years prior and upped many things another notch and if you have Sascha Paeth at the helm twiddling the knobs (and his talent for grand productions), then you know that this could only be a winner and I am more than happy to announce that this indeed is the case. I had mentioned the exploration of the extremes and which Gothic/Symphonic Metal band these days will offer you harsh growls, very heavy riffing and even blastbeats? Exactly, hardly none, but EPICA bring you all this together with the lush orchestrations and dynamic and gripping compositions that unite the best of both worlds in an amazing amalgamation of styles.

 

Thanks to Nuclear Blast and their budgetary freedom, both band and producer really can live out their ideas and dreams in realizing these ambitious songs, be it with orchestration or choirs to supplement the Metallic grandeur these Dutchmen (and lady) unleash, either as part of the epic ambience (as in the intro “Samadhi (Prelude)”) or as contrast to the harsh growls of Jansen right after on “Resign To Surrender (A New Age Dawns Part IV)”, but never as gimmick for gimmick’s sake. While almost each track has its individual strengths and can stand up to the vast majority of bands of comparable styles, there are a few songs that show the ultimate talent and potential that this band unites.

 

“Unleashed” is a dynamic Metal opera in its own right, grand and dramatic, but it is only breaking the ground for “Martyr Of The Free Word”, because this song is among the best that 2009 has seen, no word of a lie. It takes heavy and aggressive riffing and almost blastbeat regions in the drum department, breaks them down into a fairly calm verse before the growls take over, big cinema, because the heaviness is contrasted with great orchestrations and choirs and even Gregorian chants, talk about epic! And while we are talking about something epic, “Kingdom Of Heaven (A New Age Dawns Part V)” – over 13 minutes of everything from chants, strings, growls, choirs, heavy passages, do I need to say more? Then there also are the beautiful melodies of “Burn To A Cinder” or the symphonic edge of dynamic and fast barnburner “Semblance Of Liberty” with the wonderful ballad “Tides Of Time” sandwiched between them, so this is as widescreen as it’ll get.

 

What else stands out? Well, I just have to mention Simone’s vocal delivery, which is just heavenly, if the songs on their own would not already have been brilliant, her voice would have been able to single-handedly push them over the edge. And if you now think that I am sounding way too much like a fanboy, then check out “Design Your Universe” and then the previous efforts and you will see that this band deserves all the praise they receive (obviously given that you actually like this style, of course).

 

Hands down the Symphonic Metal release of the year!

(Online January 7, 2010)

Alexander Melzer



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