The Dutch symphonic metal band Epica got recently introduced to the big audience in our tiny little Belgium for their performance on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise in the popular tv- series Jani Gaat. Thanks to Epica, even our grandmothers said that ‘those metalheads are actually quite nice people’. We knew that all along of course. Epica does not need an introduction in the world wide heavy metal scene. One of the leading bands in symphonic metal is back with their seventh studio album, The Holographic Principle, released through Nuclear Blast. The album confirms the qualitative reputation of the band. The ensemble even seems to be one of the only symphonic metal outfits that never fails to deliver. Once again, Epica offers us an outstanding musical experience.
The Holographic Principle opens with the haunting Eidola. The song sets the tone for the rest of the album. We get to hear a threatening orchestra accompanied of a choir and a childish, almost spooky voice. Truly captivating. It feels superfluous to use the word in a review about Epica, but it simply sounds, sorry, epic. The next song is Edge Of The Blade, which has been released as a video and single a couple of weeks ago. The sound has something popish and up-tempo about it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, not even for a metal band. The song is quite catchy but it still feels like a smack in the face. Guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen’s grunts during the verse lift the atmosphere to a higher, more dynamic level. The powerful choirs add to this. Another number that got released before the official release of the album is Universal Death Squad. It is trademark Epica. It is fresh, heavy, has a catchy chorus and mesmerising keyboards and contains a flowing vibe. What strikes me is that the lyrics of Universal Death Squad have an explicit profound tone. These ones question technological progress. Epica does take its lyric-writing seriously. Not only in this song, but in every song. They often deal with reflections on modern society, science or current events. It certainly adds to the quality of the songs.
The recipe for the songs is actually quite similar to the rest of the Epica arsenal. The band sticks to its guns but seems to have changed one aspect, which is noticeable in songs like Divide and Conquer and Ascension – Dream State Armageddon. Guitarist Isaac Delahaye mentioned in their album documentary EPICA – The Holographic Principle – EPISODE #1 (OFFICIAL) that this change includes that they are now “a metal band backed up by an orchestra” instead of the other way around. That doesn’t mean that the classical influences no longer play an important role. For example, Beyond The Matrix is dominated by an energetic choir that will stick in your head like Dutch peanut butter on your sandwich. These classical arrangements go hand in hand with eastern influences. A fine implementation of this intercultural marriage is Dancing in a Hurricane, one of the absolute highlights of the album. It shows the versatility of the sextet.
It is not only versatility that distinguishes Epica. With The Holographic Principle, the band proves that they are gifted songwriters that are able to write complex compositions. The craftmanship of the members is worth mentioning. In the ballad Once Upon a Nightmare, lead singer Simone Simons sounds more sensitive and mature than ever before. She keeps on growing and most certainly has one of the most impressive female voices in today’s metal scene. A final number worth mentioning is the title track The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality. By force of habit the sextet concludes their albums with a longer song. The eleven-minute magnus opus represents everything Epica stands for: it is majestic, heavy, raw, bombastic, versatile and elegant. I can’t be the only one who gets instant goosebumps from hearing the violin riff. The album also includes a couple of bonus tracks that are, well, not really what you would expect from a metal band. Gipsy-like or reggae interpretations of their own songs is what you will hear. Did I already mention that Epica is a versatile band?
To wrap up; Epica delivered once more an outstanding symphonic metal masterpiece that contains the typical Epica sound but evolved positively from their former work. They perfected it. With every production I wonder if they can get any better but they outdo themselves with every new record. Every symphonic, death, progressive or general metalhead will most certainly dig this piece of art. A well-deserved 90/100.
Release date: 30 September, 2016
Label: Nuclear Blast
2. Edge of the Blade
3. A Phantasmic Parade
4. Universal Death Squad
5. Divide and Conquer
6. Beyond the Matrix
7. Once Upon a Nightmare
8. The Cosmic Algorithm
9. Ascension – Dream State Armageddon
10. Dancing in a Hurricane
11. Tear Down Your Walls
12. The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality
13. Beyond The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
14. Dancing in a Gipsy Camp
15. Immortal Melancholy (Acoustic Version)
16. The Funky Algorithm
17. Universal Love Squad