I have been listening to Epica since 2009’s “Design Your Universe”, and I’ve heard pretty much all their music. I’ve seen them live, too, and it was an immense experience. So, when a new Epica album is incoming, I’m immediately expecting a gigantic album with high-minded themes, heavy guitars, and orchestral movements. That is what Epica is, and that is what you can always expect. On the latest album, “The Quantum Enigma”, I felt like the band had even fallen into this “symphonic metal by the numbers” approach, and I was disappointed somewhat. My love for Epica died a little bit, and I haven’t been listening to them much lately. This new album, however, has refreshed what I love about Epica, and is definitely a comeback album, at least for me.
The new album is called “The Holographic Principle”. As you can tell, the heavy use of illustrious adjectives continues, but the music feels more grounded than it has since “Design Your Universe”. By grounded, I simply mean that the music feels quite organic, inspired, and sincere, even on certain tracks I don’t really like, such as “Universal Death Squad” (that name!). The music is mostly unchanged. We still have the heavy guitar riffs, the pounding drums, the orchestral movements, the harsh vox, and, of course, Simone’s huge voice. The music, however, does feel like they focused more on the orchestra this time, especially for the first half of the album.
The band still consists of Simone Simons on vocals, Isaac Delahaye on guitars, Mark Jansen on guitars and harsh vocals, Coen Janssen on keys, Ariën van Weesenbeek on drums and Rob van der Loo on bass. These people have been playing together for a long time, and it shows in the interplay and sync that is apparent here. Simone is one of my favorite female vocalists, though she sounds a bit deeper in tone on this album; I’m not sure if it’s the mix or her recent pregnancy (yes, that can happen). Isaac and Mark lay down some crushing riffs, especially in the last few tracks, and Coen’s synths are obviously wild and untamed in their scope. Lastly, Ariën and Rob are legendary for their unrelenting rhythm section, and that has not changed.
Now, when I say that the album seems to focus on the orchestra more, that probably requires some exposition. The first half of the album feels a little lighter than usual. I’m not sure if it the guitar tone or the mix, but it just feels that way to me. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. With this lighter tone, the first few tracks contain a whole lot of choirs and such, making the first half of the album feel more like an intro, overall. This results in a mixed bag for me, with songs like “Beyond the Matrix” hitting with satisfying results and songs like “Universal Death Squad” completely missing for me (I never thought I’d hear the word “technology” used that many times in one song).
The album really hits a good stride on the amazing “Once Upon a Nightmare”. It’s the first time in the album where I feel Simone gets to shine, and it also happens to be the first track here that feels completely inspired instead of by the numbers in some capacity. This track is easily the best they’ve made since “Design Your Universe”, and it blows me away every time due to its massive orchestrations and melodies. It also kicks off an awesome string of tracks that lasts the rest of the album.
That string of tracks includes “The Cosmic Algorithm” and “Ascension: Dream State Armageddon”, but really explodes with the gorgeous “Dancing in a Hurricane” with its huge melody and “Tear Down Your Walls” with its heavier edge. The album ends magnificently with the title track, which incorporates everything I love about Epica. The final half of the album is heavier, bolder, and lacks the cheese of the first few tracks.
Other than all of that, this is still an Epica album. It’s a solid offering; their best since “Design Your Universe” in my opinion. Fans of that album will no doubt love this album, and Epica fans in general will probably label this as one of their best. I would probably agree. It’s nearly flawless when it comes to production, art, and performance. If you are a fan, this is a great album to go pre-order right now!