While I’ve liked everything Epica has put out up until this point I have to admit to never enjoying them as much as I felt I ought to given how much I like other bands in the same genre like Nightwish, Within Temptation and Delain. That all changed however when I first listened to The Quantum Enigma, Epica’s sixth studio album. Epica have always been called the thinking person’s symphonic metal band. This is mainly due to their highly intelligent and perceptive lyrics and their complex layering and intertwining of an orchestra, a choir, metal instrumentation and two different vocal lines. Epica have always managed to mix all these elements largely successfully and all their albums have received mainly positive critical and public reception.
However while I liked a lot of elements of Epica’s music and could appreciate their important messages and their technical and compositional ability their songs sometimes seemed a bit too long and disjointed for me.
Before I heard The Quantum Enigma I had resigned myself to always feeling like I should like Epica more than I did and never completely loving any of their material. On this album however Epica have finally managed to do what I always thought they were capable of and produced an album I can immerse myself in and appreciate in its totality. Congratulations Epica!
This album doesn’t do anything radically different from their previous releases, it just does everything better. At least that’s my opinion. Simone Simons is still improving every album and is now surely in the top tier of female vocalists in metal; Mark Jansen’s growling is considerably less annoying than it has been in the past and is used in a much more sensible, effective way instead of being thrown in for the sake of it; the guitar riffs are heavier but at the same time more memorable and melodic; the drums perform everything from slow, meandering fills to occasional bursts of brutal, almost death metal like blast beats; the bass keeps the rhythm nicely; the orchestra plays interesting, multi-layered parts which are expertly composed and contrast with the metal elements of the music perfectly and the choir compliment both Simons and Jansen admirably whether they’re providing a backing for their lead vocal lines or alternating with Simons or Jansen (sometimes both!) to provide variety.
All of the songs on this album are of the highest quality so it would be impossible for me to pick highlights. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of variation in the songs on The Quantum Enigma and thankfully little repetition of style. You have the short, epic instrumental pieces such as “Originem” or “The Fifth Guardian”; you have the riff-heavy, blast beat laden yet still somehow catchy cuts such as “Victims of Contingency” or “Chemical Insomnia” and you have possibly Epica’s most beautiful ballad in “Canvas of Life”.
There are also the longer, winding, mid-tempo builders like “Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code)” and “Natural Corruption”. Then you have the two singles, “The Essence of Silence” and “Unchain Utopia”; the former, while containing one of the highest dosages of harsh vocals on the album, still manages to be infectiously catchy and was a good choice for lead single; the latter, on the other hand, is a hook filled choir fest which sounds horrifically overblown but is able not to be too cheesy thanks to its serious, meaningful lyrics.
Finally you have the title track. Clocking in at almost 11 minutes I assumed from past experience that this would be a slightly boring, overly long song with unnecessary sections of irritating growling that tries to fit too many ideas into one track and ends up falling flat. The short version, I was wrong. The slightly longer version, I was very wrong. Firstly, the only growling on this track is backing up Simone or the choir (thank God!) and secondly, the song has one clear theme running through it which prevents it from feeling too cluttered.
This is the epic song that I always knew Epica were capable of. In fact, this is the epic album that I always knew Epica were capable of. With this release Epica have finally completely lived up to their name and produced one of the albums of the year. Buy it. That’s a direct order, do it now…