Epica – The Quantum Enigma
Rating: 3.75 / 5
I’ve been an Epica fan since 2006 and either liked or loved all of their albums, with Design Your Universe my all-time favorite of theirs. Then came Requiem For The Indifferent in 2012. No matter how many times I listened to it, I walked away bored by its musical wanderings and lack of inspiring melodies. So, when Epica announced the release date for their sixth studio album The Quantum Enigma, I hoped like a maniac that the Dutch symphonic metallers wouldn’t disappoint me again. I wasn’t looking for another Design Your Universe, just an improvement over last time. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief – because The Quantum Enigma hasn’t let me down. In fact, I like it more with each spin.
Change seems to be the overall theme on this album. Instead of continuing with long-time producer Sascha Paeth, Epica worked with Joost van der Brook, who’s produced albums for a slew of other female-fronted metal bands (Stream of Passion, Xandria, ReVamp). The Quantum Enigma also features live strings for the first time since 2005’s Consign To Oblivion, a massive professional choir instead of a “choir-like” group of session vocalists, and a more modern metal sound. Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye have really honed the guitar sound for the new material; it’s thick, complex, razor-sharp, and at times appealingly tangled and chaotic. This new edginess gives fresh perspective on some songs (“The Second Stone,” “The Essence of Silence,” “Chemical Insomnia”) while enhancing the band’s triumphant sound of old on others (the title track, “Sense Without Sanity,” “Unchain Utopia”).
The Quantum Enigma’s brightest highlights show Epica’s ability to reveal subtleties in complex arrangements. The title track is a stunning example; it’s a 12-minute blossoming flower, unfolding in the same purposeful way as past climactic epics. And how about those memorable hooks and melodies? They were sorely missing from Requiem… and now make a welcome return. The strongest hooks transfer effortlessly from one instrument to another, from ascending keyboard / guitar lines on “Natural Corruption” to the graceful Oriental wind and acoustic notes on the gorgeous instrumental “The Fifth Guardian.” As for melodies, the title track’s call-for-action choral chants are bound to stir concert crowds to sing along, while bonus track “In All Conscience” boasts the band’s most majestic chorus ever.
I have to admit, my initial impression of The Quantum Enigma was tainted by the first two tracks. The flurry of excessive high notes in “Originem” grates on my nerves, while “The Second Stone” starts off exhilarating but loses its energy come chorus-time. Together they soured my mood enough for the rest of the album on that first listen. Now I skip those two tracks and listen to the rest of the CD thinking, “Hey, this is better than I originally thought!” I say that now because The Quantum Enigma is a stronger, more memorable collection of songs than Requiem…. Some melodies and musical moments do fall flat or feel recycled, and sometimes I wish frontwoman Simone Simons would sing with more emotion like how she did on past albums. Overall, though, I enjoy this set almost as much as I enjoy Design Your Universe and 2007’s The Divine Conspiracy.
I can’t say that every fan who was dissatisfied with Requiem will like this new albummore. But for me personally, The Quantum Enigma rights the ship that was tipping two years ago. The grittier direction, improved songwriting quality, and return of live strings all help to inject new life into the music. So, in short, this album has restored my faith in Epica. And in a year when other big names in the female-fronted metal realm haven’t satisfied me, The Quantum Enigma is an ultimately gratifying winner.
Highlights: “The Quantum Enigma,” “In All Conscience” (bonus track), “Natural Corruption,” “The Essence of Silence,” “The Fifth Guardian” (instrumental)
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Coming Soon: Stay tuned for Music Monday Reviews on Xandria’s Sacrificium and Divided We Fall’s Dreamcrusher in the coming weeks!