I keep coming back to the title track of Epica’s new album The Quantum Enigma even though I’ve had the CD for two months now. It’s a brilliant example of symphonic metal done right – and by “done right,” I mean with a professional choir and live strings. (Not all symphonic metal bands do this for financial reasons, but it compromises the music’s authenticity.) I love how “The Quantum Enigma” twists and unfolds to show its different elements: the Tibetan throat chant intro, the triumphant rhythm, the labyrinthine structure, the inspiring lyrics (how quantum physics and the power of imagination can effect change on the world), the concentration on choirs and Simone Simons’ seraphic vocals. The live orchestra also adds a rich, playful cinematic quality that makes the song a perfect choice as the CD’s closing number. If you’re not a metalhead but you find your curiosity piqued, take the next 12 minutes (yes, 12 minutes!) and immerse yourself in this riff-tastic philharmonic experience.
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!
Two new articles I wrote were posted at Sonic Cathedral last week. Here are summaries on both pieces.
First is my review of Cardamon’s second album, Sun As Never. This alternative rock/metal band from Utrecht, Netherlands has joined the growing trend of taking a heavier musical approach for the purposes of stronger live performances. For Cardamon, whose debut CD The Primrose Path was critically acclaimed for its melancholy and its balance of electric and acoustic sections, this first step in its evolution is not a surprise. It’s also a fairly shaky one. To find out why, click here to read my review of Cardamon’s Sun As Never.
Next is my interview with the Italian opera singer Laura Macrì. The 21-year-old made her metal debut on MaYaN’s Quarterpast last May and has performed with the band (a symphonic death metal side project of Epica guitarist/grunter Mark Jansen) in The Netherlands and across South America. But, who is this young lady? How did she become part of MaYaN? What are her aspirations for her music (both opera and metal) career? And, will she perform with MaYaN this September at ProgPower? You’ll find out by clicking here to read my interview with Laura!
January is shaping up to be a busy month for me at Sonic Cathedral. Our Best of 2011 article should go online this week. I also have articles “in the pipeline” for The Mariana Hollow, and possibly Beyond the Bridge and Xandria. Stay tuned!
January 30th was an exciting night of live symphonic metal in Worcester, Massachusetts. EPICA played at the Palladium as part of their headlining US tour – and I was there to see it, and later reviewed it for Sonic Cathedral! Continue reading
Makes sense to cover this one, after interviewing Simone recently. 😉
Album: “Design Your Universe”