REVIEW: EPICA – “The Holographic Principle”
“Excellence. Power. Intelligence. Creativity. Ambition.” Epica certainly encompasses all of these qualities, and this self-proclaimed acronym is once again proven to be true with the release of their seventh and latest studio album, ‘The Holographic Principle’.
The layout of this album works really well, with the slightly shorter opening track “Eidola” preparing the orchestral foundation of what is to come. The emotional battle sequence-like theme, with its horns, strings, and victorious choir immediately sets an exciting yet somewhat dangerous tone, with the sudden appearance of a child’s voice providing an eerie quality. “Edge of the Blade” then comes in with a bang, and breathes life into the film score.
“A Phantasmic Parade” is one of the highlights of ‘The Holographic Principle’, featuring staccato strings throughout, and one of my favourite melodies sung by Simone Simons during the verses. Much like many of the songs to come, it also includes an epic chorus, and a gritty bridge with guitarist Mark Jansen’s growls. The following track, “Universal Death Squad”, is a more captivating and intricate piece, the various types of vocals weaving themselves into the rhythms while the background melodies become increasingly busy. One thing I will say is that there are perhaps one too many verses, but my adoration for Simone Simons prevents me from being too annoyed by this.
Another noteworthy track is “Beyond the Matrix”, which contains one of the most epic choruses on the album, as well as a contrasting bass/vocal pairing during the verses. Just before the four-minute mark, it becomes reminiscent of an inspiring song from a Disney princess movie, but almost immediately launches into Jansen’s growls, and eventually into a shredding guitar solo, presumably by lead guitarist Isaac Delahaye. After that, comes “Once upon a Nightmare”, a soft, beautiful piano and vocal duet that rapidly grew on me. The last minute of the track builds into a soaring full-band affair, showcasing not only Simon’s graceful high vocal range, but Epica’s general diversity as a metal band.
“Ascension – Dream State Armageddon” begins well, again with eerie vocals and piano, gradually growing heavier and more typical of symphonic metal. However, there is a section where the keys align with the double bass, and with the appropriate vocals could easily turn black metal. I also quite like the transition into what is probably my favourite track, “Dancing In A Hurricane”. The initial percussion lends itself wonderfully to the Arabian melody that follows, and becomes hypnotic once Simons enters the picture. “Tear Dow Your Walls” is very sombre, with what sounds like distant crows hovering over the piano, while the title track – which happens to be the final and longest of the album – contains a fantastic choral requiem of an intro.
The writing structure remains very much in Epica’s style, with many of the songs featuring magical openings, heavy or complex verses, and catchy, melodic choruses. They have a specific way of composing, so much so that if half of their new material was presented to an Epica fan by a completely different set of musicians, they would be able to recognize the patterns in the writing. While that implies that some of the tracks have a tendency to sound similar, it also means that they have created a style all their own, which I think is very important for bands to strive for these days.
Lyrically speaking, Epica has continued in their obsession with diving deeper into philosophical topics. According to Simone’s, they are “on the search for what is real”, delving into the realm of alternate realities and parallel worlds. These themes work so well with the often preternatural atmosphere that they create musically. While every member of Epica is clearly talented, I think it’s important to give credit to Coen Janssen, whose piano and synth skills have taken this entire album to a whole other level of atmospheric magic.
Heavy, delicate, and triumphant, Epica have once again created their trademark sound with ‘The Holographic Principle’, but with a historical battleground film score feel. The biggest flaw of this album is the over-produced sound that so many musicians fall prey to, particularly with the drums. Having a more natural edge would make them stand out even more within their genre. However, there is quite a bit of standard symphonic metal out there, and Epica brings so much more to the table, with their ability to incorporate influences from other genres becoming more apparent with each release. As bassist Rob van der Loo puts it, “every metalhead out there can find something in our music, especially with ‘The Holographic Principle’.”