Released By: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Genre: Progressive Symphonic Metal
Simone Simons – Vocals
Mark Jansen – Guitars, Vocals
Isaac Delahaye – Guitars
Rob van der Loo – Bass
Coen Janssen – Keyboards
Ariën van Weesenbeek – Drums, Vocals
2. The Second Stone
3. The Essence of Silence
4. Victims of Contingency
5. Sense Without Sanity – The Impervious Code –
6. Unchain Utopia
7. The Fifth Guardian – Interlude –
8. Chemical Insomnia
9. Reverence – Living in the Heart –
10. Omen – The Ghoulish Malady –
11. Canvas of Life
12. Natural Corruption
13. The Quantum Enigma – Kingdom of Heaven Part II
I have for the longest time held Epica alongside fellow Dutch band Within Temptation as being one of my two favorite female fronted metal bands, so having them both release new albums in the same year was quite a treat. Within Temptation already delivered strongly with their latest, and as usual I keep going back and forth on which band I prefer, as both bands have their own unique styles which I find to be equally enjoyable in different ways. With Epica’s sixth full length album The Quantum Enigma, they have made a strong statement as to why they deserve to be considered the very best in their genre. No offense to any other symphonic bands, but with this album they have created the kind of masterpiece that I don’t see anyone else being able to top any time in the near future, if ever.
Epica started out as a fairly typical (though clearly way above average) beauty and the beast style band, but over the years they have steadily evolved into a heavier and more progressive sound, with their previous album “Requiem For The Indifferent” going about as far as they possibly could have in that direction. Many fans of their earlier albums were put off by that album, as it was much more complex and more challenging to get into compared to their more highly regarded albums “The Divine Conspiracy” and “Design Your Universe”. Personally, though, as someone who was amazed by how big an impact guitarist Isaac Delahaye made when he debuted on “Design Your Universe”, I was even more impressed by the complex arrangements of “Requiem For The Indifferent”, and I had no trouble getting into it instantly. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear what the band would do next. Well, what they’ve done this time is taken everything I loved about the last two albums, and combined them with my favorite features of previous albums to create easily the best Epica album to date.
Fans who were turned off by the direction the band took with the last album have nothing to fear this time, as while the progressiveness is still there, and while the heavy riffs are as present as ever, this is certainly a more instantly engaging album, and it certainly feels like an Epica album through and through. Most songs are shorter than on the previous two albums, and they are loaded with one memorable moment after another. The songs are as dynamic as ever, with a constant mix of extremes, between some of the heaviest and most aggressive material the band has ever written, to some of their most epic moments ever, with even the occasional calm and beautiful moments as always. On the whole it’s a much more accessible album, but at the same time there’s still some very complex arrangements and some truly outstanding musicianship, so fans who started out with either of their last two albums have a lot to be excited about as well.
One of Epica’s biggest strengths has always been their vocals, and on this album that statement applies as much as ever, if not more so. As usual, the band expertly mixes together three layers of vocals, with each being equally important. The most obvious of these is Simone Simons, who sounds as impressive as always. Her angelic clean vocals were already amazing on the first two albums, and she has actually improved quite a bit over the years, becoming a more powerful and dynamic singer. This is especially true for this album, as she still sounds as strong as she did on the last album, but she also uses her mezzo soprano operatic voice more than she has since at least The Divine Conspiracy, and if anything the moments where she returns to this style sound more stunning than ever. The second layer is the harsh vocals, which are provided by both rhythm guitarist/band leader Mark Jansen and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek. I’ve found their growls to be much stronger on the last couple albums, and once again the same applies to this album, as even on the more melodic songs they can provide an explosive and welcome change of pace. Lastly, we have the choirs, and while they have always played an important role in Epica’s music, on this album they have taken it a few steps farther as almost every song is enhanced by stunning choir vocals, which combined with the increased use of orchestras helps to make this their most epic and symphonic album yet.
After the typically impressive intro track, listeners are treated to the intense and fast paced opener “The Second Stone”. This immediately gives an idea of how this album mixes together old and new elements, as the opening riff and harsh vocals sections are reminiscent of Requiem For The Indifferent, but on the whole it’s a much catchier and more immediately entertaining song than anything on that album. The first real big highlight is the single “The Essence Of Silence”, which opens with possibly their most explosive riff yet, followed by some epic harsh vocals, and then the song goes into overdrive with the unbelievably epic chorus where Simone’s operatic vocals sound more powerful than ever and blend in wonderfully with the choirs. The other single, “Unchain Utopia” is much more melodic, and represents this album’s “Quietus” or “Unleashed”. It’s certainly one of the calmer and more instantly catchy songs on the album, but what sets it apart from those two is that the chorus is sung almost entirely by the choirs. As I said above, the choirs are used brilliantly on this album, and they always go together perfectly with Simone’s operatic vocals, with songs like “Sense Without Sanity – The Impervious Code -”, “Reverence – Living In The Heart” and “Omen – The Ghoulish Malady” – being especially epic. Even the ballad “Canvas Of Life” is excellent and obviously showcases Simone’s voice beautifully.
But the real defining moment of this album is of course the title track, which also happens to be a sequel of sorts to “Kingdom Of Heaven” from Design You Universe. Epica have always been great at closing their albums out with huge epic length tracks, and this 12 minute mammoth is arguably their most impressive yet. Obviously listeners can expect plenty of tempo changes, memorable vocal moments and some impressive instrumental sections, but this is also the song that best demonstrates how good the band is at incorporating symphonic elements into their music. The orchestras are as impressive as always, but the real highlight is the absolutely stunning chorus, which is once again dominated by the choirs. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any other metal band use choir vocals nearly as effectively as what Epica has done with this album, and especially on this song. Simone has some epic moments as well, and from beginning to end it’s simply an unforgettable masterpiece that perfectly closes out an already incredible album.
It seems pretty much any time a band is getting ready to release a new album, they’ll declare it as being their best ever, that one album that defines their career, and while most of the time that kind of thing can easily be dismissed as mere hype, I can honestly say that if I were to single out one Epica album as being the one that most clearly defines their music and everything that makes them special, it would be The Quantum Enigma. For anyone who’s enjoyed at least one Epica album in the past, there should be plenty for them to enjoy on this album as well, and obviously this is required listening for any fan of symphonic metal, or just female fronted metal in general, as it simply doesn’t get better than this.
Written by Travis