Epica – The Alchemy Project Review

The Alchemy Project is a special sort of release, since every track here was written and performed in collaboration with members from different bands, allowing for many different perspectives...

Released By: Atomic Fire Records

Release Date: November 11th, 2022

Genre: Symphonic Metal

Links: https://www.epica.nl/home

 

Line Up:

Simone Simons – Vocals

Mark Jansen – Guitars, Vocals

Isaac Delahaye – Guitars

Rob van der Loo – Bass

Coen Janssen – Keyboards

Ariën van Weesenbeek – Drums, Vocals

 

Tracklist:

1. The Great Tribulation (feat. Fleshgod Apocalypse)

2. Wake the World (feat. Phil Lanzon and Tommy Karevik)

3. The Final Lullaby (feat. Shining)

4. Sirens – Of Blood and Water (feat. Charlotte Wessels and Myrkur)

5. Death is Not the End (feat. Bjorn “Speed” Strid and Frank Schiphorst)

6. Human Devastation (feat. Henri Sattler and Sven de Caluwé)

7. The Miner (feat. Asim Searah, Niilo Sevänen and Roel van Helden)

 

It’s always fun seeing different bands and musicians collaborate for special releases, as it allows fans to hear some of their favorite artists working together, as well as possibly hearing them experiment with genres you wouldn’t expect to hear from them. At this point, the Dutch symphonic metal band Epica is one of my absolute favorites in the world, so I’m instantly going to be excited for anything they release, whether it’s a full album, an EP, a live album, or whatever. When I heard they were releasing The Alchemy Project, a 7 track EP, all featuring collaborations with different artists, I was quite intrigued to see what the band would come up with. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting a cohesive album or anything that would match some of my favorite works from the band, such as The Quantum Enigma or Design Your Universe, but I still had high expectations, and thankfully the band has delivered, as always!

As mentioned above, The Alchemy Project is a special sort of release, since every track here was written and performed in collaboration with members from different bands, allowing for many different perspectives to influence the release. As such, while I will say I love the entire release as a whole, and can easily listen to it repeatedly, I think it’s best to review it on a track-by-track basis. Needless to say, I won’t spend much time here talking about the overall sound quality (it’s excellent, as always), the musicianship of the band (obviously top-notch), or the vocals of Simone Simons and Mark Jansen (one of my favorite elements of the band), and instead focus on the songs themselves, particularly on the guest contributions.

Kicking things off is “The Great Tribulation”, featuring symphonic death metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse. I’d say this is probably the most typical Epica-sounding track here, opening up with some epic symphonic arrangements and choral vocals before the chunky guitars kick in, and the verses alternate nicely between the two lead vocalists. The track alternates nicely between heavy, mid-tempo verses, explosive up-tempo instrumental portions, and a slow, melodic chorus with some excellent vocal melodies. The thing is, while everything is excellent, especially the chorus, I have a hard time pinpointing what Fleshgod Apocalypse contributed to the track, and I don’t mean that in an offensive way or anything: I just genuinely feel most, if not all of what I’m hearing here, feels like it could have been done by Epica themselves. I guess maybe some of those extra intense instrumental portions have a bit more of a tech-death feel to them, but even then, it’s not like Epica hasn’t had extreme metal elements before. Regardless, though, it’s an excellent track, and I’m sure folks more familiar with Fleshgod Apocalypse than me (I’m more a casual fan of their music), will have an easier time spotting their work.

Next is “Wake the World”, a track where the guest contributions are very immediately apparent. It’s also one of my personal favorites here, thanks to having a fairly unique sound that doesn’t quite feel like anything else I’ve heard from the band before. It’s a fairly mid-paced track overall, with calm verses and a very strong, melodic chorus with excellent symphonic arrangements, as well as some excellent backing vocals from Kamelot/Seventh Wonder singer Tommy Karevik, who also sings the second verse and delivers some cool “Woah-oh” vocals in between verses. The other guest here is Uriah Heep keyboardist Phil Lanzon, and while I’m not overly familiar with his work, his keys here have a very retro sound to them, which combine with the main riff to give the song a bit of a hard rock feel, as well as also somewhat moving into the spacey prog metal territory at points. Some of the instrumental portions remind me of stuff Arjen Lucassen has done before, particularly with his Star One albums, and that’s not something I ever expected to hear from Epica. All of that, combined with the epic choirs and the chorus help make the song an instant classic.

The first track I heard was of course lead single “The Final Lullaby”, and despite its name, it certainly isn’t good bedtime music for infants, lol Indeed, this song shows the heavier side of the band, with lots of heavy riffs and a good mix between Jansen’s harsh vocals and Simon’s ever beautiful clean vocals, with the verses being on the intense side, while the chorus is very beautiful and melodic, despite the dark lyrics. The guests this time are Norwegian Avant-Garde band Shining, who immediately stand out, adding in some nice instrumental flourishes, which give the track a slight jazz feel (especially the saxophone, which excels during the solo section, as well as a cool rendition of the main riff near the end.) Jørgen Munkeby delivers some rather animated vocals during the verses, to go along with a bit of narration at one point, and he does a fantastic job of fitting in. Overall, it’s a fantastic track, which shows off the band at their heaviest and most intense, while still having some fantastic melodies, excellent symphonic arrangements, and one of my favorite choruses they’ve ever written, which certainly says a lot.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a calm between storms in the form of “Sirens – Of Blood and Water”, a very nice ballad featuring former Delain vocalist Charlotte Wessels and solo artist Myrkur. Musically it’s a nice track, with some epic symphonic arrangements, as well as sort of a film score feel, though unsurprisingly, the instrumentation is fairly minimal, with the three vocalists being the stars of the show, and all three deliver fantastic performances. Wessels and Myrkur each sing a verse and a rendition of the chorus, then Simons joins in during a fantastic bridge, as well as the final chorus, and all three deliver some excellent, hauntingly beautiful chanting vocals throughout the track, to help set the tone.

It doesn’t take long for things to get heavy again, with “Death is Not the End” being one of the band’s more Melo death-infused tracks, as well as perhaps having a slight metalcore edge to some of the riffs. Either way, it’s a very fast-paced, heavy track, with some chunky guitar work, mixed with the usual epic symphonic arrangements and choral vocals. Jansen’s MaYan bandmate Frank Schiphorst provides some guitar work throughout the track, while Soilwork vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid takes centerstage during the verses, delivering his signature screamed vocals, as well as dueting with Simons with his clean vocals during the chorus, which is fantastic. While “Speed” shines during the verses, Jansen gets to provide his harsh vocals as well, most notably during an explosive section towards the end, where the drums get super intense and crazy. Overall, it’s a very fun track, and I especially enjoy getting to hear “Speed”’s vocals since he’s always been one of my favorites.

Next is“Human Devastation”, featuring guest vocals from Aborted frontman Sven de Caluwé and God Dethroned’s Henri Sattler (who also provides some lead guitar work, I believe.) I’m not familiar with either band, but both guests do an excellent job throughout the track. Unlike “The Great Tribulation”, this is a track that clearly would never have been made by Epica themselves, as it doesn’t have any symphonic elements or clean vocals whatsoever, instead being a pure thrashy death metal assault, with fast and furious tempos, pummelling riffs, pounding drums and some powerful harsh vocals from both guests, as well as Jansen. It’s not the kind of track I’d usually want from the band, but as part of a collaborative EP like this, it fits in well, and it’s a very fun track on its own.

Closing out the EP is “The Miner”, another more traditional-sounding Epica track, with a very cinematic feel to it. Overall, it’s a more atmospheric and melodic track, with a strong focus on symphonic elements, as well as having a slight folk feel to some of the melodies. There are bursts of heaviness, but those feel rather subdued, for the most part, with both the verses and chorus being fairly soft and vocal-driven. Guests here include Powerwolf drummer Roel van Heiden, who I know quite well, as well as Insomnium vocalist Niilo Sevänen who I’m somewhat familiar with, and Damnation Plan vocalist Asim Searah, who I had never heard before, but he sounds excellent on this track. Speaking of which, Searah takes lead during the opening verse while duetting with Simons on the chorus, and he has a very deep voice, with a unique flavor to it, which has a very pleasant sound, so his vocal portions are quite excellent. The heaviest section of the track comes during the bridge, where the guitars suddenly become more focused and intense, while Sevänen delivers his trademark deep, vicious growls to help add an extra dose of energy to the track. It’s an excellent track overall, and it closes the EP out very well.

For obvious reasons, The Alchemy Project is not a recommended starting point for anyone looking to check out Epica, since it’s an experimental EP loaded with guest contributions, but dedicated fans of the band should find a lot to enjoy here, while obviously fans of the any of the special guests involved would also be highly recommended to listen to at least the tracks they’re interested in. As a longtime Epica fan, as well as a fan of quite a few of the guests here, I love this release overall, and I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing the band do more stuff like this every once in a while, in between full-length albums.

 

Ratings: 9/10

Written by: Travis Green

My Global Mind – Staff Writer

Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.

 

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