Design your universe by Epica (2009)

After Nightwish brought to the spotlight symphonic metal and classical singing style, lots of bands, maybe too many, decided to follow their path and experiment with that sound. The majority of these bands seem not much original and lame, like mere photocopies of another one. Despites, some of these bands do stand out with a style of its own. And this is the case of Epica.

Epica was founded in 2002, the heydays of symphonic metal popularity, by Mark Jansen, after he left After Forever. Although in the After Forever records previous to Jansen departure symphonic elements were present, they were heavily influenced by doom metal, with slow rythms and heavy riffing. Then, Epica erased those doom traces and combined melodic passages with much harder ones, close to death metal. Also, they alter between clean female vocals and gutural growls. In a nutshell, Epica is like a big metal combo, picking elements of different subgenres and combining all of them in one tune, which can make their music interesting to someone who hasn’t got an interest in go deeper into any subgenre, but the downside is that the music loses focus and reamains just shallow. Apart from this, sometimes they turn too much ‘epic’ (although I guess it’s what they seek, since the band name states this clearly) and the emotion the music delivers prevent us from evaluating the quality. Another negative point is the lyrics: I find them deep-gone-supercifial and pretencious, that’s why I never put attention to them. Maybe Mark Jansen loves to read Philosophy and wants to enlightnen us all, but it’s not a good idea to try to condense a Kant book,  Buddhist ideas or a explicit social critic in a five minutes song lyrics.

Design your universe (2009) is one of the albums I like most of their discography. It was released after The Divine Conspirancy, an album that had left the bar high, but this one was capable of beat it and was a great success that turned Epica into a notable band. In my opinion, the album can be divided in two halfs: the first one is almost perfect, while the second one has more flaws.  The orchestral intro (Samadhi) is really catching, puts  the listener in the correct mood to pay attention to what’s ahead and it’s perfectly entwined to the second track, Resign to surrender, that keeps the orchestral atmosphere with the choirs and accompaniment, and starts the alternation between melodic led and rythm led parts. Unleashed keeps this style, although the brutal parts and growling dissapear to let room to Simone Simons vocals in a track catchy and melodic. Martyr of the free world is a rough tune of heavy and wicked riffing that turns what we’ve listened so far sharper. Our Destiny goes back to the line of Unleashed, easy-to-listen, melodic and including almost exclusively female vocals. But after this hopeful first part, comes the major flaw: Kingdom of Heaven. I love long songs, so I thought this one would amaze me, regarding the previous tracks, but nothing so far, it’s boring as hell, and overblown to the point of nausea. My favorite moment is the dialogue between a man and who I supposse must be God or something like that. They just went too far.

The Malcolm X speech in The Price of Freedom was definitely unnecesary, but luckily, Burn to a cinder put things back on track. Tides of time is the relaxing and emotional moment after the melancholic ending of the last tune. It sounds beatiful, even a bit cheesy, but at least Siome Simons uses her classical abilities. Deconstruct has a good orchestral introduction, really elegant, and the duet in the chorus is also a highlight. Semblance of Liberty has also a heavy riffing that I absolutely love but, seriously, when one is in the middle of a great tune, the least she wants to listen is the voice of George W. Bush. Another unnecesary moment. With White Waters we get another moment of peaceful trude, although it doesn’t fit completely the tone of the album. The last track, Design your universe is like a summary of the forms and melodies we’ve listen across the album that hasn’t got anything more to add.

So, in conclusion, the lights of this work by Epica are the orchestral arrangement, choirs, catchy tracks and heavy parts, while the shadows are the lyrics, the fact that Simone Simons barely uses her classical voice (I guess poppy singing is more commercial), the excessive tone and that George Bush will barge in while you’re head banging. Still, it worths a listening.

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