Some bands are as big as the genre they occupy. Their names are nearly synonymous with the style of their music and to name them is to invoke the strong points, and clichés, of said genre—Epica can certainly be counted in this category. Symphonic metal owes them a great debt as some of its biggest releases were created over the last ten years or so by this band. Epica are not only a name in themselves but also contain one of the most acclaimed artists of the genre: Simone Simons. In the face of this, do Epica turn to rely heavily on their strongest asset or is the focus spread around the members of the band, talented musicians in their own right?
Sadly, it seems that as the band progresses the answer is oftentimes the former. This is very true for their latest release, The Quantum Enigma. The album revolves almost completely on Simons, even when Mark Jansen‘s harsher growls are present, which is rare enough, they are almost always over shadowed by Simons operatic singing. This is not only a matter of her undeniable talent; its apparent that the tracks were written like this, allowing her more breadth and canvas to utilize her voice. This isn’t necessarily all bad, as Simons is truly competent, but it does create a certain lackluster quality to the rest of the orchestration and instruments.
These arrangements bear some analysis. To be certain, impressive or original instrumental composition has never been the focus of either Epica or their genre as a whole. The style prefers rather to focus on powerful vocalists and the emotions strings and wood instruments can convey. This is all perfectly legitimate of course and has spawned some brilliant metal in the forms of Nightwish, Kamelot or even Dimmu Borgir to name just a few. However, simply giving up and leaving the instruments in the hands of staple compositions and sound is ill advised.
The Quantum Enigma suffers from this. Most riffs are generic and familiar with the drum and bass relationship being especially prone to stagnation and lack of originality. The double bass is used heavily, the bass itself only serves to accentuate the guitar and no salvation is found in this department either; Jansen is a talented guitarist but it feels as if little of his skill is given the time to express itself. These trends happily improve near the end of the album: tracks like the faster Chemical Insomnia and the epic Natural Corruption exhibit far more interesting composition, utilizing the relationship between Jansen and Simons in a much more convincing fashion.
At the end of the day, the skill of Epica is hard to deny, their reliance on Simons is understandable; she is literally one of the best female vocalists in the genre and when she gives it her all, goosebumps are sure to follow. That being said, a more interesting backdrop would only elevate her voice higher. More work is needed in the composition phase, since skill is obviously present in such veteran musicians. Ultimately, fans of the genre will enjoy this album and not without due cause. One is only left with the hope that the future holds more innovation for what is undoubtedly one of the founding bands of this prolific genre. If Epica choose to focus on that direction, their future remains bright and promising.
Epica’s The Quantum Enigma gets…