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Epica - The Quantum Enigma (2014)

Nuclear Blast Records - May 6, 2014

Review by Edwin van Hoof

Epica, The Quantum Enigma (2014)What's in a name?
Epica chose theirs wisely capturing the essentials of their musical direction within their name. Their powerful epic metal is boosted by theatrical and pompous ingredients, standing out in the packed genre. "The Quantum Enigma" is their sixth studio album since the release of their debut "The Phantom Agony" and on this newest loot the Dutch band is relying on the classic ingredients as much as in the past, yet they also injected the songs with powerful hooks and more sticky melodies.

Within the genre Epica is one of the most established names and with this new conceptual album the band thrives furthermore. "The Quantum Enigma" evolves around the laws of quantum physics and is woven together by a weary story line consisting of history and phantasy, addressing the deeper meaning of every day life's burden. The behavior of atoms and the chemical bonding over the course of centuries having effected life on earth told to us in a set of stories on this intelligent record. Epica hint the world evolving around those very laws with philosophical intelligence and deep metaphorical views upon life itself in within the boundaries set by history. The burden of being addicted linked to deeper understanding of how life's is influenced by choices of quantum physics. It's a question mark casted upon everyday life. Whether it is influenced by Godly divine or the laws of physics is the next quest on the journey.

Surprisingly the band also links this album to their acclaimed "New Age Dawns"-saga by the impressive 10 minute running title track subtitled "Kingdom of Heaven part II". The song is the albums grand finale consisting of everything Epica has at hand. Boosted by chants and orchestral arrangements the song shifts shape as does the cause of events depicted lyrically. Progressive elements are lined up alongside the raw riff and compelling hook, with Simons shining as bright as always. Angelic vocals with delivered powerful charismatic precision contrasting with the dark and deep grunts from Mark Jansen (guitars) and Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums). The multilayered vocals are a powerful focal-point of the band.

In the midst of all the action packed dramatic plot-twists, there's some needed spaces allowing us to catch a breath. "The Fifth Guardian" is absolutely wonderful with it's oriental themes and scales offering us a only short moment to breathe. Another resting point is the typical soothing Epica ballad "Canvas of Life" with Simone Simons belting it with grace and elegance. The song is a comforting orchestral piece which has a haunting melody nesting in your head upon the first spin of the disc. Both songs are the only plain landscapes on the horizon within a spiked and action loaded sonic wasteland ruled by dominant guitar riffs and keyboard interaction. Variety isn't the thing to be expected on the rest of the album which baldly consists of the typical Epica songs with the emphasis on classical theatrical compositions. The massive swelling of orchestral sections and the pitched choirs load the density of the powerhouse tracks. Overall the setting is pasted solid and the only space to allow us to focus is the melody lines of Simons and the jaw dropping (twin) solos hitting us full frontal.

Having traded in the paste and copy productions of Sasha Paeth, the band moved onto Joost van den Broek (After Forever, Ayreon, Star One) for a likewise impressive production. The production and arrangements on this new CD are more organic without lacking the pompous bombast of its predecessors. Gone is the over the top clinical overall sound which has the band coming closer to their impressive live performances. It fits the needs of the seamlessly but perhaps a more open production would have created a different tension and feeling on this CD. From the opening chanting soundtrack-like song "Originem" onwards, the album is packed by driven and powerful outbursts of epical theatrical metal. It's the key ingredients from the past such as the death metal incised "The Second Stone" and blast beat injected "Victims of Contingency" that sound extremely familiar. On "The Essence of Silence", "Sense Without Sanity" and the metal apex "Reverence - Living in the Heart" and "Omen - The Goulish Malady" Epica jumps the gun with a freshly revised boundary to move within. Particularly "Reverence" is hinting a new approach with a powerful and thriving riff propelling it amongst excellent keyboard and guitar interaction. Epica clearly focusses on developing a wider specter without lacking their typical ingredients.

"The Quantum Enigma" is an action packed conceptual album which runs a full 70 minutes. Epica picks up where they left off on "Requiem for the Indifferent" without infesting their songs with the darkness and melancholy marking that album. Kept are the full frontal blasts with dense productions and choirs pumping up the production to the max. The fresher and more direct melodic tracks stand out between the traditional Epica tunes, paving the way for the future. Because in all modesty: they might be top of the bill in their genre, 70 minutes of eclectic epic music is wearing out any fan.

The album is available in several different issues. Alongside the CD with the regular album version there's a 2CD digipack with an extra acoustic CD. There's also a deluxe Earbook version which contains a third disc with instrumental versions of the songs as well as the disc with 4 acoustic renditions of Epica songs. If you're a vinyl collector, you can choose from the regular double LP edition as well as a green or transparent version of the set. Nuclear Blast's strategy with this new release also includes the extra tracks on several different issues. There are bonus tracks for the Japanese issue ("Mirage of Verity") as well as an additional song on the iTunes record ("Banish Your Illusion"). As if that's not enough, "Memento" is featured on the vinyl editions as where "In All Conscience" is to be found exclusively on the Earbook edition. If you want them all, you have save your money for the Deluxe Earbook.

90 out of 100