The symphonic metal scene in the Netherlands is currently enjoying a fruitful period. Genre heavyweights Within Temptation recently found themselves headlining Wembley Arena, whilst Delain are steadily ascending the ranks. Epica complete the Dutch holy trinity, and are the band who are most rooted in what one might traditionally consider symphonic metal. Whilst the other aforementioned acts play a more accessible style, Epica prefer a more complex approach, crafting wondrous, evocative epics that entrance the listener with their corrosive beauty. The European sextet enjoy a fine back catalogue, and it’s pleasing to say that The Holographic Principle is a welcome addition to their repertoire.
This album, like any other Epica album, is best experienced in one sitting. It is a real audio adventure, with a vast, expansive soundscape that takes you on a journey. The music is dense and layered, but not excessively so. A multitude of orchestral movements wrap around thick, heavy guitars, punctuated by a diverse selection of vocal approaches. Simone Simons, one of Epica’s most potent weapons, is of course the most heavily employed of the singers, offering up plenty of emotion, power and depth with the sort of soaring, commanding performance that has typified her career. There’s also plenty of harsh vocals to give the beauty/beast contrast that is favoured in this style of music. I’m generally not a fan of this sort of thing in symphonic metal, but Epica do it better than most; it never feels ill fitting or distracting, instead perfectly complimenting Simons and the diverse nature of the music. The choral backings gives everything a nice, glossy coat of grandeur; often used to enhance the spectacle, sometimes taking the lead themselves (notably in the chorus for “Beyond the Matrix”, which is breathtaking).
When you think of metal, you think of guitars, but they are not always the focal point here. At times, the riffs simply serve to give added bulk to the music’s more intense moments, acting as one facet in the multidimensional backdrop. There are plenty of occasions where guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye are given the spotlight though, and they duly deliver. The exotic flavours of “Dancing in a Hurricane” and “A Phantasmic Parade” are particularly good, the latter also possessing a nice, thrashy gallop in the interlude. The blasting charge of “Ascension” features a nod to black metal, whilst “Tear Down Your Walls” and “The Cosmic Algorithm” certainly don’t skimp in the riff department either. Solos are sparse, but Delahaye does shine when given the chance (in the aforementioned “The Cosmic Algorithm”, hook heavy lead single “Universal Death Squad” and the majestic title track). The six string duo are well complimented by Ariën van Weesenback behind the kit, whose lively performance gives the music added vitality. Not content to sit back and keep a standard, steady beat, he throws in all sorts of wonderful fills and patterns; keeping things tasteful and interesting whilst never straying to excess.
At 72 minutes, the lengthy running time demands a lot of the listener. The album perhaps wears out its welcome as the seconds tick by, but it is, by and large, an enthralling listen. The only lull comes with the slightly anaemic “Divide and Conquer”, but that’s simply a case of a decent song paling in comparison to its greater counterparts. The compositions are tight and focussed, perhaps more so than ever before, whilst still retaining the ambitious scope Epica is known for. Sonically, it is excellent, with a mix that allows every aspect of the music to breathe, even at its busiest (and it gets busy, trust me). It all amounts to a fantastic record that is one of the strongest metal albums of the year.
Rating: 9/10 – “an engrossing album that ranks as one of the best of the year”
Highlights: “A Phantasmic Parade”, “Beyond the Matrix”, “The Holographic Principle”