By Carl Begai
Get past the sexist slant of the title and take a serious listen to Epica’s new album, The Quantum Enigma; particularly if you’re one of those people (like yours truly) that’s fed up with the female-fronted symphonic metal trend. Coming down from the buzz of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Dutch sextet abandoned the business-as-usual approach that made them famous – and an inspiration to far too many bands around the world – and coughed up an album that, if it doesn’t win you over outright, will at least earn Epica some respect. Yes, their orchestral backbone is still very much intact, but it now belongs to a guitar-heavy drum pounding monster that tears the band free of those lingering comparisons to Nightwish and Lacuna Coil.
“There was one guy I did an interview with today and he said, ‘Before, Epica was a band just for my girlfriend. This new album, I love it too…’ laughs guitarist/founder Mark Jansen. “We wanted to refresh the sound of the band and judging by all the positive reactions, we’ve succeeded.”
“After Retrospect (the concert) we decided that since we had celebrated our first 10 years as a band, we should do something to refresh the sound for the next 10 years,” he explains. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had to make some drastic changes. The first one was looking for another producer. Sascha Paeth (Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody Of Fire) has always done a great job in the 10 years we worked with him, but we needed someone to take us out of our comfort zone. We knew exactly what we were going to get from Sascha and he knew what he’d get from us, so we wanted someone who would make us see a different side of ourselves. We chose Joost van der Broek (ex-After Forever) because he’s still quite new to the production world but he’s done a lot. He’s gained a lot of experience but he still has this youthful energy around him, which makes you happy to work with him. That was the kind of energy we were looking for.”
The Quantum Enigma isn’t nearly as musically dense as some of Epica’s previous albums, which sometimes seemed to choke on the layered choir/symphonic bombast shoe-horned into the songs. There’s a whole lot of space in the music this time out, making Epica seem almost naked but most definitely stronger.
“Exactly, and that’s what we had in mind,” says Jansen, crediting the change in sound to his bandmates as well as Van der Broek.
“It’s always a matter of waiting to see how much people are going to contribute. On Requiem For The Indifferent it was mainly me and Isaac (Delahaye/guitars) that worked on the songs, and Coen (Janssen/keyboards) wrote a few as well but that was it. On this new album it seemed that everyone was as excited as Isaac and I were on the last album, so everyone was writing, which is what we were aiming for. It was a great feeling to have that chemistry. For example, our new bassist Rob van der Loo contributed three songs. Our goal was to have as many ideas as possible to work with, but the quality of the material was the most important thing. So, we had to wait a bit and see what people would deliver, but even in the first selection of songs we were very enthusiastic as a group about what we heard.”
“We started working with Joost on the songs right from the beginning. Some we dropped, and then we rehearsed the songs we kept as a full band, and that’s when we started getting into the details. We focused on getting the guitars, bass, drums and keyboards to match perfectly – we tried a lot of different drum heads, cabinets, amps – which is something we didn’t really spend a lot of time on in the past. It definitely made a difference.”
As for dialling back the symphonics on the new album…
“It was a conscious decision. We wanted the album to have more of a balance because in the past we had some really great guiitar riffs, but Sascha put the emphasis on other parts of the mix which made the riffs sound less heavy. This time, when we wrote a heavy guitar riff we wanted it to sound heavy on the album. So yeah, the guitars were a big focus on the album. It was a relief to hear the songs this way, and it’s cool to have a mix like this where you hear another aspect of what Epica has to offer.”
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