By Carl Begai
The lads and lady that make up Epica are far from stupid. They wear the symphonic metal tag proudly even though it automatically paints them into a corner – at least on paper – yet they make serious efforts with every release to re-invent themselves to some degree. Just how successful they are ultimately depends on the fans rather than the journalists in their pseudo-ivory towers, but seven albums in it’s fair to say even from a press-rat point of view that The Holographic Principle is Epica’s most unexpectedly diverse album to date. In fact, it’s hard to write the intro to this piece and not have it deviate into a full-on album review. Currently playing in this office at a volume deadly for fans of Bieber pap or Kanye pomp, Epica’s new record serves as a reminder that string sections and choir arrangements do not a killer symphonic metal album make when the folks behind it are constantly thinking far beyond the confines of the genre.
Or, in simple terms, The Holographic Principle pretty much smokes every symphonic metal album released over the last two years.
“Overall the reception has been really good, and people actually seem overwhelmed,” says vocalist Simone Simons. “The Holographic Principle sounds more brutal than anything we’ve done but still with the same classic Epica elements. The guitars are more prominent, the vocals are more versatile, and I think there’s just a lot of information to process, which you can’t do in just one listen. Even myself, I heard the finished songs a few times and it was a lot to take in.”
“The record is kind of a wake-up call because there’s the stigma of a female singer in the band defining the sound of the band,” she adds. “You have Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Otep, Epica, and we all sound different even though there’s a woman singing in the band.”
Epica has been experimenting with moving away from their symphonic foundations – established with The Phantom Agony in 2003 – for years, most notably with Simone altering and broadening her vocal palette. “Edge Of The Blade”, the first single from The Holographic Principle, is a twisted and re-defined Epica that nobody saw coming, a theme that plays out over the course of the record.
“‘Edge Of The Blade’ is written by Isaac (Delahaye / guitars), maybe that’s why it sounds so different,” offers Simone. “He actually wrote a lot of the songs, he was very productive for some reason (laughs), so he was a huge songwriter on this record. We had five songwriters for this record, 27 songs in total to choose from. I think the fact that we had five people writing makes the record very versatile. There are so many layers in the music; the guitars are super-rhythmic and have a lot of melody, the drums kick ass, the orchestration is here and there and everywhere, and my vocals have a really wide range. Part of that was a conscious choice because we’ve grown up and we’re very ambitious. We wanted to have as many live instruments as possible to make things more human, more organic. That meant more work, especially for our producer (Jacob Hansen), but he could handle it. Because of our enthusiasm we ended up with something even bigger than we imagined.”
“Choirs and instruments on this record are all real, so are the exotic instruments,” she adds, squashing the thinking that Epica once again piped the orchestrations in via soulless software. “The guys had a percussion party and played all the percussion instruments you hear on the record over the course of a whole day. They were like little kids. Our drum tech works at a music shop so he loaded up a truck full of instruments and brought them to the guys. They were like little monkeys, smashing and hitting things (laughs).”
Epica is guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen’s brainchild, something he’s nurtured and fed since leaving After Forever in 2002 and finding his own musical direction. He’s far from being a dictator, but one has to wonder if he had problems loosening the reins and letting four other people in on the songwriting.
“He doesn’t look at it from a selfish point of view,” says Simone. “He’s always said that whatever is the best song, that’s what we’ll use no matter who writes it, and I think that’s a very good way of approaching things. I’m glad he allows other people to be a part of the creative process because it gives Epica the chance to evolve. We’ve had a solid line-up for over four years now so Epica has become stronger, more mature, and more technical as well.”
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