By Carl Begai
Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned to form with his progressive metal opera project’s ninth album, The Source. In 1995 he introduced his “more is more” mindset with The Final Experiment, setting the tone for each future production stamped with the Ayreon name, garnering a loyal cult following and high expectations from those fans. It was the third album, Into The Electric Castle released in 1998, that laid a solid foundation for Lucassen’s multi-vocalist epics, and The Human Equation in 2004 that put him on the metaldom map as a creative force to be reckoned with, or respected at the very least. There have been a few missteps along the way depending on who you talk to – 01011001 from 2008 and The Theory Of Everything from 2013 are not the easiest albums to get into – but the fans are responding well to The Source. In fact, the constant comparisons to The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle suggest that Lucassen may have struck musical gold once again.
“I know what you mean,” Lucassen agrees. “I had that feeling a twice before because everything came together so easily. The cast came together, the music came together, the story was easy, which are things I had with The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle. Sometimes that happens and I just try to steer things in the direction they need to go.”
The ease with which the material The Source came together could have and probably should have been a bit frightening for Lucassen. How many musicians have boasted about new music coming together effortlessly only to be carved by the press once it goes out to the public?
“I’m insecure as hell about that,” he admits. “I start with 50 ideas and I hate most of them, really (laughs), because I figure they’re not good enough. The ones that I do like, I’ll play them to Lori (Linstruth / girlfriend, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) and she’ll be like “Well, yeah, okay…” So, I’m completely insecure until the very last moment, which is what makes me a perfectionist. That’s what makes me work so much harder, especially when I hear other stuff like the new Opeth or the new Devin Townsend. That’s when I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, my stuff doesn’t even get close to that…’ (laughs). The reactions to The Source have been so good that the insecurity is gone, and usually it’s always there.” Continue Reading
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.” Continue Reading
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. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Back in July, vocalist Amanda Somerville spilled the beans on her first official metal solo project, Trillium (interview available here). With the release of the debut album, Alloy, only weeks away she shot a video for the song ‘Coward’, and we got together the following morning over tea to delve a little deeper into the new album.
It’s safe to say Somerville efforts will surprise a lot of fans – in a good way – and earn her some new ones along the way as Trillium plays out. And while it’s a no-nonsense metal album, anyone that’s followed Somerville’s decade-long non-metal career will wonder if some of the songs were consciously tweaked from a singer / songwriter / acoustic state to the tough-as-nails tracks we’re hearing now. Take away the distortion and the tracks in question would easily fit on her 2009 solo album, Windows.
“It was very conscious, actually,” Somerville reveals. “Songs like ‘Path Of Least Resistance’, ‘Purge’ and ‘Mistaken’ were pretty dark, and I’d planned to put them on my next solo album, which was going to be darker and heavier than anything I’d done before anyway. I had all this material that was building up, and since I’m a piano player and not a guitar player, it was clear to me I’d have to work with someone who played guitar as their main instrument like Sascha (Paeth / producer) or Sander (Gommans / HDK) so they could metal it up. That was the idea from the start, and the way things progressed led to those songs being on this album.”
“The songs that I wrote with Sander – and he’s a prolific songwriter, cranking them out like crazy – we already them had in mind for this project. Sander was totally into it, and every time he sits down with his guitar a song comes out of it. The way we typically work, he writes the instrumental parts and then I come in and suggest whatever changes I think should be made. Then I take the song and write a vocal line and lyrics to it. Sander likes a good challenge as well, though, and when he heard the piano / vocal demo I had for ‘Machine Gun’ he asked if he could work on it. He came up with the big main riff, which really supplements the running theme through the whole song.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Guitarist / keyboardist Oliver Palotai will tell you that downtime is overrated if it means sitting around doing nothing. So it seems, given that the man has spent the last four years as a card carrying member of Kamelot while juggling schedules with artists such as Doro, Blaze Bayley and Uli Jon Roth both prior to and during his time with the band. A full plate, and one he’s managed to pile a little higher with his own band, Sons Of Seasons. It’s not a mere side-project, either, as Palotai has invested a considerable amount of time, money, heart and soul in getting the band off the ground while honouring his other commitments. The end result is Gods Of Vermin, and dark and atmospheric symphonic metal record that deftly avoids becoming yet another knock-off goth rock album. On the contrary, it’s one of those rare albums that seemingly offers up something new with each listen. Where Palotai found the time to write and record the material, let alone find the band members best suited for the job, is anybody’s guess. Including his.
By Carl Begai
Suffering from what has been documented as “stress-related burnout”, After Forever guitarist/co-founder Sander Gommans’ condition put the band on forced hiatus for the duration of 2008. The downtime gave the band members an opportunity to explore other musical ventures, and for Gommans it meant taking a serious stab at bringing his long-fermenting side-project HDK to life. Initially meant as a lighthearted showcase of his heavier side – the Hate Death Kill moniker is an intentional metal cliché – he decided prior to the break that the material was strong enough to be taken far more seriously. Calling on pop rock / temporary Epica vocalist Amanda Somerville, who had collaborated with After Forever several times in the studio, for her assistance, the pair settled in to create what is by far the most brutal piece of work in their respective catalogues. Sadly, the release of the HDK debut, System Overload, was punctuated by the announcement that After Forever had decided to call it quits. Rather than look back Gommans has chosen to push forward by starting a new chapter in his musical career; one that starts on an unexpectedly brutal note.