Sound: The debut release from the Dutch band, Epica does not fail to please. However, this is difficult to review as a debut since Mark Jansen was with After Forever prior to creating Epica. However, the music is much more bombastic than the sound of his former band. This also comes with a price, mainly there are no solos to speak of. Some songs may consist of too much chugging for some, but it is not a huge problem since there are a couple ballads to break it up. Using a real choir and string section was nice to hear after listening to midi strings for other bands. Overall, the music is rather interesting due to its pacing throughout the album. // 9
Lyrics: Considering this is a symphonic metal album, it is a nice welcome to hear lyrics that are rather dark. Unlike other bands in the genre, they are not afraid to write about major moments in recent history. Most notable is their song "Facade Of Reality (The Embrace That Smothers - Part V)", which was written in memory of those who passed away on September 11, 2001. The most emotional parts of the song are the sound clips of Tony Blair, and even though it is the only song with these type of clips on the album, the rest of the songs have their own special parts that make them equally emotional. This same concept of writing on current issues is found in "Cry For The Moon", which addresses the ongoing problem of Catholic priests and child abuse. However, these heavy lyrical themes would all be for not if there was not a singer to back it up.
Epica is no slouch in terms of their singer, Simone Simons. At the time of recording she was only eighteen years old, which rarely shows while listening to album. Being a mezzo-soprano, she is not able to hit the extreme highs, but she realizes how to control her voice. The ballads of the album help show how she is able to add emotion to the songs without sounding weak. This would be fine, except for the fact that Jansen is not the best at "death growls". Sure, he is not overly bad on the recording and since then has gotten substantially better, but their early live recordings showed it was definitely the weakest part of the band. Though, as noted he does not sound overly bad on the album, and is even able to add a nice accent to the music at parts. // 9
Overall Impression: For me it is better than their sophomore album, and by time they got to their third and fourth release they somewhat changed their sound so it is unfair to compare those albums to this one. If you have never heard of the band or anything from this album then at the very least it is worth listening to the singles "The Phantom Agony" and "Cry For The Moon". The biggest turn off that comes to mind are the vocals from Jansen and the sometimes long songs that may not appeal to all. There are also no fancy solos or anything of the sort. However, these are little complaints, because as a whole the album is very well written and interesting to find out where the next song will take you. Considering the album is not sold in America and that I had to purchase it at their concert I would be devastated if it was stolen or lost; especially since the band signed it. // 9