Released: May 2, 2014
Genre: Symphonic Metal, Gothic Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
Number Of Tracks: 13
Epica's sixth album "The Quantum Enigma" is a metalhead symphony in top form - with equal parts metal force and orchestral prestige.
The Quantum EnigmaFeatured review by: UG Team, on may 07, 2014 5 of 6 people found this review helpful
Sound: Whether or not their band name is as subtle of an implication as getting hit in the head with a guitar, it can't be argued that Epica does indeed strive to compose music of epic proportions. Being founded by former After Forever guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen and Dutch soprano Simone Simons (who has worked with several power metal and symphonic metal bands such as Kamelot, Sons Of Seasons and Primal Fear), the band started off with a clear idea of what they wanted to accomplish. Fusing powerful death metal with a grand arrangement of orchestral elements, Epica has gone on to make five studio albums in their 12-year career, with their fifth album, "Requiem for the Indifferent," achieving the most international acclaim, including reaching the Billboard Top 200 chart in 2012. Now, Epica has released their sixth studio album, "The Quantum Enigma," and despite it being a relatively short time since their 2012 release, guitarist Isaac Delahaye has said in an interview that this album had a much longer pre-production phase than other albums, and that the composition process was much more of a group effort than before.
Starting off with "Originem," the album opens the sonic landscape with an orchestral intro that sounds a lot like the background music you'd hear in a movie trailer, fully-stocked with piano, string and horn sections, thunderous drums, and choir vocals sung in Latin. Carrying over into the next track, "The Second Stone," the death metal elements finally come in to crash the orchestral party, and a fleeting fast guitar line leads the intro along with string melodies and fast double-bass rolls. From then on to the next few tracks - "The Essence of Silence," "Victims of Contingency" and "Sense Without Sanity - The Impervious Code" - the album strikes a strong balance between the melodious side of orchestral instruments, choir vocals and Simons' lead vocals, and the raw metal energy of driving guitar riffs, relentless drums (with the furious bursts of double-bass rolls and blastbeat drumming in "Victims of Contingency" being the crest of extraordinary drumming), Jansen's harsh growling vocals (which juxtapose Simone's clean and righteous vocals very well) and some good guitar solos in "The Second Stone" and "The Essence of Silence."
While "Unchain Utopia" adds some different sound elements with harpsichord and keyboard melodies, the song unfortunately gets stuck with being the first song to falter in the metal energy - with the drums being much more restrained throughout the song, the role of guitars pale in comparison to the former songs, and the lack of growling vocals. "The Fifth Guardian - Interlude" clears the table for another film-score-esque track akin to the album's opening track, but this one is embedded in an oriental orchestral sound - containing gaohu, zheng, and xiao melodies - and comes off as very refreshing in contrast to the conventional violin and piano melodies heard thus far. Following the interlude, "Chemical Insomnia" wastes no time kicking things back into a heavy gear, jumping straight into a dirty, cut-throat death metal intro. The bridge of the song brings back Jansen's growling vocals, as well as some nice technical riffage from the guitars. The album is taken to another metal apex with "Reverence - Living in the Heart," which contains arguably the most bada-s guitar riff Epica has ever crafted, more frenzied-level drumming, and an admirable, Dream Theater-esque guitar/keyboard solo - and perhaps it is this apex that makes the following song, "Omen - The Ghoulish Malady," feel lackluster. "The Canvas of Life" shifts things down into a more reserved gear - where the grand array of metal and symphonic instruments slowly progresses to swell mightily at the end - but this is the song that boasts Simone's best vocal performance on the album, as well as having a great, folklore-inspired lead melody. "Natural Corruption" continues the melody-richness from the previous track, but brings another wave of forceful metal, including a captivating bridge of guitar and orchestral string tradeoff accompanied with blastbeat drumming, as well as another nice, elaborate guitar solo. The album finishes with the colossal, multi-phase progressive metal song "The Quantum Enigma - Kingdom of Heaven Pt. II," which, while being a marathon of a song, is a full-bodied song that brings nearly everything heard in the album together for one grand finish. // 8
Lyrics: Though "The Quantum Enigma" isn't an album that forms a concrete story concept, the general theme found in the lyrics throughout the album is about transcending one's own mind and conventional thoughts to find a deeper understanding in life and beyond. Remarks about memories and deceptive perceptions are found in "The Second Stone," "The Essence of Silence" and "Reverence - Living in the Heart," and the poisonous potential of one's thoughts get more specific in "Chemical Insomnia," which deals with the mental burden of addiction, and "Sense Without Sanity - The Impervious Code," which deals with fear of death (the line "the longer you wait for the future, the shorter it will be" drives the point home perfectly). Other songs like "Omen - The Ghoulish Malady" and "Victims of Contingency" are more oriented towards bettering oneself in this life, with the former song being much more uplifting and motivational (possibly treading the line of sappiness), and the latter song being much more of a kick in the a-s (case in point: "blaming it on life will never make you stronger"). Songs like "Unchain Utopia" and "Natural Corruption" deals with the corrosive characteristics of society - a familiar topic that Epica has written about before - and while this adds some more lyrical flavor to the entire album, the main focus of the lyrical themes is embedded in reaching a deeper understanding of life by perceiving things beyond your own mind - "The Quantum Enigma - The Kingdom of Heaven Pt. II" sums up this premise of the album quite nicely, with several lyrical themes from previous songs being called back in this song and wrapping them up in a nice bow. // 9
Overall Impression: Even though a couple of songs on the album may not be as captivating in comparison to others, "The Quantum Enigma" accomplishes a consistent aesthetic of metal energy and symphonic grandeur spanning from front to back. The polished mix of the album makes it able to appreciate every sound you come across on the album, and the compositions on the album flow in an interdependent nature - much like how a classical symphony is written. With some songs on the album being suitable for a colloquial award of "best Epica song," the whole output of the album may very well be suitable for being considered Epica's best album thus far, both by fans and the music charts. // 8
The Quantum Enigma
LightThisCity23, on may 20, 2014 5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Sound: With Epica's sixth full-length album, they have made a strong statement as to why they are the best in their genre. Epica started out as a fairly typical (though clearly way above average) symphonic metal band, but over the years they have steadily evolved into a heavier and more progressive band, with their previous album going about as far as they possibly could have in that direction. Many fans of their earlier albums were put off by that album, as it was much more complex and more challenging to get into compared to their more highly regarded albums "The Divine Conspiracy" and "Design Your Universe." What they've done this time is taken everything I liked about the last two albums, and combined them with some favorite features of previous albums to create the most complete Epica album to date.
Fans who were turned off by the direction the band took with the last album have nothing to fear this time, as while the progressiveness is still there, and while the heavy riffs are as present as ever, this is certainly a more instantly engaging album, and it certainly feels like an Epica album through and through. Most songs are shorter than on all their previous albums, but are loaded with memorable moments and has the best production the band has ever had.
The songs are as dynamic as ever, with a constant mix of extremes, between some of the heaviest and most aggressive material the band has ever written ("Victims of Contingency"), to some of their most epic moments yet. "The Quantum Enigma" is a more accessible album, but at the same time there's still some very complex arrangements and some truly outstanding musicianship, so fans who started out with either of the last two albums have a lot to be excited about as well. // 10
Lyrics: The lyrics are great, not the best that the band has ever written, but fans will surely not be disappointed. I would say that the lyrics on this album ranks slightly above the middle when comparing them to their previous work.
One of Epica's biggest strengths has always been the vocals, and on this album that statement applies as much as ever, if not more so. As usual, the band expertly mixes together three layers of vocals, with each being equally important. The most obvious is Simone Simons, who sounds more impressive than ever. Her angelic clean vocals were already amazing on the first two albums, and she has actually improved quite a bit over the years, becoming a more powerful and dynamic singer. She also uses her mezzo soprano range more than she has since "The Divine Conspiracy," and if anything the moments where she returns to this style sound more stunning than ever. The second layer is the growl vocals, which are provided by both rhythm guitarist Mark Jansen and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek. I've found their growls to be much stronger on the last couple albums, and once again the same applies to this album, as even on the more melodic songs they can provide an explosive and welcome change of pace. Then we have the choirs, and while they have always played an important role in Epica's music, on this album they have taken it a few steps farther as almost every song is enhanced by stunning choir vocals, which combined with the increased use of orchestras helps make this their most epic and symphonic album yet. // 9
Overall Impression: "The Quantum Enigma" is to me the best album after "Design Your Universe" (that album just had so many fantastic songs.) and is the only album without any weak points. After the typically impressive intro track, listeners are treated to the intense and fast paced opener "The Second Stone." This song has an absolutely fantastic chorus that is one of best the band has ever made, my favorite song on the album so far. "Unchain Utopia" is much more melodic, and represents this album's "Quietus" or "Unleashed." It's certainly one of the calmer and more instantly catchy songs on the album. Another good thing about this album is that there's only one ballad "Canvas of Life." The last album had three ballads, which was at least one to many. Another favorite from this album is "Victims of Contingency," you can really hear Mark Jansen's Death influences on this track, as Chuck Shuldiner is one of his favorite guitarists. I also have mention "Chemical Insomnia," with it's "Slayer" like opening riff, that is very reminiscent of "South of Heaven." Epica have always been great at closing their albums with huge epic tracks, but I have to say that "Kingdom of Heaven, Part 2" disappointed me. I expected it to be one of the best songs on the album, but it's definitely not. However, this is the song that best demonstrates how good the band is at incorporating symphonic elements into their music. The orchestras are as impressive as always and the highlight is the chorus, which is dominated by the choirs.
I can honestly say that if I were to single out one Epica album as being the one that most clearly defines their music and everything that makes them special, it would be this one. "The Quantum Enigma" is definitely a required listening for any fan of symphonic metal, or just female fronted metal in general, as it simply doesn't get much better than this. // 9