Sound: For those of you who do not know, this album is the first half of the story that is continued in the (kind of) well-known album The Black Halo. I'll make some points, then go song by song.
Firstly, everything you hear on this album is sublime. The guitars are at their worst good and I had a few literal jaw-dropping moments listening to this album. The bass is well represented. The drums do their part perfectly. The keyboards are excellent in every place they are featured. Finally, the vocals are always in tune and sound just right.
01.Prologue: a string introduction to the first song.
02.Center of the Universe: this song introduces the theme of the album: pursuit of knowledge. The riffage here is energetic and right up front. The bass drum is constant, making the fast tempo of the song seem even faster.
03.Farewell: Ariel bids his old life farewell, even to his beloved Helena. The riffs here are similarly fast and lend a frantic feel in places.
04.Interlude I (Opiate Soul): this interlude simply represents the years of travel Ariel endured.
05.Edge of Paradise: the slow tempo and melody suggest an almost dreamlike state, which is produced by opiates (mentioned in the title of the last song). The Arabic melody is very interesting, making full use of what sounds like Phrygian dominant and harmonic minor scales.
06.Wander: Ariel falls into despair and takes to wandering in the wilderness in the winter. This song's soft tone bolsters the reminiscing that Ariel feels for his old life.
07.Interlude II (Omen): the soft instrumentation is very Classical; knowledge of classical music suggests that this song is the point in which Ariel consideres death.
08.Descent of the Archangel: perhaps the best song on the album. Mephisto descends upon Ariel in the garb of an Angel and makes a bid to save Ariel's life in a Faustian deal with the Devil. The solo is performed by Rhapsody of Fire's Luca Turilli.
09.Interude III (At the Banquet): Ariel arrives in Mephisto's castle and is sumoned as the guest of honor at a massive feast prepared just for him.
10.Feast of Vanity: my personal favorite in terms of melody; the slow melody over the fast guitars is very appealing to me. Ariel is awed by the fabulous gluttony and sin of the feast. In his awe, he agrees to Mephisto's contract on the condition that he will only keep Ariel's soul if he is ever truly content.
11.On the Coldest Winter Night: Ariel and Helena meet once again. The song's slow tempo and warm bass-driven sound represents Ariel's love for Helena, which he has held onto for all those years.
12.The Lost and The Damned: the almost dischordant intro is representative of the dischord between the two lovers. The fast paced tempo leads into interesting solos and supports the vocals well. Further props to the accordion in the background.
13.Helena's Theme: this is the single saddest song I have ever heard on a metal album. Storywise, Helena kills herself in grief over Ariel's continued pursuit of knowledge.
14.Interlude IV (Dawn): a town crier finds Helena's body. Like the other interludes, this is less a song and more a storypoint.
15.The Mourning After: ignoring the pun in the title, this song is excellent. The ominous melody leaves nothing to the imagination: Ariel is distraught over Helena's death.
16.III Ways To Epica: the closing track features what might be the grooviest "Hail Satan!" ever. Sotrywise, this is the point at which Mephisto encourages Ariel to continue his search for knowledge. // 10
Lyrics: The lyrics here are used to tell the story of a Faust-like proposal between a scholar named Ariel and a fallen angel nmed Mephisto. Roy Khan performs both the role Ariel and Mephisto. The voice of Helena is done by Thomas Youngblood's wife, Mari.
As far as quality goes, I don't think that there was a bad moment lyrically on the album. The story was conveyed quite clearly and with no small amount of style too. // 10
Overall Impression: I hate to put an 'all ten' review on UG, but this album was fabulous in every way I could tell. I might find a flaw or two if I look hard enough, but that would be nitpicking. To casual or hyper-attentive listeneres both, this album will be without flaw. Anyone who liked Karma, The Black Halo, and/or Ghost Opera will similarly enjoy this album. If I lost this album, I would immediately go back to Amazon and buy it again, as well as ensure that the jerk who took it suffered terribly. // 10