Sound — 10
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.
Lyrics — 9
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.
Overall Impression — 9
"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.