Sound — 7
There was a time in metal when having keyboards in your songs was a virtual kiss of death. Some bands even went as far as to putting no keyboards were used on this recording as some kind of seal of authenticity. With more and more bands in the heavy arena employing full-time keyboardists nowadays, this prejudice has gone by the wayside. This brings us to Metal Blade's Epicurean. Their brand of epic songwriting would be hard to imagine without the lush sounds keyboardist Jared Schneider lays down beneath the chaos. His elegant charts adorn the material perfectly yet never hog the spotlight away from the overall compositions. Some of his runs reminded me of Kevin Moore's (ex-Dream Theater member) haunting work on Images and Words. Not to be outdone, Jarod Mills and John Majors' guitar work deserves some attention for their veteran-like workmanship. They flow along with every twist and turn and never overplay even though the definitely could. The fluid solos on Behind The Chapel Walls prove their prowess over the instrument. Some old-school flavored licks are even woven into the glorious solo for Anathema: The Gate Keeper. This particular track had shades of Mercyful Fate in sections and showed off the band's impressive arranging skills. Older metalheads will not be able to deny the delicious guitar parts on a lot of this collection.
Lyrics — 8
Following the compositional feel of the music, the band's lyrics have a certain European bent about them. They remind me of mid-period Paradise Lost in some aspects lyrically. But the difference is Epicurean's songs do offer glimmers of hope within the agonized prose. On Illumination vocalist John Laramy pleads And when your heart ceases to shine, I'll show you illumination. Coupled with the dramatic touches the blend of guitars and keyboards lend, the words are adorned with a maturity usually reserved for veteran acts. To get into the entire concept of the album would take too much space here but it does deal with love, yearning and the acceptance of one's fate. Such universal and ultimately, complex themes would trip-up lesser bands but they rise to the occasion more than I would have expected from a younger band.
Overall Impression — 7
While the metalcore sweepstakes are a crowded mess lately, Epicurean adds enough interesting elements to differentiate themselves from the lot. I cannot stress enough how much Schneider's keyboards are integral to the overall big picture here. But I do have issues with they were mixed. Like a few other heavy bands (Winds of Plague, I'm talking to you) that utilize keyboards, they are way too high in the mix. They overpower some of the more archaic moments on the disc. But the full blame can't be put on the band as producer Don Debiase handled the mixing boards. His work on the other aspects of the album is solid enough, especially in light of the band's expansive sound and style. John Laramy's vocals range from piercing screams to a more soothed out style visited on some the hookier parts. The melodic vocals never sound forced which is more than I can say for a lot their counterparts. I actually would love to hear more of Laramy's cleaner voice on their future work.