Album of the Week 40-2016: Epica – The Holographic Principle

Regardless of your opinion on Epica, you have to admire their ambition. This time, the band decided to beef up their already bombastic sound by leaving orchestral samples for what they are and using only real instruments. That may seem like a minor detail, but it won’t take long to realize that ‘The Holographic Principle’ is sonically spectacular. All instruments have an unprecedented brightness and an energy to them. And even more impressively: the increasing heaviness of the Dutch sextet surprisingly also continues here. Everything about the album is supersized and that works much better than it should have.

Admittedly, I also dismissed Epica as just another Goth band initially, but ever since former God Dethroned members Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums) and Isaac Delahaye (guitars) have joined the band, their sound grew heavier and more interesting. A lot of things happen within the songs. Not just arrangement-wise, but also compositionally. There are bands on the more progressive end of the spectrum whose material is more predictable. And there’s something exciting and energetic about the record that should be the norm in contemporary Metal. If it was, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about the future of the genre.

What impressed me most upon first notice is how memorable the riffs are. Even moreso than the choruses. The main riff to ‘Edge Of The Blade’ refused to leave my head for days. This is essential to the album’s brilliance, because even though there is quite a bit of chugging on the lowest string, this memorability gives every song a face of its own. None of the songs sound alike. Riff heavy monsters like ‘Divide And Conquer’, ‘The Cosmic Algorithm’, the closing titular epic or the amazing ‘Tear Down Your Walls’ all approach the guitar work differently. It’s what keeps the album interesting through multiple spins.

Obviously, the orchestral instruments leave their mark on the sound of the record. The band has worked with actual string instruments and choirs in the past, but the input of the flutes and other wind instruments is notable here. Or listen to how the percussion augments the atmosphere of the darker sections in ‘Dancing In A Hurricane’. Or how cinematic the interaction between the heavy guitars and the orchestra is in ‘Ascension -Dream State Armageddon-‘. But even when the record focuses more on Delahaye’s guitars, like on ‘A Phantasmic Parade’ – of which the verse sounds like an inversion of the one in Black Sabbath’s ‘Behind The Wall Of Sleep’ – there’s a certain bombastic quality present.

Vocally, the band has made quite some progress as well. Regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of grunts, but Mark Jansen’s sound nice and intense here. Simone Simons still isn’t my cup of tea; she’s a very capable mezzosoprano, but I don’t find the higher registers of her more “Pop” range very pleasant to listen to. However, even in that range, she delivers one of her best performances yet here. A special mention goes out to Van Weesenbeek: he is simply what a contemporary Metal drummer should sound like. Technically superb, but also a hard hitter. Simply excellent.

Ultimately, only ‘Beyond The Matrix’ fails to impress me and that’s just because I think its chorus lacks power. It’s quite simple: ‘The Holographic Universe’ should be a delight to anyone who enjoys symphonic Metal, regardless of what additional subgenre you choose to decorate it with. It’s a highly dynamic, energetic record with a dozen of very interesting compositions. In a way, it’s the album I’d wanted Rhapsody to make for a long time, albeit with a more contemporary edge in the shape of grunts and seven string guitars. One of the better Metal releases this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ascension -Dream State Armageddon-‘, ‘Tear Down Your Walls’, ‘Edge Of The Blade’, ‘The Holographic Principle -A Profound Understanding Of Reality-‘

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