The new album from Epica just corroborates how good Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands has been in recent years.
It definitely looks like whenever a Heavy Metal band from the Netherlands releases a new album, especially if it has female vocals, we can purchase their new material without even listening to it. All releases from bands from the “Land of Windmills” in the past few years have been simply amazing, with no exception, and that’s also valid for the excellent The Quantum Enigma, the sixth studio album by Dutch Symphonic Metal band Epica.
Although it’s the first with new bassist Rob van der Loo, who replaced Yves Huts in 2012, that didn’t hurt the overall quality of the album. Quite the contrary, the other members of the band have been together for some good years, which translates into cohesiveness and an outstanding flow of the music. Not only that, the addition of a chamber choir and some strings (violins, viola and celli), along with the excellent guest musicians Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion) on backing vocals and Daniël de Jongh (Textures) as additional male vocals were extremely positive from a quality standpoint.
The Quantum Enigma starts with the beautiful symphonic intro Originem, tailored to create a special atmosphere for everything else to come and already introducing to us the choir, which will be a constant throughout the whole album. Also, I don’t need to say this track will be used as an intro to their upcoming live concerts, right? But it’s when the first actual song begins that we’re able to notice how grandiose the band wants its music to be in this album: The Second Stone is a great song with lots of Power Metal elements, Simone Simons’ unique voice sounding superb as usual, and the fast solos and harsh vocals complementing what might be considered the best track of the album by many fans.
The next track, The Essence of Silence, has that characteristic sonority from some old Epica songs without sounding repetitive, a beautiful chorus (“Retrieve your balance / Use your senses to observe / The essence of silence / Search for essence / Find the silence within you / The essence is…”), and all the extra strings fit perfectly with the musicality not only of this track but of the whole album. It’s a very good track but not really awesome, though, which is the case for the amazing Victims of Contingency, where its heavy riffs balance really well with the keyboards and orchestral parts. Moreover, the Death Metal punch found in this song blended with Simone’s lyrical voice is above the average, and add to that Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye doing an excellent job with their guitars and you have another memorable track in the album.
Perhaps the weakest track of all is the next one, Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code), which despite having a nice and smooth vocal intro, strong keyboard notes and a good balance of harsh and female vocals, ends up being a bit tiring, especially after the 4th minute, losing all momentum gained. Unchain Utopia might not be a brilliant song, but it’s indeed better than the previous track and Simone’s performance once again gives it some extra energy; while The Fifth Guardian (Interlude), despite being just an instrumental bridge, is really well-crafted and perfect for energizing the listener for the following track, the excellent Chemical Insomnia. What an awesome Symphonic Metal tune! The music keeps growing and growing until it reaches a truly climatic ending, with all band members playing their parts beautifully, and also proving to us all a song doesn’t need to be absurdly long to be epic.
Reverence (Living in the Heart) seems to be the song chosen by Ariën van Weesenbeek to mercilessly smash his drums, with some excellent riffs, choir, and especially the quick but awesome keyboard solo adding a special touch to this sonic massacre. On the other hand, Omen (The Ghoulish Malady), with its piano intro and all orchestral parts, sounds too bland for an album so full of intense music and do not keep up with the other tracks.
The final part of The Quantum Enigma starts with the beautiful ballad Canvas of Life, where we can savor a great performance by Simone one more time. She simply steals the show here, mainly due to all the poetry in the lyrics (“The stains come alive where the paint has gone dry / You float above looking down reaching out to me / Depicting a beautiful scene that shapes divinity”) enhancing the emotion in her voice. Then comes Natural Corruption, another good track with all those Epica elements fans learned to enjoy, and The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II), an epic song with over 11 minutes with the orchestra and choir dominating the first part of the song. However, it then becomes a bit generic and, although it maintains a good rhythm, unfortunately it’s not enough for such a long song, making it a little tiresome in the end. The bottom line is, if you’re going to compose a long song make sure it has different “songs” inside of it, as for example the classics “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, from Iron Maiden, and “Halloween”, from Helloween, otherwise just keep it simple. As previously mentioned, a band can be epic without extending the length of a song too much, which Epica themselves did in this same album. It’s not that the song is not good, let’s say it’s exaggeratedly ambitious.
Anyway, add to this very good album some interesting bonus tracks (each version of the album has a different one) and its beautiful album art done by visual artist Stefan Heilemann, who has already worked with Epica in other opportunities and with many other famous artists and bands, and you have another high quality album worth buying and, of course, worth listening to many times. Because as I said, if it’s Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands, especially if it’s an album from Epica, just go for it without thinking twice.
Best moments of the album: The Second Stone, Victims of Contingency, Chemical Insomnia and Canvas of Life.
Worst moments of the album: Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code), Omen (The Ghoulish Malady) and The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II).
Released in 2014 Nuclear Blast
1. Originem 2:11
2. The Second Stone 5:00
3. The Essence of Silence 4:47
4. Victims of Contingency 3:31
5. Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code) 7:42
6. Unchain Utopia 4:45
7. The Fifth Guardian (Interlude) 3:04
8. Chemical Insomnia 5:12
9. Reverence (Living in the Heart) 5:02
10. Omen (The Ghoulish Malady) 5:28
11. Canvas of Life 5:28
12. Natural Corruption 5:24
13. The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II) 11:53
14. In All Conscience (Digipack additional track) 5:04
15. Dreamscape (Earbook additional track) 4:59
16. Memento (Vinyl additional track)
17. Banish Your Illusion (iTunes additional track) 6:11
18. Mirage of Verity (Japanese additional track) 5:59
Simone Simons – lead vocals
Mark Jansen – rhythm guitar, harsh vocals
Isaac Delahaye – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Rob van der Loo – bass guitar
Coen Janssen – keyboards, piano
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums, harsh vocals
Marcela Bovio – backing vocals
Daniël de Jongh – additional male vocals