Epica - The Holographic Principle
Ventures down more technical but mainstream routes make album number six a mixed bag
Words: Vickie Harley
Since their formation in 2002, Epica have worked towards becoming one of the biggest symphonic metal bands in the world. Originally the project of Mark Jansen in the wake of After Forever’s split, their appeal lies in their clever blend of bombastic, symphonic metal and heavier, death metal inspired riffs iced with Simone Simons’ soaring, soprano vocals. The band themselves have confessed that The Holographic Principle is their most ambitious and large project to date. While this is apparent, it appears that they have left a few of their most likeable traits behind and have opted for a more generic and wider appealing sound, for better or for worse.
Although in many places The Holographic Principle still holds true to Epica’s overtly symphonic and operatic style, the vocal melodies and general tone and delivery of the songs tends to be more diluted and hollow than in previous releases. One of the main issues for many Epica fans on their past few releases have been the supposed ‘decline’ of Simons’ vocal style. Unfortunately, Simons’ vocals seem to have been following the same path as those recent releases, and while it is always interesting and admirable for vocalists to experiment with different styles and to evolve, her vocals are mostly underwhelming here. She appears to have opted for a more ‘pop’ style of voice, leaving the majority of the vocal melodies and delivery falling flat, notably on The Cosmic Algorithm, Tear Down Your Walls and latest single Edge of the Blade. However, her opening entry on Once Upon a Nightmare is sublime, and the track as a whole develops into an operatic epic: showcasing her ability to leap from gentle lullaby tones into her stunning head voice, harking back to Design Your Universe cut Tides of Time.
Choral arrangements are a staple of the Epica sound, and this album is no exception. The choir are exceptional, particularly on both the title track and opening number Eidola. Their prominence and stunning deliveries make up for the lack of operatic and power in Simons’ voice and inspire hope that she may sing some of the choral parts live.
The most impressive element of the album is the orchestral arrangements, and the band has really outdone their previous efforts in this aspect. This is their first release that utilises a real orchestra, and it has made a huge difference to their sound. Not only do the orchestral parts sound much more personal and authentic, but they really give life to a lot of the heavily orchestrated parts of songs such as Universal Death Squad and the string solo opening of Once Upon a Nightmare, which bursts open into soaring orchestral melodies and lively percussion. Additionally, ethnic instrumentation features prominently on Dancing in a Hurricane, which opens with the sultry twangs of a sitar and Indian drums, reminiscent of the harmonic and instrumental influences of Eastern music on The Divine Conspiracy’s Fools of Damnation.
Overall, much of The Holographic Principle’s sound is very prog and technical, particularly in the guitar parts, perhaps a follow on from 2012’s Requiem for the Indifferent. Though this diversion in sound may spark interest in fans of prog, it seems a little technical and cold in comparison to their traditional ‘European symphonic metal’ sound.
Though The Holographic Principle may seem a lot more technically driven and more of a mainstream, marketable sound in contrast to previous releases, the final title track of the album really showcases how professional, polished and epic in sound Epica have become since their humble beginnings on 2003’s The Phantom Agony. The use of a real orchestra makes a hell of a difference, and the sound is astonishingly impressive. However, fans of the less technical and more classically driven sound of earlier releases may be disappointed. However, this release is definitely worth a listen just for the orchestration and choral arrangements featured, as they really give the album the impressive edge it needs, particularly on standout tracks Ascension, Once Upon a Nightmare and The Holographic Principle.