It would have been asking a lot for Florida's Kamelot – one of America's premier melodic metal bands – to follow up 2001's Karma with a better album. And, alas, with their sixth disc, the quartet has not. Epica, while certainly a record worthy of the Kamelot name, lacks much of the urgency and many of the hooks that made Karma such a compelling work. But based on a concept inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust — an 18th-century allegorical poem about a German scholar who makes a deal with the devil – Epica ranks as the band's most diverse and expressive album.
The Faustian theme results in an eclectic mix of metal and classical. There are four instrumental, choral or spoken interludes here — along with Gregorian chants and the use of such historical instruments as the djembe (a type of percussion) and the bandoneón (similar to an accordion). Yet Epica still flows seamlessly. Norwegian singer Roy Khan has never really exuded as much charisma as other frontmen in the genre, and he continues that tradition here. But Khan makes up for his lack of charm with an astounding and solid vocal performance that shows off his wide range. Guitarist Thomas Youngblood proves once again why he's one of metal's most underrated players, and Kamelot's rhythm section of bassist Glenn Barry and drummer Casey Grillo stand out for their ability to blend in. Guests include Rhapsody guitarist Luca Turilli on "Descent of the Archangel," Elegy singer Ian Parry appears on one interlude, and the album was produced once again by Sascha Paeth and Miro (Angra, Rhapsody).
As on Karma, only a few of the 16 tracks on Epica really qualify as galloping power metal – namely, "Center of the Universe," "Farewell" and "A Feast for the Vain." The rest fall somewhere between classically orchestrated symphonic metal and dark progressive metal. Kamelot also save the best two songs on this collection for last. "The Mourning After" is a propulsive rocker, and "III Ways to Epica" is one of the most musically aggressive tracks the band has ever recorded. They are a fitting coda to an album that sees Kamelot expanding its boundaries more than ever and refusing to fit any preconceived genre notions.