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Epica: The Divine Conspiracy

Here's something that rarely if ever happens to yours truly-I've been completely floored by a symphonic, gothic power metal band, and in this case, the Dutch band Epica. I've given this band, and plenty of others that fall into a similar style, many opportunities to wow me in the past. Problem is, to my ears, many of them just sound identical, and the whole sub-genre has just seemed stuck in a rut for some time. Well, lo and behold, Epica's latest The Divine Conspiracy, just happens to be the much needed kick in the ass that this whole symphonic gothic power metal genre needed. This one takes the band's gothic flair, kicks up the symphonic edge, fires up the crunch factor, and adds in plenty of Dimmu Borgir styled orchestral & melodic black metal elements, thanks to the persistence of former After Forever guitarist/growler Mark Jansen. At the helm as always are the angelic vocals of the drop dead gorgeous Simone Simone, and her soaring passages float about and intertwine with the extreme grunts & growls of Jansen.

Guitar wise, this is one heavy mother, as tunes like "Menace of Vanity", "The Obsessive Devotion", "Never Enough", and "The Last Embrace" feature tons of beefy power chords and raging speed metal riffs from Jansen & Ad Sluijter. The multi-part "Last Embrace" is a progressive metal epic that also features plenty of black metal and gothic pizzaz, and if you love over-the-top keyboards, Coen Janssen offers up no shortage of orchestral soundscapes. There are also a few pieces that fall into the more melodic, atmospheric, and gothic camp, like the proggy "Chasing the Dragon" or the majestic "Safeguard to Paradise" ( a real stunner of a vehicle for Simone's gorgeous vocals), but for the most part this is aggressive prog-metal all the way. Two of the best tracks backend the CD-the dazzling & complex "Beyond Belief" and the 14-minute title track, the latter being a great example of symphonic metal the way it ought to be played. Jansen's growls here are just perfect here, adding an evil edge to this otherwise powerful and classy metal epic.

Grand, majestic, symphonic, extreme, powerful, dramatic, melodic...The Divine Conspiracy is all this and more. This is one of those releases that I'm playing over and over again, which is really hard to do these days, but it's that damn good. Epica has shown me that there's hope for the gothic power metal genre yet, and in the process have put together one of the best releases of 2007. Absolutely stunning!

Track Listing
1. Indigo-Prologue
2. The Obsessive Devotion
3. Menace Of Vanity
4. Chasing the Dragon
5. Never Enough
6. The Last Embrace
7. The Embrace That Smothers-Part VII
8. The Embrace That Smothers-Part VIII
9. The Embrace That Smothers-Part IX
10. Beyond Belief
11. Safeguard To Paradise
12. Saneta Terra
13. The Divine Conspiracy

Added: November 12th 2007
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Epica Website
Hits: 6450
Language: english

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Epica: The Divine Conspiracy
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-11-12 06:18:35
My Score:

I've been following the music of Epica for a couple of years now and have long been convinced of what they can do since their debut album The Phantom Agony was released on the now defunct Transmission Records back in 2003. They would follow the debut with a strong sophomore effort called Consign To Oblivion and if you are fortunate to own any of these then you are lucky since each are almost impossible to find in today's Metal world without a lot of digging. From the ashes of Transmission the band would rise like the Phoenix and sign a deal with Nuclear Blast Records and give the world their magnum opus, the amazing Symphonic Gothic album The Divine Conspiracy. The album is without a doubt not only their strongest material to date but perhaps even the best album that they have ever done. Produced by Metal luminary Sascha Paeth and the band, Epica takes the elements that they introduced us to on their earlier albums and meld them together into one of the most mature and elegantly powerful Metal albums of 2007. Led by guitarist Mark Jansen, the compositions on the album are at times brooding and dark while at other time both passionate and bright. Their vocalist Simone Simons, who many might know as having worked with Melodic Metal masters Kamelot, truly shines as one of the most amazing singers that the genre has ever given us. With this album the classically trained Mezzo Soprano shows that she can not only handle some of the highest notes out there but also keep a more conventional voice as well if need be. Jansen is known to be quite fond of film score's so it makes sense that the new Epica begins with one of its own and as it plays you envision sitting in some grand theatre as the cast of players is introduced. "The Obsessive Devotion" then attacks you with a force and ferocity that I never expected of the band as it presented itself as quite the heavy number. While they have always been a Metal band without any question, there was a lot more heaviness going on with this one and I truly welcomed the change. Before the album was recorded the band found themselves in need of a new drummer and while he has not joined the band as a full time member, the album was recorded with the talented Arien van Weesenbeek from Dutch Death Metal Extremists, God Dethroned. Arien is clearly better than Jeroen Simons and as result of his input the drums are very in your face as far as their delivery. There is a lot more play between the riffing on the guitar and the double bass kicks than I ever heard on earlier Epica albums. While I don't want to see the player quit Dethroned, I do hope he chooses to work with Epica a lot more. The other interesting part about the creation of the record is that there was a total band input on the release as opposed to it being the sole work or Mark or Simone. Since many readers are still new to the band let me inform you of the other members to be well aware of their names for future reference. On keyboards we have Coen Janssen, on guitar along with Mark J. is Ad Sluijter with bass handled by Yves Huts. The band unit they have is a solid one without question and it was impressive to see just how good they were able to work with the session drummer. Weesenbeek has actually worked with Sluijter in the past for the Gothic Metal band Delain.

The album itself is a concept piece and the bands first one ever. The concept has to do with God and the various religions that he has created in order for mankind to discover the true nature of things within themselves or something to that effect. Based on this concept there is a lot of amazing things happening on the album and while there are moments where they speed like an express train and indulge in some Death growls to make it all the more dark, there are other moments of light at hand such as we find during "Chasing The Dragon" which is a complex number in and of itself. It begins as a soft ballad where we find out just how beautiful Simone's voice is and then it changes dramatically into a throttling number with blast beats and growls only to slow down to a calm once again. "Whew" was all I could say after this one finished. They follow this number with the definite hit single potential track "'Never Enough" and this one is more along the lines of how Nightwish, After Forever and Within Temptation are doing their entire albums nowadays. I did find it interesting to hear how Epica remained with the soaring operatic style while many of their peers in the genre had recently opted to go for a more conventional route of singing. Epica's choice of keeping to their mastered style has surely done the band no harm and reminds the listener that the future remains bright for such explorations in this genre. Another of the more impressive tracks is "Death Of A Dream The Embrace That Smothers" as it features After Forever's own Sander Gommans who offers up some grunt vocals along with Mark. For the new fans out there they should be aware that Mark Jansen formed Epica after he left the ranks of After Forever, a band who is now also their label mates on Nuclear Blast Records and have released a new album of their own just recently. As I closed out my first listen to the release I found myself letting it spin a couple of additional times and I think this is what many listeners will find happening when they drop this one into their stereo. This is a must have piece of Metal for any fans of not only female fronted groups but also for intricate and well thought out Metal compositions. With The Divine Conspiracy Metal fans everywhere will witness the Sahara Dust blowing away to reveal a proud monolith that is going to be a true superpower in the genre for years to come.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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