DESIGN YOUR UNIVERSE (GOLD EDITION)
Release: October 4, 2019
'I won't give up, we'll fight to win
To move along from where we'd been
I'll sing this song for you again''
This year symphonic metal icon Epica have celebrated 10 years since the release of their seminal record “Design your Universe” with the release of a remixed and remastered version of the album (by none other than Joost van den Broek) under the moniker “Design your Universe (Gold Edition)”, as well as the bonus EP “The Acoustic Universe” containing newly-recorded acoustic versions of selected tracks. To cap it all off in style the band also went on a special tour, playing songs from this record.
At the time of its release, in 2009, Epica was a fairly well known band with high ambitions given their catalogue of three impressive albums (2003’s “The Phantom Agony”, 2005’s “Consign to Oblivion”, and 2007’s “The Divine Conspiracy”), a soundtrack record (2005’s “The Score – An Epic Journey”) a live orchestra project (2009’s “The Classical Conspiracy”) and a live album (2004’s “We Will Take You with Us”), but it was “Design your Universe” that confirmed them as an international phenomenon of great prowess. In between Mark Jansen’s grunts and Simone Simons’ angel-like vocals, the balance of epic metal grandeur, cinematic bombast, and orchestral soundscapes is perfect, the album seeing Epica on a whole new level of musicianship and craft.
Resign to surrender
Martyr of the free world
Kingdom of Heaven
The price of freedom
Burn to a cinder
Semblance of liberty
Design your universe
The acoustic universe:
Burn to a cinder
Martyr of the free world
Design your universe
Featuring a brilliant production that marks “Design your Universe” as the best sounding record they have ever done, for the re-issue they decided to stay as close as possible to the original sound, “carefully twisting some knobs here and there to introduce the seminal record to the digital era” (as per the press release). Talking about this aspect, Mark Jansen commented that “Back in 2009, albums still were compressed a lot due to the ongoing loudness war in metal. Today, you have more room for the mixing process again, making the whole music sound more dynamic.”
The album features such classic symphonic metal anthems as “Unleashed”, “Martyr of the free world”, or “Burn to a Cinder”, epic pieces like “Kingdom of Heaven” or the title track “Design your Universe”, power ballads “Tides of time” and “White Waters (ft. Sonata Arctica’s Tony Kakko), who not only stood the test of time but sound (and feel) as good as they did back then. From a lyrical point of view, the songs are still relevant today, maybe even more so than they were 10 years ago (just think of “Martyr of the free world” or “Kingdom of Heaven” from this perspective), Epica’s music always being grounded in reality. The lyrics of “Our Universe” feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy as Epica “have come to the goal forgotten”. Another aspect that makes this album special is that it featured two new members: drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek and guitarist Isaac Delahaye, and it was, and still is, their joint effort that makes Epica the force of nature it is today.
“Isaac literally joined the band when we were on the brink of entering the studio. He had very little time to contribute to the album, and yet he did a massive job working on the guitars with me. He clearly lifted the songs to another level. So maybe it was even an advantage that time was that limited. We couldn’t overthink things. I have the feeling it had to be like that.” (Mark Jansen)
“The Acoustic Universe” is the accompanying EP that features acoustic renditions of selected fan-favourite songs from “Design Your Universe” and as such, offers a fresh perspective on those songs. Rearranging the songs in an acoustic format but still keeping their sonic identity and essence the tracks feature not only guitar and vocals, but also drums, piano and even some growls, meaning that the song, while still familiar, are somewhat different from their original versions. And as such “Burn to a Cinder” has an up-tempo beat to it from the drums and guitars (and even some clapping sounds) with some uplifting vocal melodies and piano notes that ad harmony and richness to the music. The gentle and sweet “Our destiny” starts on piano, but soon the guitars and vocals take over and drive the song forward. I love the whispered lines in this song that add a sense of mystery and atmosphere to the song, while the layered vocals give some thickness to selected parts of the song.
For “Unleashed” the band brings some violins to the fold, and gradually add new elements to the song – guitars, vocals, backing arrangements and choirs, and piano, thus making it as epic as the original. I particularly enjoy the acoustic guitar solo that sounds like a Spanish guitar line in its delivery. Released as a video and single, the piano-driven “Martyr of the free world” shows Epica’s softer and sensible side probably much more than any of the other tracks on this EP. It’s all about the voice, the lyrics, and the emotions with this rendition. The guitars are brought back again, alongside flutes and strings for “Design your Universe”. There’s a nice ebb-and-flow type of thing happening here as it starts of slow, then picks up pace and then drops when the vocals start, only to pick up again, slowly. Again the whispered vocals add flavour and atmosphere to the music. This song also has some growls on a backdrop of guitars and drums, which works quite well, making the song more dynamic and energetic.
The music is well balanced, with Simone Simons’ vocals ranging from soft and mellow to uplifting and entertaining, to even classical, while the instruments (mainly guitars and piano) take turns in delivering the goods. The addition of strings, flutes and choirs here and there, to give the songs more life and colour. Even without the heavy electric guitars and thunderous drums, these acoustic songs work wonderfully, still retaining their theatricality and drama, proving once again that good music is good music, and a good song structure is more practical than any gimmick or artifice bands may come up to sound good or impress. Well done, Epica!
Rating EP: 4.7 / 5
Rating album: 9.5 / 10
Simone Simons – vocals
Mark Jansen – guitar, vocals
Isaac Delahaye – guitar
Rob van der Loo – bass
Coen Janssen – keyboards, synthesizer, piano
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums