THE HOLOGRAPHIC PRINCIPLE
Nuclear Blast Records
New releases of one of your favourite bands are always nerve wrecking because you never know whether you’re going to be satisfied or disappointed in your expectations. On 29 July 2016 Epica released a first track and lyrical video from their latest album ‘The Holographic Principle’(THP), named ‘Universal Death Squad’ and at first I was disappointed. Although the song is very cleverly composed as Epica always do, I couldn’t help thinking of Kamelot’s ‘And When The Lights are Down’ because the main theme and drumbeat are very similar in both songs. I was disappointed because one of Epica’s strongest feats is that they are always original in their song writing and never follow trends. But often record company’s advise on what songs to release first so I shrug my shoulders and waited for the rest of the album to be published. On 8 September 2016 a second song and video from THP was released: ‘Edge Of The Blade’ and it got my hopes up again. Although again there is a very familiar ring to the melodies, ‘Edge Of The Blade’ to me has the original Epica sound right from the first listen. Luckily this got me excited to hear the rest of THP!
On 1 October 2016 Epica hosted the second edition of Epic Metal Fest at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands where they showcased several THP-songs for the first time in a live performance. It was also my first listen because I got my copy of the Digipack during Epic Metal Fest. I never really have understood why labels choose to release a new CD right before the first live performance of it. This way the songs haven’t settled themselves yet into your memory, which is a major factor and reason for liking any music. As a consequence the songs seem to be very one-dimensional when you hear them live for the first time. Now five months have passed since the release and I have listened to THP at least 150 times in its entirety and I have seen and photographed four of Epica’s THP live shows. I can say that the songs by now have settled not only into my memory but also into my heart and soul. So here is my full review.
Band picture by: Tim Tronckoe
Simone Simons – Vocals
Mark Jansen – Guitar/Growls-Grunts-Screams
Isaac DelaHaye – Guitar
Coen Janssen – Keys
Rob van der Loo – Bass
Ariën van Weesenbeek – Drums
THP starts as most, if not all Epica albums with an instrumental intro of about 2 minutes. This one is named ‘Eidola’ (nr.1) and sets the mood for the rest of the album with its vast and impressive wall of sound, created by massive brass instruments, drums and latin choir. I often skip intro’s on cd’s but I never do with Eidola, that’s how good it sounds!
After hearing 'Universal Death Squad' (nr.4 by Isaac DelaHaye) more than 150 times, I got over my initial disappointment and it even has become one of my favourite THP songs now, having heard all parts of this complex composition more into detail. I also like the feisty shredding guitar solo by Isaac DelaHaye which could have been written and played by Dream Theater's John Petrucci himself. Isaac’s guitar playing and composing skills have clearly reached a whole new level over the years which elevates Epica’s music as a whole too.
Another style reference I hear is Lacuna Coil's Melodic Metal in 'Divide and Conquer' (nr.5 by Mark Jansen) although I’m not very familiar with Lacuna Coil. I believe it is because of the fairly monotone female vocal lines which are often to be heard in Lacuna Coil’s songs. But of course this is my personal interpretation and I don’t believe Mark had Lacuna Coil in mind while writing this song. Monotony can be effective in a song but I prefer variety in singing lines. However considering the composition as a whole including the socially and politically engaged lyrics also written by Mark Jansen, ‘Divide and Conquer’ is one of the most intense and meaningful songs on THP.
Returning back to ‘Edge Of The Blade’ (nr.2 by Isaac DelaHaye) which I have already mentioned in the introduction, we have come to one of the catchier songs on THP. Right from the start this song stays on your mind and makes you want to groove along with it. I’m a sucker for shredding guitars and groovy bass lines and this song is built on grooviness. Each time I hear it I just have to move along with the music. On a separate note also compliments to Simone Simons for the quality of her lyrics. I always have had difficulties to memorize Epica’s lyrics because of their complex structure and rich vocabulary. Epica has never been a band of ‘easy lyrics’ which distinguishes them from other more mainstream metal bands.
‘Phantasmic Parade’ (nr.3 by Ariën van Weesenbeek) is another groovy and catchy song. It makes you want to move to the rhythm, which reminds me of a Latin American dance or a Brazilian Carnival rhythm.
The last two albums consist of songs written by all band members which to me is a sign the interpersonal harmony and trust within the band is excellent.
‘Beyond The Matrix’ (nr.6 by Isaac DelaHaye) is a very energetic and cheerful song which has become one of Epica’s own favourites during their live performances. All band members jump up and down during it and it works contagious on the audience. It is not my personal favourite since I like their more dramatic and darker songs but I understand why fans take a liking to this uplifting song.
The only ballad of the album is 'Once upon a Nightmare' (nr.7) written by Coen Janssen with a wonderful score-like intro. I love the slow build up of tension and wonderful release of it in the heavenly vivacious refrains in all of Coen’s ballads. Of course Simone’s Angelic voice is a indispensable part of the equation which makes all Epica ballads so astoundingly perfect.
‘The Cosmic Algorithm’ (nr.8 by Isaac DelaHaye) is another groovy song which the album seems to be very rich of. I believe THP is the most ‘danceable’ album of Epica’s entire discography. By saying this I’m not meaning however that their music style has become more mainstream like for example has happened to Within Temptation. Fortunately Epica has maintained the original Deathmetal style but by using groovy rhythms and melody, their music remains accessible to the ‘lighter’ melodic metal fans.
The similarity to Kamelot’s music in ‘Universal Death Squad’ (nr.4) wasn’t the only reference to other metal bands I hear on THP. Very clear references can be heard to Opeth's early Blackmetal in another one of my favourite THP songs 'Ascension' (nr.9 by Rob van der Loo). Rob is Epica’s newest member since a bit over four years now and he scored again with this song! I loved his song ‘In All Conscience’ on ‘The Quantum Enigma’ as well. Both songs have a raw metal power to be heard through the heavy guitar riffs which I always like and to me is a must in Symphonic Death Metal. Mark Jansen's powerful grunts and screams remind me of a younger Mikael Åkerfeldt and even though I love both their voices, Mikael’s live grunts clearly aren’t as powerful anymore like they used to be. Hearing Mark’s growls and screams in ‘Ascension’ therefore make up for what I miss nowadays in Opeth’s live performances.
‘Dancing in a Hurricane’ (nr.10 by Coen Janssen) is yet another danceable song which remains in your head because of the ethnic gipsy like rhythms. A wonderful usage of the orchestral arrangements in this song almost makes you visualize the gipsies dancing around a campfire while listening to the music. It literally sweeps you off your feet and takes you away to other sceneries far away.
‘Tear Down Your Walls’ (nr.11 by Mark Jansen) Mark’s growling and Simone’s singing alternate each other perfectly in this powerful song. I now know why I love Epica’s music so much: they are one of the few bands that never have chosen the easy way out by compromising with a more mainstream sound. A lot of Symphonic metal bands let go of the rawness to appeal to a bigger audience, something Epica has never done and I’m proud they have kept their strong belief in their own sound which in the end always pays off. I love this song and I love Mark’s grunts and screams which together with Simone’s heavenly voice are Epica’s most recognizable trademark.
‘The Holographic Principle’ (nr.12 by Mark Janssen) is the lengthy 12:35 minutes lasting title song. Epic in every sense from the Latin choir at the beginning to the beautiful ballad like first part with matching wonderful chorus to the faster bridge with some great thrash metal rhythms and instrumental parts in the end. I often dread long songs because they can sound repetitive but this song to me seems to last only 6 minutes instead of 12. Another great accomplishment of Epica and a perfect way to end this astonishing album.
The Digipack also contains a second disc with acoustic versions of 5 songs which literally take my breath away for their beauty and Simone Simons' heavenly voice but at the same time they make me smile too because of the ironically musical crossover styles like Ennio Morricone's 'The Good The Bad and The Ugly', Portuguese Fado, Funk and even French Chansons. Just brilliant! THP is a must-have for any Symphonic Metal fan and music lover in general. 'The Holographic Principle’ is available at www.epicawebshop.com, www.nuclearblast.de, Spotify and I-tunes.
I give it a perfect 10/10 but I admit I am a bit biased ;)
1 October 2016 – 9 March 2017