Review Summary: Even though Epica are still a second rate After Forever clone, their latest album rips off After Forever's style better than any other band
Gothic metal is one of those tricky genres to review. It’s much like metalcore in one aspect: the lack of innovation present is astounding. Frequently, gothic bands rely on the heavy riffs interspersed with string quartet compositions with female soprano and male growling vocals on top. After a while, it just starts to blend together and it’s hard to tell where one band stops and another begins. Now, of course there are the exceptions to the rule (there’s Nightwish, although they aren’t gothic metal in the most typical sense), most notably After Forever, who the whole genre seems to base their music off of.
Mark Jansen left After Forever to form Epica, so it’s not suprising that the bands share similarities. Epica take the formula that After Forever perfected and basically replicate it. The bad news is they aren’t After Forever, so much is lost in the music. The good news is they’ve managed to rip off AF better than any other band in the scene.
Once you tear your eyes away from the absolutely gorgeous cover (it’s not so much the artwork as the fact that their singer is naked on the cover, and she was blessed with a drop dead beautiful body) and give the disc a listen, all the elements of gothic metal are present here. There’s the heavy guitar riffs, the male growls, the synthesized strings, and the female vocals. Occasionally the group will throw in some horns for good effect (hey, JUST like After Forever’s newest album), although they are all done on synthesizer. It kind of ruins the effect that the band was trying to achieve.
The saving grace of Epica, however, is the vocals. Simone Simons doesn’t have a remarkable voice in any way (it’s pretty much your standard female soprano with some opera training thrown in for good measure), but the vocal lines written for her compliment her voice in a very good way. Backed up with a choir, her voice carries many of the songs and interplays with the strings very well. Once again, though, Simone is no Floor Jansen (yet again, from After Forever). Whereas Simone has a pretty voice, Floor’s just works infinitely better with this type of music because it’s so powerful.
But anyways, I’ll try to tone down with the After Forever comparisons. One of the main problems I have with this album is it takes way too long to pick up. All of the good tracks, in my eyes anyway, are located at the end of the album. It almost caused me to turn this album off and stop listening. It’s not that any of the beginning tracks are poorly written. In fact, the first few have very good vocal lines thrown in, almost enough to make them good. It’s just that they’re boring and don’t really go anywhere.
The exception to this is Never Again
. This track is a bit of an anomaly. It almost sounds like something Evanescence would write, with the chunky start-stop chord stylings. It’s by far the poppiest song on the album, and everything about it screams that I should hate it. For whatever reason, I find it to be one of my favorites off of the album. It’s unbearably catchy and, once again, has some great parts for Simone. One of the highlights of the album for sure.
Once we hit Living A Lie
, which happens to be track 8 (took long enough), the album starts picking up slowly but surely. It still retains the same style from the earlier tracks, but for whatever reason, from here on out the songs just get better. Death growls are used quite a bit in this track, and yet again Simone’s voice reigns supreme, especially in the chorus. Choir work thrown about throughout the piece adds quite a bit as well.
The amount of voiceovers towards the end of the album drag it down a bit, however. A song is moving along just fine, and then out of nowhere they throw in a voiceover part for whatever reason. It just kills the flow and seems like a copout on the composer’s part.
What also must be noted is the Kamelot ripoff moments. Epica took their name from Kamelot’s 2003 offering, and Simone guested on the track The Haunting from The Black Halo, another one of Kamelot’s albums. I’m sure the bands are friends and get along fine, but please, PLEASE, for the love of God, don’t try to throw in Middle Eastern elements to your music if you’re Dutch. Fools Of Damnation
’s intro sounds much like the one from Kamelot’s Nights Of Arabia, but while Kamelot’s ethnic elements were well done, these are just a trainwreck. It’s a shame too, since the song picks up around the two minute mark and gets very good after that, but the ill-placed intro kills the song.
Safeguard To Paradise
also borrows heavily from Kamelot’s bag of tricks. Okay, borrows is the wrong word. It’s basically a clone of the formula used on Anthem off of Kamelot’s latest album, Ghost Opera. But that can be forgiven, because Safeguard To Paradise
is quite good. An orchestral song with some piano thrown in, it’s just well written. Simone’s voice interplays with the compositions very well, and the whole song comes off sounding very beautiful.
is another one of my favorites. Honestly, it doesn’t deviate from the formula of the other songs at all, but for whatever reason, it’s just great. Again, it’s Simone’s show. The chorus has a terrific vocal line. Even in its simplicity, it works perfectly with the song. The only guitar solo on the album is on here as well, and it’s decent, if nothing special. Again, though, there’s a voiceover part thrown smack dab in the middle of the track, and although the song is good enough so that it doesn’t ruin it, it’s a minor annoyance.
The rest of the album is filled with good tracks, even if they don’t stand out in any way, until we hit the last track. The title track could have been good if about, oh, 6 or so minutes were trimmed off of it. And therein lies the biggest problem with the album. Many of the tracks are much too long. They contain great riffs, but those riffs can’t be kept up for the length of the song. As such, the songwriting begins to falter until those riffs are safe to be repeated. The title track is no exception. If the intro and middle section were tossed and the song started at where the 2 minute mark would be, this song would be excellent. As it is, it’s merely passable.
Epica is slowly getting better. The Divine Conspiracy is probably the best album they’ve written so far. It’s just the fact that they don’t do anything unique that brings them down. The band is filled with fine players, and the composing is better than most of their contemporaries, but for whatever reason, they just aren’t living up to their full potential. Epica have the potential to create a terrific album. This album, while still enjoyable, is just a decent effort.