Review Summary: The foundations of one of the leading female fronted metal bands of nowdays.
The 21st century came with the boom of the female fronted metal bands. Inspired by the works of The Gathering, Theater of Traggedy, Orphanage, among others, thousands of bands with a chick on the mic all of a sudden assaulted the metal scene.
Among them were a dutch band called After Forever. Somehow, this new fashion proved to be either benefic and destructive for the band, even though they took advantage of the current conjecture to achieve some popularity, most of the press and metal fans never truly understood their true personality, most of the times labeling them as the new nightwish or tristania clone. And that was the beginning of a very troubled way that sadly ended in 2008 with their demise.
One of the many crises within the band took place in 2002, when guitarist and cofounder Mark Jansen, suddenly felt out of place, and left the band to focus on his own ideas. After gathering his new band mates, Mark called his band Sharah Dust, however inspired by the name of Kamelot’s 6th album, he later renamed them Epica.
And their debut album couldn’t be better. Even though the name may sound kind of powermetalish, there’s very little of power metal to be found in The Phantom Agony. Drums are in the vein of After Forever, which means varied enough to keep it interesting, the bass makes its job done, and the guitars are basically rhythmic and to be frank, the least attractive part of Epica. On the vocals we have the new immerging talent of Simone Simmons, with a mezzo-soprano voice that would appeal to Tarja’s fans, Mark’s occasionally screams and grunts, and a classical choir. But what really shine on this record are the lush orchestral and keyboard parts. Considering the fact that Mark has no classical background it is quite an achievement.
In terms of composition, there is indeed a very epic and sometimes Arabic feel, thanks to the orchestrations and choir. Nevertheless there’s this brutality coming from the crunchy guitars, speedy drums and Mark’s screams that makes a great contrast. On track Run for a Fall, this is quite evident, since the song starts off like a ballad, and in the middle we have aggression, followed by orchestral arrangements, and ending again in a ballad way. On Seif al Din we have the opposite, some metal riffage attack that would make you headbang like no fu*** tomorrow, with a string section in the middle.
But the track that really stands out it’s the title track. This “epic” journey, clocking around 9 minutes, has it all. Beautifully arranged string sections in the beginning and end, lead choirs that would give you goosebumps, tempo changes and the winning chorus sung by Simone.
Lyrically speaking, it’s what you would expect from Mark Jensen, philosophical questions, religion criticism (both Christendom and Islam), and a very ferocious attack on After Forever’s lead singer Floor Jansen, which makes you think of how awful the ambient was within the band back in the days. He later apologized nevertheless.
All in all a very strong debut album.