Review Summary: Epica flourish musically as they unveil a harder, more progressive edge to their sound. Although the appeal may not be immediate, it is certainly there in both composition and production.
'Requiem for the Indifferent' is the latest offering from Epica, a band that has in the past decade proved itself to be one of the leaders in the genre of symphonic metal. Their last album, entitled 'Design Your Universe', exceeded all expectations with its release in 2009, revealing a heavier, more developed Epica sound, with the gravity of the album centered on a 13-minute focal point known as 'Kingdom of Heaven (A New Age Dawns, Part V)' which arguably proved to be Epica's most ambitious and greatest single track yet, and a standout in the symphonic metal genre as a whole.
Unfortunately, 'Requiem for the Indifferent' lacks a song with such intensity and length, although this does not take away from the overall product, the album as a whole boasting a running time of over 70 minutes (roughly the same as 'Design Your Universe') and possessing many songs with lengths beyond the five minute mark.
But of course, the length of a song means nothing if it is purely for filler, thankfully this is not so with 'Requiem for the Indifferent', as although not immediately apparent, this is quite possibly the best album Epica has produced thus far, narrowly topping out 'Design Your Universe' and making 'The Divine Conspiracy' look almost weak in comparison. The confusion that many have faced when hearing this album for the first time is not down to quality but more so down to the amount of time this album takes to fully sink in and for the listener to understand what its all about.
'Requiem for the Indifferent' is a further step down the lane of prog metal for Epica and it shows with the album being an array of complex and not-immediately catchy hooks and melodies drenched in guitar, choir, orchestration and the serene voice of Simone Simons, who often sings over multiple layers of her own voice in order to cut through all the instrumentation on an Epica album that is more technical and heavy then ever before. This layering gives Simone a harsher, more aggressive tone throughout much of the album akin to Tarja's vocals in the chorus of 'Romanticide' by Nightwish, that may alienate fans of Epica's previous albums which featured an often sweeter voiced Simone. For these fans, there are still plenty tranquil moments on this new album with Simone singing calmer melodies, such as in 'Delirium', the ballad of 'Requiem for the Indifferent', which resembles a greatly revamped version of 'The Divine Conspiracy' song 'Living a Lie' with the heavenly humming of a choir at the procession of both songs.
'Delirium' is one of the more immediately easy tracks to follow on 'Requiem for the Indifferent' along with leading single 'Storm the Sorrow', which is perhaps one of Epica's greatest single releases to date and a true standout on the album as a whole, rivalling 'Unleashed' from 'Design Your Universe' and making 'Never Enough' from 'The Divine Conspiracy' seem utterly forgettable. Proceeding 'Storm the Sorrow' and hitting hard after the above-average yet typically Epica-esque intro of 'Karma', is yet another stunning track known as 'Monopoly on Truth', which sets the scene for the album with a progressive configuration reminiscent of a heavier, harder edged version of 'Chasing the Dragon' from 'The Divine Conspiracy'. 'Monopoly on Truth' defines 'Requiem for the Indifferent' with its difficult-to-follow-at-first progressive style that grows on the listener on subsequent listens, going so far as to improve as the song progresses towards the finish.
'Internal Warfare' provides the lead-up to the album-titled track, although it fails somewhat to deliver as well as the previous three tracks. It does however feature an interesting keyboard/guitar sequence that sounds like Epica momentarily morphed into Star One, adding interest and variety to what would have otherwise been a less competent but still adequate song. In the album-titled track of 'Requiem for the Indifferent', we see foreign elements blend in with Epica's metal sound more smoothly and naturally than ever before with traditional Indian sounds catalysing with symphonic metal to create an exciting and interesting opening score that sounds far more adept than that of 'Fools of Damnation' from Epica's earlier works. The track 'Requiem for the Different' proves to be catchy in both verse and chorus although fails to reach the heights of Epica's greatest achievements from previous albums, namely the title track of 'The Divine Conspiracy' and 'Kingdom of Heaven'.
After the first half of the album draws to a close we are met with a beautiful haunting piano piece known as 'Anima' which thrusts us into the upbeat 'Guilty Demeanor' before bringing us to the wonderous 'Deep Water Horizon' that despite holding expectations high with a suspenseful buildup at the end of the first verse, breaks into a rather disappointing cheesy Hollywood soundtrack-esque chorus which manages to improve itself with repetition before the end of the song. 'Deep Water Horizon' serves its purpose in being both easy to listen to the first time round and being quite a long and extravagant piece that continues to entertain on subsequent listens.
'Stay the Course' is perhaps the lowlight of the album, staying a consistent yet predictable course for the first half of the song before improving musically towards the end. Fortunately 'Stay the Course' is relatively short and it passes quickly leaving us with the amusing and catchy 'Deter the Tyrant', featuring some of Epica's best speech inserts yet as Qaddafi raves and shouts over a guitar riff that sounds as though it was made especially for the occasion. 'Avalanche', while not as ballady as 'Delirium', is calm enough to give us a breath of fresh air before the gorgeous climax that rivals the closing of any previous Epica album - the 'Serenade of Self-Destruction'!
It is a cruel twist of fate that the instrumental version of this song wound up on so many CDs as the vocal version is just exquisite and worth all the time it takes to download the .WAV file off Nuclear Blast's website (it's free, by the way). Predictably, 'Serenade of Self-Destruction' is a song about suicide, but nonetheless, it is a very well executed song on the topic, for it does not simply focus on a single emotion or set of thoughts involved in killing oneself, such as sadness or hatred or insanity, but intertwines them all into a single 9 minute piece that ranges from angry, malicious verses to a serene and tragic chorus and tops it off by incorporating some interesting Egyptian themes into the mix for good measure. This song is the highlight of the entire album and makes a commendable finale - to the standard edition of the album at least.
It didn't quite end there though for me though, as at the end of my version of 'Requiem for the Indifferent' was a single bonus track named 'Nostalgia'. It is a pleasant song and an appropriate track to follow 'Serenade of Self-Destruction', focusing on memories and reminiscence. The bonus track adds some uplift to what would have otherwise been a rather dramatic and bleak ending to a stellar album.
In closing, 'Requiem for the Indifferent' is a very full album indeed and not one you can pass judgement on after only a single listen. The music here is so rich and complex in both production and composition that one will find more to listen to everytime they hear to it. Albums like this are classics in my opinion, as they begin rather ugly and hard to follow on first hearing but grow with the listener as one's musical understanding expands to comprehend the music, like a mind being blown in slow motion. That's what 'Requiem for the Indifferent' felt like for me, and now I've heard it through several times I'd place it not far behind masterpieces such as Nightwish's 'Oceanborn' or 'Theli' by Therion. I believe the experience of growing with the music one listens to goes back to the very core of musical discovery and why we choose to explore new styles, genres and sounds in the first place, and the capacity of 'Requiem for the Indifferent' to elicit this experience is what makes it a great and timeless album and an innovator in the symphonic metal field of music.