Review Summary: "Requiem for the Indifferent" features superb talent but little heart.
Epica's fifth release asks many daunting questions, the biggest of which being: How can a band, with as much talent as Epica's members possess, ever possibly turn out a dud album? I don't know but, unbelievably, they succeeded. While the album is still definitely an Epica album (Simone Simons' voice is largely unmistakable) and while it isn't a bad album per se, "Requiem for the Indifferent" is plagued by uneven songwriting, uninspired subject matter, and an overall lack of scale that defined Epica's sound in the first place.
The album starts off in a similar manner to The Divine Conspiracy, with a strong intro track weakened by the fact that it's separated from the song it leads into. But unlike the duo of "Indigo" and "The Obsessive Devotion" from The Divine Conspiracy, the build-up promised by "Karma" ends up coming to a merely adequate, less-than-satisying pay-off in "Monopoly On Truth", which epitomizes the biggest problem with the album. You can hear the vocals just fine, but all other elements (guitars, keys, drums, bass, orchestra) are shoved ungracefully into the background in what I can only assume is an attempt to put the focus on Simone Simons’ voice. And while Simons' voice is indeed amazing and is a strong point on this album, this unbalanced focus on her is ultimately detrimental to the album: it reduces the scale and scope of the sound and turns much of the album into an Evanescence knock-off with a choir and Simons’ voice.
Worst of all, this vocalistic power-play serves only to squander the amazing talents of the other band members; the guitars sound buried in quicksand, the drums are largely deprived of their power, and the death grunts at times feel like an afterthought. We’re never given any time to appreciate any component of Epica’s sound other than Simone Simons. I understand the need to not be overtly bombastic, but here's the thing: the band is called "Epica". The name more or less implies a certain grandeur in terms of scale. It's almost better to be overly bombastic than not bombastic enough. And for a band named “Epica” to scale back on sound, it ought to be a crime.
Then there’s the subject-matter. For most of their career, Epica has never been afraid to dive into deep and provocative subjects. But in this album, it’s all familiar territory. “Consign to Oblivion” already covered the course of human history, and the songs that cover current world events offer nothing that other bands haven’t already covered; indeed songs like “Stay the Course” (which I’ve heard is a critique of the Bush Administration...four whole years after it ended) offer none of the provocativeness I’ve come to expect from this band. And while I admit this is a bit nitpicky of me, I’m not a fan of the recorded speeches employed in some of the songs on this album. When used correctly, as Tony Blair’s 9/11 speech used in “The Phantom Agony” was, the recordings enhance the message of the lyrics and give the song a sort of gravitas. In “Deter the Tyrant”, we’re given a recording of some dictator rambling off in a language I cannot understand, so far from enhancing the song, the recording only distracts and disrupts the flow of the album.
The aforementioned problems persist throughout the album, and any semblance of momentum the album can generate (from songs such as the absolutely gorgeous “Delirium”, the huge-sounding, the melancholic “Deep Water Horizon”, and the well-written, uniquely-structured “Avalanche”, which shows off Simons’ impressive vocal range), is derailed by a number of songs that lack the creativity and heart found on Epica's earlier works. The lead single “Storm the Sorrow”, for instance, calls to mind the blatantly obvious-single-written-for-radio-song “Never Enough” from The Divine Conspiracy, with its uninspired songwriting and pop-style structure. Other fillers, such as “Guilty Demeanor”, “Deter the Tyrant”, and worst of all “Stay the Course”, feature some ill-timed grunting from Mark Jansen and some of the laziest lyric-writing I’ve ever heard on an Epica album. Fortunately, the album ends on a positive note with “Serenade of Self-Destruction”; it’s grand, it’s gorgeous, and the music is a little (only a little) more balanced than the other songs on this album.
Honestly, for all the criticism I just gave, the songs are still listenable, and the talent found on this album is still a cut above many bands out there. But for an Epica release, I find it lacking the effort, the time, and the care put into the other albums (the fact that the first edition of the album was released with a track that had missing vocals possibly speaks to a possible rush to get it released). Perhaps it’s simply the fact that Epica has raised the bar on so many occasions that this album feels relatively bland by comparison. Or maybe it was the fatigue brought on by years of touring around the world and four prior releases. Whatever it is, I personally cannot bring myself to enjoy this album. It kills me to see a band as talented as Epica downplay the talent of every band member not named Simone Simons, and more than anything else, the apparent lack of inspiration and heart make this the weakest release in the Epica catalogue.