Being tasked (for lack of a better word. Is it really being “tasked” when writing metal album reviews?) with writing a review of Epica‘s latest opus The Quantum Enigma, I decided that I would first go through the bands extensive discography starting with The Phantom Agony all the way through to Requiem for the Indifferent to hear the evolution of what would eventually become the bands trademark sound through each phase and lineup of their career. After all, Epica, along with Within Temptation and Nightwish (the unofficial “Big Three” of female fronted Symphonic Operatic Metal) practically invented the genre and influenced everyone that came after them from Xandria to Diabolical In Musica. Most fans and critics will argue that Epica reached it’s creative peak with 2009’s Design Your Universe. This is by no means a slight on 2012’s follow up Requiem For The Indifferent, a fantastic release but somewhat cold and mechanical in comparison to Design Your Universe.
The Quantum Enigma is the first studio effort from the current Epica lineup featuring the recording debut of bassist Rob van der Loo. So the question is how did the band chemistry and new production team of mixer Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Anubis Gate) and producer Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) affect the writing and recording of the new album? For those who are not a fan of Epica’s brand of Symphonic metal style with operatic/death growl vocals, then The Quantum Enigma is not going to change your mind so you can stop reading here. For long time fans who may have written off Mark Jansen, Simone Simons and company than this album is the perfect time to jump back into the fray.
The album starts off with the bombast and lush vocal choir of Originem which features Firewind keyboardist Bob Katsionis and the album also features guest appearances from Stream of Passion vocalist Marcela Bovio (backing vocals) and Daniël de Jongh of Textures (additional male vocals). Van den Broek’s production is crisp and gives the material a lively feel. The brutal riffs on The Second Stone are matched with the melodic vocals of Simons whose performances throughout the album is among the best of her career. Jansen’s harsh vocals are given a larger presence and only had to the diversity of the songs. The soft opening symphonic strains of The Essence of Silence give way to Jansen’s death growls and a metallic crunchy rhythm. Lead guitarist Isaac Delahaye shines throughout the album and delivers a beautiful harmony guitar solo here. The rapid fire double bass drumming mastery of Ariën van Weeessnbeek is a highlight of Victims of Contingency and the melodic chorus shows off Simons’s charismatic powerful vocals. Coen Janssen‘s keyboard wizardry along with a vocal choir opens Sense Without Sanity – The Impervious Code, a seven minute and forty two second epic journey into symphonic metal heaven. Simons operatic range is once again on awe inspiring display.
Unchain Utopia is classic Epica from the use of choir vocals to the full speed ahead drumming and an emphasis on Simon’s melodic vocals. Instrumental The Fifth Guardian – Interlude has a warm folk metal-esque feel to it and gives way to the chaotic dark metal of Chemical Insomnia a chugging guitar rhythm layered with symphonic keys and Simone’s multi-layered vocal harmonies combined with the vocal choir are pure perfection. The metal riffs and machine gun double bass drums permeate the listeners earholes on Reverence – Living In The Heart. Simone delivers a heartfelt (pun intended) performance here which ranks among the albums best. Janssen’s solitary piano opens Omen – The Ghoulish Malady. Simone’s vocal approach is soft and understated and grows more powerful as the sing goes on to create one of her most diverse performances on any Epica album. The album slows down momentarily for the beautiful ballad Canvas of Life which shines the spotlight on Janssen’s ivory tinkling, Delahaye’s acoustic guitar prowess, and Simon’s beautiful raw emotion filled vocals. Coen Janssen’s keyboard work permeates Natural Corruption and adds a canvas of melody over the symphonic folk metal riffing.
The band save the best for last with the grandiose symphonic bombast of The Quantum Enigma – Kingdom of Heaven II which is a sequel of sorts to the original track featured on Design Your Universe. The lyrics tackle the controversial topic of whether quantum physics can confirm the existence of God. The melodic themes and vocal lines borrow from the original but never feel like the band is recycling old ideas. It’s a fresh take on one of the bands finest moments. Clocking in at over an hour of music The Quantum Enigma satisfies on every level for this Epica fan. A triumphant return to form by one of metals finest acts.