An Enigma of Quantum proportions

An Enigma of Quantum proportions

Sean Pruett-Jones, Staff Reporter

Symphonic power metal isn’t exactly new. There are typically two types of it – Stratovarius-esque stuff, where the overall sound of the music sounds very classical, as can easily be inferred by songs like Twilight Symphony; and then power metal that uses instruments (or replicates them using keyboard sounds) typically used in classical music that serves as a complement to the power metal. Sirenia, Within Temptation, and Nightwish are good examples, and even though Nightwish does have a few songs with real classical instruments not synthesized by a keyboard (like Nightwish’s “The Islander”, which uses bagpipes played by Troy Donockley), they typically use keyboards. Other bands like Eluveitie (GREAT BAND, you should really check em out) go an extra mile and use a lot of traditional instruments like Uilleann pipes, whistles, violins, etc.

Then there’s Epica.

This band has got a whole freaking orchestra and choir. Seriously, it’s the real flippin’ deal. As in violas, large percussion sections, flutes; the whole shabang! That’s not even mentioning the choir! They got a full choir! They all perform live together. As in, there’s the giant orchestra sitting there, strutting their stuff, and standing in front is the Epica members. As in, the guitarist and singer and stuff.

Now, to be frank, Epica is by no means the only band to have this sort of setup. Rhapsody of Fire has it, Haggard certainly does, Therion, oh boy, Therion most certainly does. So, Epica is one of a very prestigious group of power metallers. It’s by no means the first one (Savatage took that role, with their creation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and it will certainly not be the last (symphonic power metal is coming out in droves, and it’s getting slightly generic. coughLacunaCoilcough)

So, anyhow, The Quantum Enigma!

Now, Epica has never exactly been a very heavy band. They’ve had tons of stellar riffs, for sure, and I would always throw up the devil horns during my favorite songs. Still, they were never particularly heavy songs, as heavy as something like Holy Grail or Metalium. With Quantum Enigma, that all changes.

No, seriously, Quantum Enigma is freaking heavy. It’s like they took a whole bunch of riffs from Mercenary’s discography and recorded some orchestra above it. Honestly, man, I can headbang like never before to some of these songs, especially stuff like “The Second Stone” and “Victims of Contingency”. I mean, this stuff is straight up power/death metal now. Power/death with a full orchestra. A whole freaking symphony of death.

It. Is. Awesome. Holy basket flavored biscuits, is that heaviness awesome. It sounds even better with the spectacular production. This is by far the most technically proficient, top-notch, professional release by Epica to date. Everything is crisp and clean, perfect tonality and every instrument. As far as performance goes, I’m so happy to say that Mark Jansen’s growling vocals are the best they’ve ever been. In previous releases, they sounded kinda empty and at the lower end of the growling quality spectrum, but they shine here. Simone’s vocals are as spectacular and grandoise as they ever were, as is always expected from Simone in every project she’s worked on. There are also a few unique moments throughout, like the awesome solos in “Reverence”, the spoken words in “Sense without Sanity” and “The Quantum Enigma”, and so on.

So, Quantum Enigma is set up like most other Epica albums. It’s got a standard intro, interlude, and epic closer. “Originem” is the album’s opener, an intense instrumental piece that really sets things up. “The Fifth Guardian”, which is one of the best songs, is the album’s middle piece, somewhat of an intermission before the second act. The intro and interlude were the two purely orchestral songs of this album, which is welcomed by Epica fans with tremendously open arms, because they’ve always been highlights of Epica’s discography. Then, “The Quantum Enigma” closes the album off, clocking in at 11:53, which isn’t Epica’s longest song, mind you. At an hour and seven minutes total time, the album doesn’t leave you wanting.

While I fangirled about the new-found intensity, Epica certainly isn’t breaking any ground from a compositional standpoint in this album. By no means am I saying that they’ve taken a step down, but they haven’t taken a step forward in terms of songwriting or composition. It’s certainly gotten a lot less progressive than some of their previous efforts. Even the album’s epic wasn’t as all over the place as the epics in The Divine Conspiracy or Requiem for the Indifferent. Also, I noticed that there were less parts where the orchestra simply played around for awhile. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but with an orchestra of that quality, you’d probably wish, after a first listening of Quantum Enigma, that there were some more moments of no metal, no growling, just the wonderful symphony.

Ah well. Fortunately, the rest of the album is awesome enough that it isn’t that big of a deal. It’s got a decent level of diversity (could’ve been better, you’d find more diversity in Therion’s Les Fleurs du Mal), with two consecutive ballad-esque songs, a range between power metal and death metal and power death metal, and the epic does consist of all the albums’ elements put together. So, in the end, Quantum Enigma is one of Epica’s better releases, not quite the best, yet easily forgiven, and it should certainly be a popular one for some time.