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Album Reviews : Epica – Design Your Universe

By on October 15, 2009

Epica - Design Your UniverseEpica‘s sound has traversed multiple barriers which has landed them as being one of the one influential and long running epic-prog-power metal bands around, more so with most of the band’s original line-up still holding intact.

Epica release their 4th studio album entitled ‘Design Your Universe’. The album holds a much darker and heavier sound then their past releases and more so then most of the leading bands within Epica‘s respected symphonic metal genre. Many may question Epica‘s counterpart Nightwish or Lacuna Coil who seem have gone for a more mainstream sound, utilizing a more pop rock and upbeat tempo.

Epica however, have stayed true to their common formula and continue to offer a diverse and heavier aspect to their symphonic delivery. Design Your Universe still hold some minor pop rock and mainstream elements yet don’t completely dissolve or overshadow the heaviness of the album. It seems Epica just get better and better which each album they release.

Much like Epica‘s previous album,‘The Divine Conspiracy’, the new album is yet another concept based on the ideals of quantum physics. Dealing with human emotions which influence our very thoughts to change the world we live in for the better. The sheer thoughts we manifest inevitably effect ourselves and the world around us.

The album slowly gains momentum as the opening track ‘Samadhi’ builds tension with a simple orchestral melodly and seamlessly explodes into ‘Resign to Surrender’. Mark Jensen introduces the song with his trademark grunts while Simone Simons phases in and out offering her beautiful soprano vocals which greatly contrast both the symphonic and Gothic elements of Epica. The bands traditional orchestral element builds further as each song offer’s a unique twist from the last, with one song even infusing an eerie Gregorian chant on the track ‘Martyr of the Free Word’. This transition of operatic and orchestral layering complete the circle of the album and subsequently make the album more powerful with its final delivery.

Musically, the band just sound amazing on every album they release and this time its no exception. Even though the album is shrouded in a mass of orchestral elements, riffs seem to mimic a sound somewhat reminiscent of Fear Factory‘s classic sound which was present around the time of Demanufacture and Obsolete.

This is no surprise as Epica once covered Fear Factory‘s classic ‘Replica’ on their last offering The Divine Conspiracy which may have lead to some of the inspiration to the riffs on Design Your Universe. These nice thick and chunky riffs add a more power to the album which in turn draw back a lot of the cliche melodic elements present on most symphonic releases.

The track ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ offers more tasty grunts and low end screams from Mark Jensen which accompany Simone Simons angel like vocals on this 13 minute masterpiece. Kingdom of Heaven is quite clearly my favorite track on the album as shows off new comer Isaac Delahaye‘s mimicking Fear Factory esque riffs which greatly heighten the aggression of the song. Making it that little more bearable for most traditional heavy metal fans who rarely delve into music such as this. As each minute passes the song builds more character and truly showcases Epica at the forefront of genuine symphonic power metal.

The ‘Price of Freedom’ pulls back the aggression as it slowly builds with a piano introduction and again climaxes with more orchestral melodies while sampling speeches of past and present high politic figures. One of which being newly elected US president Barack Obama. Even though the track is seen as somewhat of an intermission or interlude from Kingdom of Heaven it seamlessly continues into the next track ‘Burn to a Cinder‘.

A powerful operatic introduction accompanied by some heavy drumming introduces the track Burn to a Cinder which seems to  showcase a somewhat Egyptian influence. A sound you’d most likely hear on a typical big blockbuster movie like The Mummy. Simone Simon offer’s her most powerful and clean vocals, in turn making it the most mainstream and melodic song on the album.

As with any major symphonic metal release you can always expect a duet of some kind to pop up somewhere on the album and Design Your Universe is no exception. Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica fame joins Simone Simon whom both seem to fit perfectly well with each other on the track ‘White Waters’. Kakko’s clean delivery along with Simon’s soprano vocals adds great contrast and the end result is just amazing.

I’m very impressed with Epica‘s latest release. It seems these days most symphonic metal bands have broken out of their comfort zone and tried and gain a wider audience by infusing more mainstream elements. This is usually a make or break situation for many but thankfully Epica have stayed true to their fundamental formula and have yet again released another masterpiece. 8.5/10

Band: Epica
Album: Design Your Universe
Year: 2009
Genre: Power/Symphonic Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
Origin: The Netherlands
Australian Distribution: Riot! Entertainment


1. Samadhi (Prelude)
2. Resign to Surrender (A New Age Dawns, Part IV)
3. Unleashed
4. Martyr of the Free Word
5. Our Destiny
6. Kingdom of Heaven (A New Age Dawns, Part V) < -Reviewer’s choice
7. The Price of Freedom (Interlude)
8. Burn to a Cinder
9. Tides of Time
10. Deconstruct
11. Semblance of Liberty
12. White Waters (feat. Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica)
13. Design Your Universe (A New Age Dawns, Part VI)


Mitch Booth is the owner, designer and grand overlord of Metal Obsession. In the few seconds of spare time he has outside of this site, he also hosts a metal radio show over on PBS 106.7fm in Melbourne (Australia) and organises shows under the name Untitled Touring. You should follow him on Twitter.