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Album Reviews : Epica – Requiem for the Indifferent

By on August 9, 2012

Epica set the bar unbelievably high for themselves after the symphonic masterpiece that was their 2009 effort Design Your Universe and, as such, their fans could easily have been forgiven for worrying that it would not be possible for the group to reach such a standard again. Requiem for the Indifferent (2012) is certainly a different creature, though one that still matches up to its predecessor in terms of quality: Epica  have managed to progress their sound without compromising it. With all that said, how does one even begin to assess an album like this? We’ve got grandiose compositions to rival the likes of Blind Guardian; a breadth of scope to stand up to Dream Theater; the passion and depth of Nightwish; and one of, if not the, most outstanding female vocal performances you are likely to ever hear on a metal album. Awesome? Yes. A nightmare to review? You betchya.

The main framework for Requiem for the Indifferent, much like the band’s existing material, is a heavier version of the sort of gothic, symphonic metal popularised by the likes of Nightwish and Within Temptation, though Epica infuse so many different sounds and styles into their music that they are really beyond comparison with those bands. That being said, there is still that core foundation of huge orchestral pieces backing the entire album, either dominating the musical landscape entirely or providing a huge, if sometimes subtle, wall behind the guitars and drums. These combine with the darkness of chanting gothic choirs, lilting piano lines and soft strings to provide an extraordinarily huge sound, the immensity of which honestly cannot be overstated, and an overall composition that is as monumental as the band’s name would imply.

Despite the fact that this is hardly a new thing to metal there are a few things that really set Epica, with Requiem for the Indifferent in particular, aside from most of their contemporaries. First is the way the band is able to weave the symphonic elements with the metal elements to the extent that it all feels like the same sound. Compare this to, say, Septic Flesh  that tend to use the orchestral elements to enhance an existing metal base, or the likes of The Project Hate that dance between the two styles without really attempting to reconcile them (not that there is anything wrong with these approaches, obviously). Requiem for the Indifferent takes this particular part of Epica’s sound and runs with it noticeably more than their prior releases, giving parts of the album a morbid, more death metal-y feel.  “Guilty Demeanor” and “Stay the Course” have a dark, evil feel about them, making prominent use of (guitarist) Mark Jansen’s heavy growls alongside aggressive Morbid Angel-style riffing and really driving percussion.

As mentioned above, it is really the diversity of Epica’s repertoire that sets them a cut above the rest, and Requiem for the Indifferent does nothing to alter that. The album has everything from big driving choruses in “Storm the Sorrow”, to soft piano- and strings-driven ballads in “Delirium”;  from the aforementioned death metal-y numbers to the more oriental feel of the title track; from complicated riffs and leads in “Avalanche” and “Serenade of Self-Destruction” to the soft simplicity of instrumental “Anima”. With that being said, what makes Epica so interesting is how effortless the infusion of these styles seems. Unlike many progressive acts that appear to consciously strive to be diverse (which is great, of course), Requiem for the Indifferent feels like it is just the result of a band that naturally expresses its ideas in many different, though thoroughly cohesive, ways. The downside to this is that, unfortunately, the band tends to run away with some ideas that should probably have been kept tight, resulting in some sections that are significantly more bland than others. Those that thought Design Your Universe took just a little too long to get to the point may find that its successor suffers a similar issue.

Any Epica review is seriously lacking if it fails to make mention of the astonishing vocal powers of  Simone Simons. You can keep your Tarja Narunen (ex-Nightwish), your Sharon den Ardel (Within Temptation), your Amy Lee (Evanscence), your Martina Astner (ex-Therion) or whomever else takes your fancy; Simons  (at least in this reviewer’s opinion) totally outshines the entire rock and metal community. Her range is absolutely astounding (two octaves and three tones according to Wikipedia) and she uses every bit of it through the album, whether the production be immense and operatic, dark and haunting, soft and sweet or more classically technical (e.g. the pre-chorus in “Avalanche”). However, more than ‘just’ technically impressive, Simons’ voice is loaded with expression and feeling, capable of being everything from loud and aggressive to dark and gothic to sublime and beautiful.

With all that said, the one noticeable downside to the album is that it probably drags on for some time too long. It starts out loud and catchy and its back-end is furious and edgy but somewhere in the middle it starts dragging on a bit and not quite carrying its own weight. There is a lot going on in the music, but there is still such a thing as too much and unfortunately Requiem for the Indifferent does cross that boundary. The better moments of the album are enough to result in an overall great experience, but this is certainly the one part of Epica’s recent efforts that noticeably call for improvement. 8/10

Band: Epica
Album: Requiem for the Indifferent
Year: 2012
Origin: Reuver, Limberg, Netherlands
Label: Nuclear Blast
Website: www.epica.nl

Tracklisting:
1. Karma
2. Monopoly on Truth
3. Storm the Sorrow
4. Delirium
5. Internal Warfare
6. Requiem for the Indifferent
7. Anima
8. Guilty Demeanor
9. Deep Water Horizon
10. Stay the Course
11. Deter the Tyrant
12. Avalanche
13. Serenade of Self-Destruction

About

Sam Maher is Metal Obsession's resident prog reviewer. He only likes songs that are at least 15 minutes long, contain 4 guitar solos and can only be described with a genre that is at least six words long. He also plays guitar for Sydney-based groovy melodic progressive technical death metal band Apparitions of Null.