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Album Reviews : Epica – The Holographic Principle

By on August 26, 2016

Epica - The Holographic Principle - ArtworkAlready a fan of 2014’s The Quantum Enigma, I was very excited to see what Epica would create next with The Holographic Principle. Continuing the story of The Quantum Enigma with the pursuit of technology and the notion of what-is-reality?, the new album from the Dutch metallers is one that is multi-layered and with much to uncover across its 12 tracks. Opening with the enchanting and mystical “Eidola”, it spells the wonder and dark majesty that is soon to follow. Led by a wave of symphonies and choral chanting, the sliding melodies weave in, transitioning wonderfully to “Edge of the Blade”; a song that, whilst not groundbreaking, is a good building block to what follows. This band rarely disappoint and the combination of vocalist Simone Simons with the growls of Mark Jansen are as strong as ever. Once again, they complement the orchestrations and instruments around them, rather than conflict with them.

The Holographic Principle makes a conscious effort throughout to utilise the non-traditional elements of their past efforts – focusing less on the orchestrations and more on the instruments themselves. Though woven into the other arrangments, an important thing to note with The Holographic Principle is how Epica have adopted the use of actual instruments in their overall sound, rather than utilising samples. When you hear a clarinet or a violin on this record, you are actually hearing those instruments; the exhaling from the musician playing it; and, that passion that only musicians in the studio can truly capture. It is done to quite stunning effect, as is shown with “A Phantasmic Parade” and “Universal Death Squad”; two songs that bleed into one another and reveal Epica’s intention to create a record with succinct flow and beauty. Being their single, “Universal Death Squad” in particular perhaps best illustrates the message Epica are intending to convey with this record: which is one warning of the dangers of pushing technology too far and losing one’s humanity to the likes of cybernetics, warfare, and the mad pursuit of pushing mankind beyond its limits. It is furthermore intended to serve as a reflection of where society today is headed, and how from naively pushing our technology and selves too far will we only continue to desensitise and facilitate violence and suffering.

“Divide and Conquer” opens with the clangour of battle, before a swift melody lulls in. Serving to illustrate the shaking of humanity and the abysmal state of what the world has become, it is thematically a turning point on the record. Followed by the triumphant sounds of “Beyond the Matrix,” this is a song destined to become a live hit – having all the makings of classic Epica.

One of the strengths to this record is Epica’s use of live instruments on the record, as opposed to samples. This is shown prominently on “Once Upon a Nightmare” – one of the highlights of the record. Peppered with the presence of violins and piano, the serenity of this song owes much of itself to Simone Simon’s beautiful vocals and in how they swim above the piano and wash over you. It is a strength Epica have adopted for many years now, but only seem to continue to expand and grow upon with each record; and as this song hits it apex at the mid-point, it is elevated once more; a track as luscious as the hope behind its lyrics. “The Cosmic Algorithm,” like the music of “Universal Death Squad” before it, shows Epica embracing a more progressive attitude with their music. This progression wholly fits with the new modern direction Epica have been taken with their recent releases. Leading right into “Ascension – Dream State Armageddon”, the darkness to this song is the perfect offset to the calm, yet sorrowful voice of Simone – creating an atmosphere of unease and sullen tragedy. The spoken word of drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek at the bridge perfectly captures the ruination of it all. The ethnic sounds of “Dancing in a Hurricane” was a side of Epica I wasn’t expecting, but one I wish to see more of in the future. The Arabic tones have this element of mysticism that seems to fit well with the wonder and mystery behind the lyrics, and further to the understanding the characters each reach.

By no means an album that is easily digested in one-sitting, the sheer multitude of varying musical elements you are being exposed to takes time to fully appreciate. No less is this the case with penultimate track, “Tear Down Your Walls”. Opening with a soundscape of piano lines and the sounds of birds cawing, it rushes to a head at the 40 second mark where it explodes with an onslaught of drums and guitars. Leading into a stomping guitar riff, Mark Jansen’s growls make themselves known against Simone’s. “Tear Down Your Walls” is a song both well constructed and symphonically impressive.

The final song of the album, “The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality” is every bit as climactic and grand in scale as you would expect (being the culmination of two album’s worth of conceptual study). This could well be the most complex and orchestral song Epica have made to date: one that is both introspective in its telling as it it high in grandeur and scale. Being 11 minutes in length, it’s the longest song on the album, and falls just shy of the length “The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II)” had on their last album. It builds and builds over the course of those 11 minutes (touching on quieter harmonies before breaking into dark, thrashy sections, and is layered with samples that feel as if they could been pulled from a high budget studio released film). It is an epic feast for the ears and it draws all threads to a fitting and satisfactory conclusion.

Where The Holographic Principle may fall short for some is the overall manner in how the songs have been constructed. While none of the songs are bad by any means, they all sit in the mid range; meaning they may be forgettable or too similar for some. However, in the scheme of things, this is a fairly minor gripe. The Holographic Principle has some of the best mixing and mastering of any record put out in 2016, and the songs themselves are beautifully arranged and composed. Despite not being entirely unique, it is most certainly Epica at their creative best.

The Holographic Principle is out September 30 via Nuclear Blast Records.

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.