Epica – “The Quantum Engine” (Nuclear Blast Records)
Last year was the 10th anniversary of this Dutch band, who celebrated in style with a 70 piece orchestra, choirs, guests like Floor Jansen and massive special effects at a show specially themed ‘Retrospect’. Needless to say it was sold out with attendees from 45 countries. In fact, so extravagant was the concert that during the set, Coen Janssen announced that ‘Retrospect’ would be filmed for a DVD. Given all that then the expectations bar was indeed set high for “The Quantum Engine”! Well, Epica certainly still live up to their name – probably even more so now – by releasing this incredible album that pushes the boundaries even farther than before!! Traditionally meshing together a number of seemingly impossible styles from prog to symphonic to death metal, from soprano vocals to death grunts, Epica were the musicians not just to pull them together seamlessly, but make it look so goddamn natural you wondered what all the fuss was about! Evoking a mystical, almost ancient atmosphere on complex, multi layered tracks like ‘The Second Stone’, ‘Unchain Utopia’ and ‘Omen – The Ghoulish Malady’, prepare for an all out assault on the senses from the beauty meets the beast vocals of Simone Simons soprano opera vocals dancing tantalizingly with founder guitarist Mark Jansen’s screams and grunts amidst bombastic orchestral backing and massive gothic choirs resonating so high in the background they could shatter your eardrums – yes, this is a loud album and intentionally so! In the ambient and tranquil passages, eastern mandolins delicately flow around the impressive keyboards of Coen Janssen pumping an atmospheric build up until the thundering but precision drum work of Ariën van Weesenbeek literally comes smashing through in a brilliant contrast along with the vicious, slaying lead guitars of Isaac Delahaye. There is simply no let up throughout the 13 tracks on this stupendous album and it is, quite frankly, an awesome experience both cerebrally and technically with the band clearly sparing no expense in every department! Album of the year – well, at the very least who needs the opera when you’ve got Epica?