Epica - Design Your Universe Review
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 11.03.2009
It's in the name. Epic.
Epica - Design Your Universe
Review by Daniel Wilcox
Simone Simons – vocals
Mark Jansen – guitar, vocals
Isaac Delahaye – guitar
Yves Huts – bass guitar
Coen Janssen – piano, synthesizer
Arien van Weesenbeek – drums
1. Samadhi (Prelude)
2. Resign to Surrender
4. Martyr of the Free World
5. Our Destiny
6. Kingdom of Heaven
7. The Price of Freedom (Interlude)
8. Burn to a Cinder
9. Tides of Time
11. Semblance of Liberty
12. White Waters [feat. Tony Kakko]
13. Design Your Universe
Oh fuck yes. It probably had a lot to do with the emergence of Evanescence, but one of my favorite things, musically, about this decade is the rise in popularity of female-fronted metal bands, be they symphonic or progressive. While Evanescence is the more mainstream version of this type of band, the more talented and skilled have also benefited from an increase in exposure. Notably, Lacuna Coil, Within Temptation and Nightwish have all achieved huge levels of success in recent years and deservedly so. Arguably Epica, fronted by the terribly impressive Simone Simons, is the most talented of the bunch, yet they’ve always struggled to separate themselves from the pack. I mean, while not too long ago no bands like this were getting coverage, now there’s a ton of them and all too often it’s difficult to separate them from one another. And while they may not get as much notoriety, I’m of the opinion that in terms of talent, Epica probably stands head and shoulders above the rest, and Design Your Universe is Simone and co.’s attempt to prove just that.
Design Your Universe is Epica’s fifth album since its formation in 2002, and perhaps the most accomplished of the bunch. When it comes to this type of music, the word “epic” gets thrown around far too readily, but I think it probably applies hear, and anyone who takes the time out to listen to this album would probably agree with me. This is undeniably a huge, belting effort on behalf of Simone and the guys.
I think the first that one has to talk about with any album of this kind is the vocals, as I think that ultimately that is the most significant part of this type of music, and essentially the basis upon which people make their decision about this music. Simons then, is undeniably a remarkably talented front woman. She has an almost unparalleled ability to switch it up from sensational operatic mezzo-soprano vocals to a swoonfully poppy vocal that manages still to carry a hellacious melody. The girl has an almost impossible range and manages to hit every single note she attempts just about perfectly. While the music itself is tremendously well put together, it is the vocal that stands out and impresses the most, and on each and every single track at that.
That’s not to say that the instrumentation isn’t worth checking out itself, because that too is simply phenomenal at times. Epica is a band that has a lot of death metal in them and isn’t afraid to showcase that despite the fact that it may be one of the reasons that they aren’t as high profile a band as Nightwish, for instance. Those death metal elements make for a much heavier album, as you’d expect, and at times it seems like the band are just going balls to the wall, unleashing a furious racket of wailing guitars and unrelenting drumming. There are plenty of people who aren’t a fan of the layering of music to this degree, but for this band I think that it works perfectly and honestly does come across as something to be admired.
Almost the album’s make or break track is the thirteen-minute progressive blockbuster “Kingdom of Heaven,” which lies in the middle of the album and does a thunderous job of showcasing the talents of each and every band member. As you’d expect, Simons arguably shines brightest, as she does for the majority of the record, but the rest of the band keeps up with and at times even sets the pace, a blistering pace at that. “White Waters,” the stunning duet with Tony Kakko is another of the album’s many, many highlights. The two voices compliment each other superbly as importantly, neither looks to outshine the other. The tracks with that harder edge are also some of the best, in particular “Martyr of the Free World,” complete with bitter yet beautiful vocals that resonate long after the song’s conclusion. The down tempo numbers such as “Tides of Time,” however, still have an undeniable charm that ensure that they won’t go forgotten and make the album all the more epic. And I try not to use that term loosely.
Essential downloads: “Unleashed,” “Martyr of the Free World,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Tides of Time,” “White Waters” and “Design Your Univetse.”
The 411: While most bands in this genre are prone to playing it safe and essentially delivering what is expected of them, Epica has branched out somewhat and produced an album that is as enchanting as it is heavy, and supersedes any and all expectations. Vocally flawless and instrumentally astounding, it really is hard to find fault with Design Your Universe, and if there were any it'd probably be in the lyrics, which while often as good as the music, are often somewhat cliche and uninspired. Nevertheless, this is a breathtaking album and one that propels the band to forefront of the symphonic metal scene in my eyes. Incredible.