The T 666
I was expecting another power-metal-with-progressive-elements band a la AFTER FOREVER here, with a female singer and the casual use of orchestras. But I was partially wrong.
EPICA surely plays power-metal, but the progressive elements are much more evident here than in many other similar bands. First, the songs are intelligently written, with a few of almost epic length and with structures that, if traditional, tend to at least fool the listener into thinking they're quite different. Second, the orchestra and choir here are not used as a gimmick or mere background but as an integral part of the sound, sometimes even adding to the riffs. Think on a more power-metal version of THERION. The mixing of the metal and orchestral elements really creates a band that deserves to be called progressive.
Much has been said about Simone Simons' vocals, and I have to agree in this case: her voice is fantastic. Mixing the operatic with the more pop-oriented, Simons delivers an excellent performance and a great contrast for Mark Jansen, who does all the growling in the record. It's important to notice that, again, we're not in the presence of a mere gimmick here. The dark vocals have a lot of importance in the record, carrying some vital sections either in the way of low-pitched death growling or its higher black metal variation. Jansen shows skills in being able to switch between the two at ease, but in the end, of course, he's completely overshadowed by Simons beautiful voice. She can carry a melody in any direction. She can soothe you with her peaceful chant or encourage you with her heroic cry; force you to imagine a lonely, blue lake or a lavish, red Opera stage.
The music is very riff-driven, with several power-metal elements like double-bass drums and epic choruses, but scattered throughout the disc are sections of outstanding beauty but also of sudden violence, where the music, for a few seconds, borders on death or black metal.
The obvious influences here are female-fronted bands like AFTER FOREVER or even NIGHTWISH, power-prog bands like SYMPHONY X or KAMELOT, but also some less-obvious ones as AYREON and THERION or even Hollywood music like Jerry Goldsmith's "The Omen" soundtrack. The musicianship is top-notch, with excellent performances of all the artists involved, even though the real star here is the vocalist, followed closely by the interaction of guitars and orchestra in a way that seems coherent, necessary, and which works perfectly. The good alternation of fast-and-energetic songs with quiet interludes (a few even with some oriental melodies) is another success.
In the end, we have a very good album that shares some of the mistakes that other bands in this style make in their works (similar songs, simple structures, virtuosic-yet-not-creative performances, cheesy latin-language intros). But the experience is a highly enjoyable one, the virtues overcome the flaws by far, and ultimately the album satisfies the listener. This is excellently-crafted power-prog-metal music, and an excellent if not essential addition to your collection.