Requiem for the Indifferent is the sixth album from Dutch symphonic metal band Epica. It’s been a few years since they last released an album and I have to be honest, Requiem for the Indifferent always stood as my most anticipated symphonic metal release of 2012. Their last few works easily stand as testament to the band’s credentials as one of the genre’s finist acts. The album was unfortunately released with its final song, Serenade of Self-Destruction, missing the vocal tracks due to an error. Nuclear Blast has released this song as a free download for the time being but hopefully future pressings of physical copies will contain the correct track.
Requiem for the Indifferent continues the natural progression of Epica’s sound that has been in evident throughout their career, but especially since the release of The Divine Conspiracy (2007), and by extension Mark Jansen’s newer group MaYaN’s debut album Quarterpast (2011). I’d say that the album can be quite fairly considered just as much to do with progressive metal now as it can symphonic metal. While they’ve had prog leanings for a while, perhaps most evident in previous album Design Your Universe’s (2009) epic centrepiece Kingdom of Heaven, here they’re no longer in the shadows; very much out in the open. Epica produced a couple of symphonic metal masterpieces with their last couple of albums as far as I’m concerned, Design Your Universe especially, but the song they’re producing here is definitely what I’ve been waiting to hear from them.
It’s typical then that Requiem for the Indifferent seems hell-bent on blowing up in their collective face. From the error affecting Serenade of Self-Destruction to the generally poor production job by Sascha Paeth there seems to be something around every corner that will hold the album back. The former I can overlook since it isn’t the band’s fault. It isn’t something that should be allowed to happen but I can overlook it all the same. The latter however is a kick in the teeth to say the least, especially since based on the actual songs this is another high quality Epica release. Maybe not overall on quite the same level of quality as their last two, but I’m still confident about its standing as an exceptional follow-up based on the songs here. The production is another matter. It’s not terrible as such but it doesn’t do the music any favours either. It just sounds...flat. The guitars are the worse effected. I’m used Epica producing a powerful and heavy symphonic metal sound, and this is very weak in comparison. What’s most surprising is that Sascha Paeth has done a fine job for them in the past. To be fair the production is a little up and down, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends on the track and the context and direction of the music at the time.
The writing and the performance of the band members are the best redeeming factors you can get though. As I said, based on the material Epica has offered up this time I don’t think this album is quite as good as The Divine Conspiracy or Design Your Universe, but it certainly gives more than its fair share of tracks which can be considered to be among the band’s best. Among these highlights is perhaps surprisingly the lead single Storm the Sorrow. Precedent says the Epica single will be a more commercialised track than the rest of the album, and either growl free (Design Your Universe’s Unleashed) or near enough to not make much difference (The Divine Conspiracy’s Never Enough). Of course where this style of metal is concerned we’re still talking a bit more radio friendly than most but still Storm the Sorrow not only features a very prominent growling section but it’s really no more commercial than the average Epica track. Simone Simon’s vocals are what makes the track really special though. As usual she delivers perfectly throughout the album. Jansen’s growls are also on the mark; despite what some people may say about his vocals I think we’re talking one of the most powerful growlers in metal here. If the MaYaN debut, a symphonic death metal album, proved anything it was that Mark Jansen can carry an album as the lead vocalist just as well as Simone Simons. Together the two are the definitive beauty and the beast vocal team.
Other early highlights include Monopoly on Truth, Internal Warfare, and the title track, which includes some eastern folksy sounds. That’s pretty much the entire first half of the album except ballad Delirium, which is a nice enough track that highlights Simone’s vocals but as with any metal album the band would be doing something wrong if this was the track you were most interested in. Monopoly on Truth, Internal Warfare, and the title track showcase Epica’s more pronounced progressive metal approach, especially the latter two.
The structure of the release is typical Epica: intro, few tracks, interlude, and then rest of the tracks. Actually the structure is more or less identical to Design Your Universe including the positioning of the two epics and why not? It worked well enough for them last time and if it weren’t for the letdown of a production I’m sure it would do the same here. I have to be honest, because of the material and performance standard I’m still happily giving Requiem for the Indifferent a very high end score, but I have to consider the issues the album has so as much as I’d like things to be different my rating can’t be as high as what I previously gave The Divine Conspiracy (9.6) and Design Your Universe (10.0).
After the interlude, Anima, the pace gets going again with Guilty Demeanor. This one’s another shining example of Simone’s vocal abilities. I’d consider it a highlight for that reason alone. Also the production works a bit better here. The next track, Deep Water Horizon, is a little hit and miss though. Simone’s still on form and to be fair it really picks up about two thirds of the way through, but you have to wait a bit for the track to deliver the goods. Things are back on track with Stay the Course however, with more prog coming out of the woodwork. Honestly most of the album retains Design Your Universe’s top tier level of quality, but little blips like Deep Water Horizon are what holds it back a little. Not as much as the production, because for example I can’t help wondering how much more powerful a track like Deter the Tyrant would sound if those guitars had more bite to them, and if they were a bit more dominate in the mix. There’s a lot of going on with the guitars in this track, and it would be nice for some attention to be given to them. The production highlights the vocals but harms the instrumentation. That’s a shame, because what’s the point in actually bringing something really special to the symphonic metal table if you’re not going to flaunt it?
It’s ironic really, but I’ve spent my time earlier this year in other symphonic metal reviews I’ve done going on about how Epica is the best in the symphonic game right now and then they go and get outshined by a couple of other acts, namely Pythia and Xandria, especially Xandria. Still despite the production this ultimately isn’t an unsatisfactory release from Epica. With a couple of exceptions we’re talking exceptional to masterpiece levels of quality once again. If it weren’t for the production I’d now be giving it a grade pushing towards that top tier but although it doesn’t suffer so much that it drops out of the exceptional zone the score I ultimately have to give Requiem for the Indifferent is more towards the lower end of that scale. Personally speaking I do love this album, but there are some things that as a reviewer I can’t just overlook and that production is one of them. But anyway, if you’ve enjoyed their past works I see no reason not to like this one. Newcomers may wish to investigate Design Your Universe instead though, for no other reason than that production giving you the wrong impression.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org))