EPICA — The Quantum Enigma (review)

EPICA — The Quantum Enigma album cover Album · 2014 · Symphonic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
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The Quantum Enigma (2014) is the seventh full-length album by Dutch symphonic metal act Epica (providing one counts The Score - An Epic Journey (2005), otherwise it is only the sixth). In the time since their previous album Requiem for the Indifferent (2012) the band have parted ways with original bassist Yves Huts, replacing him with Rob van der Loo, who also plays with Epica leader Mark Jansen in MaYaN. The Quantum Enigma is the second album by a Mark Jansen band to be released this year, following MaYaN's Antagonise (2014) a few months previously.

What makes Epica such a high class act in the symphonic metal genre is that they have never made the same album twice. Following their debut The Phantom Agony (2003) they released the relatively growl free Consign to Oblivion (2005), brought the growls back and gave their music a extra dose of power metal on The Divine Conspiracy (2007) and then became increasingly progressive on Design Your Universe (2009), ultimately resulting in the full-on progressive metal release that was Requiem for the Indifferent. On The Quantum Enigma they've made changes to their sound again. The music is still more progressive than either The Divine Conspiracy or Design Your Universe but less so, overall at least but perhaps more so in certain parts, than Requiem for the Indifferent. The amount of power metal influence has also seen another increase compared to the last couple of albums, although it's quite modern sounding in the riffs department. I'd say the album draws its cues mostly from The Divine Conspiracy and Requiem for the Indifferent so in a sense is on the level with Design Your Universe but find more middle ground between the two sounds than that album did, as well as having a few different elements such as some folk influences that have a distinct Asian vibe to them.

While The Divine Conspiracy and Design Your Universe are two of the best symphonic metal albums ever recorded in my opinion, I did not enjoy Requiem for the Indifferent to quite the same level. That was unfortunate, because I'd actually been quite eagerly awaiting the day that Epica fully embraced their progressive influences. Tracks like Kingdom of Heaven from Design Your Universe (which incidentally has a sequel on The Quantum Enigma) number among my favourite Epica tracks, so it was disappointing that Requiem for the Indifferent did not live up to its full potential, although the album was still excellent, proving again that Epica are more than a cut above all the other beauty and the beast symphonic metal acts out there. Although it was initially disappointing that The Quantum Enigma has withdrawn some of this influence again instead of further building on it, such feelings were quickly dispersed as I came to realise that Epica have found the perfect balance here between symphonic progressive metal and symphonic power metal, without really producing an album that belongs to either genre.

It is simpler to just call The Quantum Enigma epic symphonic metal, because that's exactly what it is regardless of how many other styles of metal Epica draw on. They've really put the epic into Epica with this one. Great symphonic arrangements, complexity, speed, and Simone Simons' vocals are as top notch as ever. Mark Jansen's growling plays just an important role though. It's not wrong to say that The Quantum Enigma is also part symphonic death metal, especially when dealing with a track like Victims of Contingency which is one of the most aggressive things Epica have ever done. To be honest it kind of sounds like a leftover from the last MaYaN album and was in fact co-written by Jack Driessen and Frank Schiphorst, MaYaN's keyboardist and guitarist, so it might well be as I say. Leftover or not, Epica has always done tracks like this, with really extreme and intense growling sections that go a step further than is normal for symphonic metal acts, and it just so happens that Victims of Contingency is one of the best tracks on the album. Best tracks are always hard to call on the most top quality of releases but right from the first listen to Victims of Contingency I couldn't believe how powerful the song was.

Where Victims of Contingency sets itself up as the most aggressive thing that Epica has done the album's title track (which is subtitled as Kingdom of Heaven Part II) aims for a different milestone; their most epic track. At almost twelve minutes it's the longest track on The Quantum Enigma; a little shorter than the original Kingdom of Heaven. Apart from both being progressive influenced epics I don't detect too many similarities between the two tracks; no rehashing has been involved. It's a great way to end a great album and like with Victims of Contingency is an instant high point. This is not to say that the rest of the album is weaker, as it's not, but the other songs did require a few more listens to sink in than these two did. I have one small issue with the album and that is the fact that it's a bit too heavy on the use of choirs for me, but my enjoyment isn't exactly impacted by this so is a niggling issue at most.

Although I still prefer Design Your Universe, which is one of my favourite albums of all time, The Quantum Enigma is another very good release from Epica, who prove again that they are one of the best symphonic metal bands, possibly even the number one.
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