EPICA — The Holographic Principle (review)

EPICA — The Holographic Principle album cover Album · 2016 · Symphonic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Symphonic metal is a not a genre that is typically associated with producing releases that will necessarily scratch the itch that most metalheads feel for genuinely heavy, powerful music. Instead it's associated with metal's more radio friendly side. That's actually a stereotype, one that both fans and detractors of the genre have been guilty of, as symphonic metal is hardly the only genre capable of putting out hook-laden tracks. Hell, even some melodic death metal bands like Arch Enemy or Scar Symmetry can write a damn catchy song. But I will be fair, most artists that play symphonic metal don't do much to dispel the impression. Except perhaps just one. They are Epica from the Netherlands and The Holographic Principle (2016) is their seventh main album.

I actually think that back when they started Epica were on the same page that most symphonic metal bands either start on (and often stay on) or end up on. However even as early as Consign to Oblivion (2005) they were showing signs of being something more and that really came to fruition on The Divine Conspiracy (2007), an album that they really upped their game on, that in my review for it back then I described as 'giving the symphonic metal genre a good kick up the backside'. Epica's music is heavier and more complex than most symphonic metal acts ever intend to be and even among those who do use growls they seem to have more of an actual footing in the death metal camp, something that really came out on previous album The Quantum Enigma (2014) and the song Victims of Contingency. And instead of becoming more accessible with age it seems as if Epica is a rare case of going in the opposite direction, showing a willingness to experiment in the progressive metal field as well as delivering grandiose symphonic metal. But what makes them so great is that they know how to find a balance between all their elements, which also includes some power metal influence, that really makes their music work as well as it does. It's a knack that sadly most symphonic metal bands seem unable to get the hang of, one that makes Epica masters of what they do and in this case also gives The Holographic Principle many claims to being the band's best album to date.

There isn't any better evidence for Epica getting more adventurous with each album than their choice for this album's lead single, Universal Death Squad, which may just be the most progressive track they're kicked off an album's promotion with. While more obvious single choice Edge of the Blade has also been given the music video treatment, this was the first taste Epica gave their fans for The Holographic Principle and to me it seems like that was a statement about what they're really about. And they certainly following through with the promise that Universal Death Squad makes on the rest of the album, which contains some of their most complex material so far, as well as some of the most epic. Symphonic instrumentation and progressive complexity go hand in hand together very well.

This is the kind of album that quickly asserts it's tracks as memorable pieces of music thanks to the different approaches that Epica has to creating symphonic metal. Even the intro track Eidola is worth a special mention, being excellent in its own right before the full songs take over, starting with Edge of the Blade. A Simone Simons dominated song except for a notable growled section by Mark Jansen once it's well under way, it's a great choice to get hooked into the album, reminding me a bit of Never Enough from The Divine Conspiracy. It's following tracks such as the trio of Universal Death Squad, Divide and Conquer, and Beyond the Matrix and then later The Cosmic Algorithm, the very catchy Dancing in a Hurricane and of course finale The Holographic Principle - A Profound Understanding of Reality that strike me as the album's best cuts though. That said, the track to track flow of The Holographic Principle is excellent. There is never a moment where the material Epica have delivered could be considered lesser, not even slightly. It's an extremely consistent release, but then that's what I rely on them for. I'd consider Requiem for the Indifferent (2012) to be a slight blip on their record, but otherwise everything since The Divine Conspiracy has been upper echelon music. That's a track record that no other symphonic metal band has matched, not even Nightwish.

The band of course are as well playing as ever. Along with their usual instruments Epica have incorporated a whole host of other instruments onto the album. Band members Isaac Delahaye (guitars) and Coen Janssen (keyboards) notably play a small host of additional instruments between them. Mandolin, Balalaika, Bouzouki and Ukulele for Delahaye and Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Tubalar Bells for Janssen. For guest musicians we have a group of violins, a pair of viola, a few cellos, as well as an assortment of brass instruments like trumpets, French horn and trombone and some woodwinds like flutes, bassoon and oboe. There is also a sitar present which is played by Jack Pisters who has also worked with After Forever, Ayreon and The Gentle Storm. In the vocal department Simone Simons remains in top form and is as enchanting as ever, while Mark Jansen's growls continue to add the extreme edge of Epica's music. It's kind of funny but in most symphonic metal bands the biggest issue with the music is that a female vocalist with a stunning voice is having to share vocal time with a growler so you'd be forgiven to thinking that might be a problem here too, except it's not. Epica has always made this kind of interplay with Simons and Jansen work. It's another reason why they are the best at what they do.

Making a call on what Epica's best work is certainly isn't an easy task. There is no clear cut candidate for that distinction. The Holographic Principle is just the latest of their albums to be in the running. I think that compared to their other albums this one does feel quite similar to The Quantum Enigma but I wouldn't call it a rehash. They've hit on a sound that really works for them by this point and the results continue to be stunning. I'd say this even goes one better than the previous at the very least, while it, The Divine Conspiracy and Design Your Universe (2009) all have different claims on that top spot. I'm not completely sure on which deserves it the most yet (my inclination right now is to say this one but that may be due to the high that any new album worth its salt always provides) but what I do know is that if you like the symphonic metal genre at all, then this is one album you absolutely have to have in your collection.
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adg211288 wrote:
more than 2 years ago
I'd normally say the same but this is one band who have made it work to my ears.
Nightfly wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Great review Adam. I'm not the biggest symphonic metal fan but do dip into it from time to time. I've heard a few tracks of this album and will give it a proper listen soon. I've always felt with this sort of music when you have a singer as good as Simone Simons they should ditch the growls altogether. I don't think it adds anything to a band like Epica.


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