Epica is a Dutch band which represents almost everything I dislike about modern metal music. Formed around 2003 when fairy metal bands like Nightwish, After Forever and Within Temptation were really starting to take off, they were born into a trendy sound, and have only grown worse with subsequent albums. Of course, this translates into a huge success within the confused, fairweather crop of Euro gothic metal fans who need the perfect soundtrack for their Harry Potter coloring books. Design Your Universe, the the band's 5th album, was a struggle to listen through.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block here is that the band tries far too much. In addition to all the pompous symphonic elements on the album, they also incorporate 'extreme' metal in the form of guttural gothic male vocals (ala early Theater of Tragedy) and even some more blackish metal parts, as well as a mix of power and groove metal aspects which fail to 'round out' the album. Simone Simons is a practised singer (I thought her duet with Primal Fear's Ralf Scheepers was fairly catchy), but I find her very safe, operatic vocals to be a better match for the Little Mermaid III direct-to-video soundtrack, or perhaps an audition with American Idol, which she could probably win. Don't believe me? Listen to "Tides of Time". As if these weren't enough reasons to vomit, Design Your Universe is a concept album which spews forth all manner of politically correct nonsense, including an awful cliche'd sample of George Bush's 'no taxes'. Preachy much? The lyrics are fucking heinous, like the musings of some 8th grade hippie after reading some revisionist social studies textbook:
Don't force me to believe
We're caught up in the greed
'Cause I just care for me
To break it, we'll need everyone
Think it through: unite is the only way
Let's all hold hands together! Kum bay ah, my lord. Kum bay ah.
The real tragedy of this album is that certain individual parts of the band hold up well on their own. Guitarists Isaac Delahaye and Mark Jensen are both talented, at times explosive. Listen to tracks like "Martyr of the Free World" or "Semblance of Liberty" and you'll hear the potential these guys might have in a more straight-forward thrash/power metal band. Simons' voice isn't quite as operatic as Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), but it could serve her well in a great many contexts (some of which I listed above). The production on the album is radio ready like most of the band's peers, and though they are aimless and generally go nowhere (like the endless bore "Kingdom of Heaven"), the symphonic parts will probably appeal to fans of other bands like Nightwish or later Rhapsody. The band also looks pretty in pictures!
I will say what i think
I will do what i say
When liberty seems out of reach
We'll fight for our freedom of speech
Epica is basically metal music for people who don't like real metal music; people who want a sampling of all its cheeses, like the girl standing outside the deli at your local supermarket with a tray of free goodies. It operates within a premise of safe ideology and good cheer, so you never have to feel guilty that it's challenging you when you listen to it in between watching your favorite programmes on the Lifetime network. If you exist in a world where Dragonforce, Nightwish and Dethklok remain supreme as the best bands you've ever discovered on Youtube (or from that cute girl in English class with the Jack Skellington t-shirt and pink and black-dyed extensions), then Epica will probably tickle you in all the right places. If you exist outside that world, we should grab a beer together and let the kids have fun on their rides.
Verdict: Fail [3/10] (I won't give up, we'll fight to win, to move along from where we'd been!)