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Epica - Design Your Universe CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.90 | 126 ratings

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5 stars I wanted to listen to this album a few more times before giving this review, but as it stands, I can't bear to see this fantastic album with such low ratings and not even a single review. This is undoubtedly the triumph of Epica's career to this point. And a strange triumph indeed it is. At the time of The Divine Conspiracy, I proclaimed that album to be just a bit short of what they were capable of. I thought that if they followed their trend, that this one would have to be even more overblown and epic, even more creative, yet also more tasteful. Well, instead Epica came right out and took a U-turn into death metal, sort of. This isn't any old death metal album you see, it is symphonic death metal in the truest sense. It has rough and tumble death metal riffs and vocals at an unrelenting pace, yet symphonic instruments hide in the background, suddenly popping in to give vital coloring to a song. The songs wind around themes, using variation and repetition in a classical aesthetic. At the first few listens, it seems like the orchestra got shanked, but in reality this is the most well-written symphonic parts on an Epica to date. It's just so carefully blended so that it seems hidden. In reality, if the orchestral elements were taken out, the album would fall flat on its face. This is why I call it true symphonic death metal.

This impression isn't given by the first song, Samadhi, which so many people hate as being more of the same. Yet, the first song is an overture, with nods and hints to the rest of the album without sounding like an overture. However, by the time Resign to Surrender comes up, all doubt is suddenly removed. It is strangely melancholy while furious at the same time. It kind of reminded me aesthetically of a death metal version of Tristania (them being the black metal version). When Simone finally enters the song, her vocals sound like older Floor Jansen. Anyone who follows After Forever knows that is a really strong compliment. As the CD progresses through more songs, Simone's signature is written in thick ink. She has finally become her complete own as a vocalist. I was never a big fan of hers, but she has suddenly become one of the great metal vocalists. Her range is fantastic, and her voice projects. She isn't quite like Floor, she sings a bit more restrained, a bit higher, a bit cleaner, a bit less soul and a bit more opera. She has the metal edge that I always accuse female vocalists of lacking in this genre. The drummer AriŽn Van Weesenbeek feels more at home in this style than the previous album, playing more complex lines that makes his ultra sterile playing on the previous album seem more appropriate (the more dynamic and complex music couldn't be be played less precisely like most death metal). He still doesn't sound as human as I would like, but his technical mastery and his creativity make this easily a top rate performance. Isaac Delahaye is the new guitarist on board here, and probably the reason that Epica pursued a death metal approach. Both him and AriŽn are from the death metal band God Dethroned. His arrival in Epica heralded the arrival of guitar solos. Guitar solos hardly seemed needed, but as soon as they are put in, all of a sudden it is obvious that they were in fact one of the missing elements. The riffs are not the same riffs I loved in Epica, they are fasted, more chugging oriented, preferring flurries of notes and power chords to the more standard rock approach of using space between the necessary notes. It puts them more in line with modern death metal, makes them more atmospheric, more furious, and less accessible.

The melodies on this album are some of the most interesting and powerful in Epica's career, any sense of cheesiness found on Epica's first and third albums are completely gone, no melodies are generic, but all are really catchy and emotive. This album is also the first Epica album where the lyrics don't suck. There are only two or three moments where they make me wince, and many more moments where I am impressed.

Overall, this album is by far the best of Epica's career. It's one of those albums that invents a new style in metal not as an end but as a means. It is the first masterpiece Epica has produced, and hopefully not their last. It's not for everyone though, hopefully my review made it clear what sort of audience would like this album. A word of advice for those who listen to this album: it sounds best at levels that probably damage your hearing. My ecstatic review might only make sense if your ears are ringing afterwards.

Nuke | 5/5 |


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