REVIEW: Epica – Requiem for the Indifferent

Artist: Epica
Album: Requiem for the Indifferent
Genre: Symphonic/progressive metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

Female-fronted symphonic metal (my chosen umbrella term) is a curiously European thing, and one with an ardent cult following. Nightwish are the undisputed masters, with Within Temptation continuously snapping at their heels. Yet, Epica have for many years been the thinking fan’s band. They are the cerebral to Nightwish’s majesty, the rugged to Within Temptation’s lustre, and, considering Tristania’s fall from grace, Lacuna Coil’s evolution into commercialized also-rock, and After Forever’s demise; the old guard’s venerable successors. This is Epica’s fifth full-length album (discounting The Score, which was composed as a film soundtrack) and for all that they place firmly amongst the elite in the genre, widespread recognition seems to elude them. This may be a question of accessibility, as the sleeker approach used in recent albums might elude those who fell in love with The Phantom Agony and Consign to Oblivion. However, Epica’s music is defined by their vision. They address religious, political, moral, and ethical themes in their lyrics and use widespread influences in their music. That said, their approach has been markedly less intricate since The Divine Conspiracy was released, and it’s possible Requiem for the Indifferent may be unfairly dismissed as more of the same.

This would be massively unjust, as Requiem… is a very strong album. It isn’t quite as ferocious as their last release, Design Your Universe, but it smacks of a certain maturity and it is, in many ways, more controlled and effective. All of the characteristics that have made them so unique are here – the choir, the orchestra, the mixed vocal styles – but this time, they are allied to a grim aggression that’s starker and tighter than their previous work. The album opens, as always, with a powerful cinematic instrumental, “Karma.” A perennial indication of the style of the album itself, the opener signals something dramatic, eerie, and troubling; more insidious than the Epica we’re used to. It segues beautifully into “Monopoly on Truth,” a grandiose and bombastic introduction to the album proper. It’s very asymmetrical, even for a band renowned for their liberal approach to song structure, but anchored by a resounding, arresting chorus. Simone Simons’ vocals are much glassier than one would anticipate. Her mezzo-soprano tones have always been the catalyst that brings classical and progressive together in Epica’s work, but she sounds very detached for much of this record. This reflects the lyrical tone, although it’s in stark contrast with the operatic power she brought to Design Your Universe.

“Storm the Sorrow” is more portentous, but “Delirium” is the first standout on the album. It opens with a beautifully elegiac choir, building upon these moving refrains with a sullen piano. Simons is far more impressive here, her pristine, airy voice cutting through everything with starry elegance. It’s very theatrical in composition and execution and there’s a sense of age and wisdom here that underlines Mark Jansen’s visionary talent.

“Internal Warfare” is startling and belligerent. Simons is serenely confident, but the track grows and evolves with the addition of Jansen’s heavier vocals. It eventually takes a rather deranged turn with some duelling solos; a slightly bizarre twist that is yet redolent of the ambitious sound the band aims for. A tougher streak runs through “Guilty Demeanour,” which uses more vociferous guitars and fewer ornamental dressings.

“Anima” is a simple but dazzling highlight. A sombrely written yet profoundly moving little soliloquy, it’s played almost entirely on piano and cuts a more memorable silhouette for its poignant contrast with the rumbling instrumentation elsewhere. However, Epica’s particular talent for crafting lengthy, sophisticated songs is evidenced in the brilliance of both the title track and album closer, “Serenade of Self-Destruction.” The band tends to spread stories over numerous linked tracks, using each one to add further creation to an engrossing musical world. The various techniques make more sense when they’re given time to flourish. “Requiem for the Indifferent” has an Eastern-oriented mystique that lends it a sense of adventure and excitement. The singing acts as a ubiquitous and pressing conscience while the music is relentless. It has a vividness and complexity all its own, yet it is tied together with immaculate precision. “Serenade…” is the traditional, epic ending, clocking in at nine minutes and filling its run time with a grace and impetus that ranks alongside the best the band have done.

Requiem for the Indifferent is a gripping and compelling album that represents a stirring step forward for Epica. While the graceful artistry that defined their earliest work is eluding them, the album is testament to their gifts and faithful to their sound. They remain a diligent and thoughtful band that shatter the limitations of their genre, and deserve much wider acclaim and attention.

SCORE: 8/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell
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One Response to “REVIEW: Epica – Requiem for the Indifferent”

  1. Carlrodez says:

    o.0 jaja epica zZzZzZ..