Epica – The Holographic Principle – Album Review

epica-the-holographic-principle-artwork

Artist: Epica

Album Title: The Holographic Principle

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 30 September 2016

I’m nothing if not honest – ‘beauty and the beast’ symphonic metal is a genre that I have lost a lot on interest in. Subsequently, I’ve not been sufficiently invested in this seemingly saturated loose sub-genre order to follow the scene intently over the last few years.

However, Epica and I go back a number of years – they were one of the first bands that I met in the early days of my Powerplay career whilst undertaking my first press trip to the Nuclear Blast Headquarters in Donzdorf, around the release of ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ in 2007.

And whilst I have never classed myself as an out-and-out fan of Epica, I certainly admired what they were trying to do, namely offer something a little different from the hordes. Yes they have in their ranks a beautiful singer in the form of Simone Simons who duets with the growled male vocals of Mark Jansen and they like to pepper their music with lashings of keys and symphonic elements to make the compositions as grandiose and over-the-top as possible.

However, in addition, Epica have never been afraid of trying to inject other interesting elements into their songwriting. The output has always, to my mind at least, been harsher and heavier than most. The aforementioned growls are often quite savage-sounding and the guitar work does generally come across as having more bite and menace than others. Add to this a certain understated progressive element and a dramatic cinematic depth and you can begin to see why Epica are so highly rated by many within the heavy metal community.

Having almost entirely missed the last two releases, I come to album number seven with fresh ears and I have to say that right off the bat, I have been left impressed by the sheer scope of this record. The above-mentioned elements all exist from before and there is no doubt as to the intent of the sextet, as ‘The Holographic Principle’ bristles and sparkles like a giant film score to an unknown blockbuster that apparently questions whether we live in a real world or whether our existence is intertwined with some alternate reality.

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Opener is a classic intro piece, cinematic and bombastic in scope, an exercise in building a sense of anticipation and tension. It ebbs and flows nicely but if I’m honest, it does little except set the scene for what is to come. It is nice enough but I find myself generally skipping it to get to the meat of the album.

The album starts properly with ‘Edge Of The Blade’ which is a nice starter for ten. With a catchy chorus, plenty of orchestration from ivory-tinkler Coen Janssen, some strong riffs from guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye and the unmistakeable vocals of Simons and Jansen, it is a bombastic and up-tempo composition that grows with repeated listens. ‘A Phantasmic Parade’ follows and is equally as entertaining. Again the guitars crunch and the rhythm section comprised of drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek and bassist Rob van der Loo gallops along at a fair lick. The melodies are memorable too. However, the track is dominated by the symphonics and the vocals which give the song much of its impetus.

The scene has been set and the album then follows a broadly similar pattern for the remaining nine tracks, with bombast and pomp the watchwords throughout.

And, if I’m honest, this is where the problem lies with ‘The Holographic Principle’ and with symphonic metal in general. As dramatic as the opening couple of tracks are, and as grandiose as the whole album is, it doesn’t take too long for the sheen to wear off and for me personally to lose a little bit of interest. Although I have no doubt that Epica are giving their all to create the best material of their lives, it just doesn’t unfortunately equate into a body of work that I feel compelled to listen to time after time.

That said, I love the melodic chorus, huge choirs and the crescendo of ‘Divide And Conquer’, which is a real anthem of huge proportions. I also find ‘Once Upon A Nightmare’ to be a wonderful listening experience. It might be a ballad but I’ve never disliked a really well-executed ballad and here, that’s exactly what we get. It begins with a sombre classical introduction that conveys real emotion and is carried by a sublime performance from Simons. It takes time to erupt but when it does, it does so gratifyingly to complete a top quality piece of music.

Then there’s the ludicrously named ‘The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality’ which has a much lengthier, progressive feel to it that I quite like.

I have absolutely no doubt that ‘The Holographic Principle’ will stand at the top of the symphonic metal tree come the end of the year. Blessed with a slick production, moments of real brilliance and enough bombast to flatten a small village, there will be a huge number of fans delighted by this release and rightly so. For me, though, it doesn’t set my world alight quite enough and I’m left wishing that Epica had been braver and experimented with their sound just a little more. Or maybe I’m just a hard man to please?

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

4 Thoughts

  1. EPICA albums need a lot of play to fully appreciate it. It’s an album you can surely grasp at the first listen. I tell you. This is the poorest review of the album I’ve come across. Just saying.

    1. I’m sorry you think this is a poor review, but I think it is very fair and an accurate representation of my feelings towards it. And I stand by it 100%. I took plenty of time to listen & try to get to grips with it, as I do with every album I review. But it just doesn’t press my buttons. I liked the first couple of albums but am less impressed these days. I’m glad you like the album more than me, because the world would be boring if we all agreed with each other.

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