EPICA - Divine Re-Invention

June 30, 2007, 11 years ago

Special report by Carl Begai

epica feature

There are plenty of preconceived notions with regards to EPICA's upcoming third album, The Divine Conspiracy. Members of the press are expecting an album that can be conveniently stamped “symphonic chick metal” and placed on a shelf beside the NIGHTWISH and AFTER FOREVER, while the fans are waiting for the logical follow-up to the band’s last outing, Consign To Oblivion. Both sides will be satisfied to some degree, but there’s going to be a fair bit of head scratching and double-taking at the same time, as The Divine Conspiracy is much heavier and far more complex than anyone expected. The symphonic orchestration and Eastern-flavoured musical arrangements that initially got people’s attention on the band’s 2003 debut, The Phantom Agony, have become positively epic in proportion (no pun intended), the black metal elements (double bass and deathgrowl vocals) featured on Consign To Oblivion’s title track have taken on a prominent role in the Epica sound, and vocalist Simone Simons puts in the most dynamic performance of her career. Pure and simple, Epica’s days as a footnote in KAMELOT’s history, having taken their name from the band’s 2003 album and Simons being featured on one of the strongest songs in the Kamelot catalogue (‘The Haunting’), are over. They have finally come into their own.

“I think every type of metal fan can find something to like about the new album,” says Simons, justifiably proud of Epica’s beefed up sound. “It doesn’t go just one way. People say that after about three CDs a band finds its style, and I think this is ours. It’s so many different styles in one. We’ve gotten a lot heavier on The Divine Conspiracy, and who know, we might get even heavier on the next one. I mean, we only do the ballads for our mothers (laughs).”

Epica have adopted the mantra “more is more” for The Divine Conspiracy. The album contains 11 actual songs, with three of them clocking in at over seven minutes and the title track closing the proceedings with a whopping 14. The symphonic and choral arrangements that founding guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen used as the basis for the Epica sound on The Phantom Agony are over-the-top orchestral bliss if you’re into that sort of thing. And as mentioned, Jansen’s black metal growls are all over the album and no longer mere nuance (see ‘Menace Of Vanity’ and ‘Death Of A Dream’), making The Divine Conspiracy something more than a paint-by-numbers symphonic metal record. With all this on Epica’s plate, one has to wonder how or even if they’ll be able to pull the new material off live.

“We were thinking about that,” admits Simons, “but we decided not to put any restrictions on ourselves when we were writing the album. We focused writing the best album possible and decided to worry about how we’re going to pull the songs off live later.”

The band credits producer Sascha Paeth and backing vocalist/collaborator Amanda Somerville with helping to shape the Epica sound. Both have been involved with Epica since the debut, making them an invaluable part of the band’s arsenal.

“We write the lyrics, but Sascha and Amanda pick out the weak parts and are able to offer suggestions on how to change them so they sound better,” Jansen explains. “These people are really important for the Epica sound, absolutely. We’re comfortable working with them because we know their strong points and they know ours, so it’s a perfect situation for us.”

As the band’s founder Jansen has always done the lion’s share of the songwriting. This time out, however, he opened things up to the rest of the band.

“I wrote most of the music, but Ad (Sluijter/guitars) worked out some great guitar parts and Coen (Janssen/keyboards) did a really job arranging the choirs. I write most of the vocal lines for the choirs but he’s the one that shapes them, which is something I can’t do. Definitely not at good as he can do it. Yves (Huts/bass) wrote two songs as well, so there’s a much bigger band influence on the music this time.”

If Epica’s heavier direction isn’t enough of a surprise, The Divine Conspiracy’s piece-de-resistance is the guest appearance by After Forever guitarist/vocalist Sander Gommans on the track ‘Death Of A Dream’, who trades off vocal shred with Jansen. A huge deal for fans of both bands, as Gommans was the one that fired Jansen from After Forever back in 2001 due to growing musical differences between Jansen and the rest of the band.

“There was definitely some bad blood between us,” Jansen admits. “That’s why the fans took sides, talking shit about the other band. But, since we work with the same people at the studio it was only a matter of time before we worked things out. We eventually became friends again and everybody gets along now, but there are still some fans that take sides with either After Forever or Epica. Hopefully this will put those arguments to an end. Having Sander on the album, nobody expected it and it’s something really special for us. I hope it will put an end to the arguments, because really, it’s quite stupid to keep arguing about who hates whom when the bands actually like each other.”

The focal point, however, is Simons, and after hearing The Divine Conspiracy there are going to be some Nightwish fans wishing the rumours of Simons replacing Tarja Turunen had been true. While many female symphonic metal singers that initially made their mark with operatic vocal performances have changed gears in favour of singing “straight”, Simons has kept on with her classic voice, at the same time pushing her limits to become a world class vocalist with an identity all her own.

“When you hear the first album and compare it to the new one, the debut sounds really stiff,” says Jansen. “This one is a lot more open because, of course, Simone has the experience now. We also worked out all the vocals for the new album in pre-production, so afterwards she had two months to get comfortable with the new vocals lines, and because she felt more confident about what she was singing…well, you can hear the end result (laughs). That’s the big difference between The Divine Conspiracy and the previous two albums. When were recording the vocals for those albums we changed some things as we went, so Simone was singing some lines for the very first time in the studio.”

Watch for the full story on The Divine Conspiracy in BW&BK; #106.

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