‘Epic’ is such an overused word in modern day parlance. Like ‘awesome’ before it, it’s been used so frequently and in so many inappropriate contexts as to totally drain it of its original meaning. So pity anyone charged with trying to describe the operatic grandeur, the tremendous scale, and the sheer magnificence of Epica’s thunderous new opus, The Holographic Principle.
It’s not as if Epica have been an understated band in the past. Their particularly bombastic brand of symphonic metal catapulted them to the upper echelons of that sumptuous subgenre, where they have held court alongside Nightwish and Within Temptation for more than a decade now. But even by their own standards, The Holographic Principle is a masterwork on an unprecedented scale.
This is clear from the orchestral intro ‘Eidola’: a massive, ominous piece, more akin to a Hans Zimmer score than the opening of a heavy metal record. But it’s the perfect amuse-bouche before the storming ‘Edge of the Blade’.
This single works a lot better here in the context of the album than that weirdly Top of the Pops video released a few weeks back. It’s big, energetic, and showcases the renewed metal backbone of Epica’s sound beautifully.
This metal-ness is certainly something which is key to this album’s success. While 2014’s The Quantum Enigma was certainly a step in a more metallic direction, in 2016 Epica are positively iron-clad. The whole sound is heavier, with a gargantuan low-end throughout, gritted-teeth guitar work, and the best use of Mark Jansen’s commanding roars to date. But Epica have definitely not become another run-of-the-mill raging metal band.
The orchestral parts are equally immense, and while the increased prominence of the choirs is something which has to grow on the listener it certainly adds to the theatrical scale of the band’s rejuvenated sound. Our real quibble with the choirs lies in the fact that they take up space which could belong to Simone Simons’ tremendous voice. She has long been integral to Epica’s sound, but here she arguably gives her strongest performance yet. The full range of her voice is used, and some of the vocal hooks are spine-tinglingly brilliant.
But it must be stressed that this opulence doesn’t detract from what Epica do best: writing massive anthems laden with earworm hooks. Trying to mention just a few is a challenge, because every track has its stand-out moments. First singles ‘Universal Death Squad’ and ‘Edge of the Blade’ introduce the new sound magnificently. ‘Beyond the Matrix’ is an upbeat anthem, built for seas of jumping fans at festivals. ‘Once Upon A Nightmare’ stakes a strong claim to being one of the most operatic and grandiose tracks in Epica’s oeuvre.
The lyrics, true to form, are of a scale befitting Epica’s leviathan sound. Much has been made of the eponymous ‘Holographic Principle’ in the build up to this album: the idea that the whole universe is in fact a hologram. Certainly a headache-inducing topic, and many angles are exploited (not least on the cinematic ‘Ascension – Dream State Armageddon’). But if this appeals to the more ethereal and aloof aspects of Epica’s sound, then there’s another strand which befits the more grounded, metal elements at play: the theme of personal responsibility. Lyrics like “We are the ones to change the world now” and “Hold yourself accountable/ For the mess around us all” drive this vital point home with aplomb.
The Holographic Principle is nothing less than a masterpiece. Heavy yet accessible, but also spectacularly opulent. In a word, epic.
This article was first published by The Moshville Times online magazine in September 2016.