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(107:11; Nuclear Blast)
There is no doubt that Epica’s fifth album, 2009’s ‘Design Your Universe’ was a breakthrough both for them and for the symphonic metal genre in general. Although the band had already built a strong reputation and released some great albums since being formed by Mark Jansen following his departure from After Forever, this album marked the watershed between a fairly well-known symphonic metal band with high ambitions and an international phenomenon of great prowess. With striking momentum and a carefully maintained balance between epic metal and orchestral soundscapes, between cinematic bombast and teeth-clenching heaviness, between Mark Jansen’s grunts and Simone Simons’s vocals, everything just worked. Looking back at it now it is easy with hindsight to point out the importance of this album in their canon, as it was the first to feature Arien van Weesenbeek as their new permanent drummer, Isaac Delahaye as their new guitarist and cover artist Stefan Heilemann (Heilemania), all of whom are still involved to this day. To celebrate the tenth anniversary the decision was made to revisit the album, re-mix it, and then provide some additional acoustic versions from the current line-up, making for a double disc release which is roughly 110 minutes long. The band has been incredibly stable in turns of line-up over the length of their career, and the only new boy since the original is bassist Rob van der Loo who joined in 2012, so it was easy for the whole band to be involved with going over the original tapes. What can one say about an album which is either the best, or second best (2016’s ‘The Holographic Principle’ is in very close contention for that title) of their whole career? The sound has been kept true to the original, although some of the compression has been released, and any album which contains “Martyr of the Free Word”, “Unleashed”, power ballad “Tides of Time” or the epic “Design Your Universe” is always going to be well received. Jansen says. “My favourite song was and still is ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. It has all the elements EPICA stood for at the time, but even more so because it is dedicated to my grandmother who passed away while we were recording this album. It will always have a special meaning to me.” And not only to him. “Mark’s grandmother was a very important figure for the whole band”, Simone Simons says. “Her house was our rehearsal space from the beginning of EPICA. She always greeted us with a smile and made sure we had everything we needed.” Fans will play the first disc with real joy, but will turn to the second disc with interest, as here the band take on five songs from the album in an acoustic, orchestral and choral setting. I love hearing Simone’s voice in this setting as she is letting it flow without having to provide the force and presence it requires when she is fronting a metal band at full force, with “Burn To A Cinder” being a fine example of her range and style. There will be many fans who think the band may never better ‘Design Your Universe’ but they may not have heard the Gold Edition yet.
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