Gothic symphonic metal. It sure has gone through quite a few changes in the past 10 years since Nightwish spawned tons of clones. Most of those clones are gone now with others changing styles for a more pop rock sound and even Nightwish themselves taking their sound to a new level. In the midst of all of this is Epica who managed to not only rise above most of their contemporaries but still continue to garner new fans. I think the reason is fairly simple. If you have a striking front woman with red hair that sings like a lead in a musical and musicianship on par with film or stage scores combined with the aggressive tone of metal why mess with the formula? Especially when the competition seems to be falling off year after year. That’s not to say that Epica has not had it’s share of growing pains along the way. The early incarnation tried too hard to be the next best thing in beauty and the beast vocals that the songs were almost cartoonish in their bombast. 2009 saw the release of ‘Design Your Universe’ which for me was the pinnacle of enjoyment thus far. With Requiem of the Indifferent the big questions were going to be if Epica can top it or finally start to tread waters in familiar ground or follow some of their contemporaries into a whole different style.
Well the answer is no, yes, and sort of. Requiem only has one song that stood out for me that I could find myself revisiting more then the rest of the album and that is ‘Storm of Sorrow’. This was the first single released and is very memorable in it’s melodic hooks. Most of the rest of the album is standard Epica fare with a brief atmospheric choral intro in ‘Karma’ which I have to say I wish bands in general would stop doing. It’s a tired and cheap form of squeezing a track on the album. While most of the songs are extended in length putting in a minute and half intro doesn’t really build up any kind of anticipation anymore. I’d dare to venture that half the time intro tracks like this get skipped. But then again this is also a trademark of Epica so it’s probably not going to go away.
As far as changes there are styles not heard before that get sprinkled into tracks like the pure rock solo in the second track ‘Monopoly of Truth’. ‘Internal Warfare’ employs some prog synth near the end I don’t recall hearing before. But these changes are few and far between. There are two ballads on Requiem and honestly the ballads are not my bag. While musically they’re beautiful they don’t really stand out from anything else I’ve heard over the years. I think the problem is what I call the Dream Theater Syndrome. Epica packs so much music in each track and has the skill and talent to pull off truly epic tracks but after awhile even these songs start to sound like retreads. If this was the first album I ever heard from Epica I’d probably be gushing over it like a hundred other sites seem to do every time there is a new release.
Simone Simons is still one of the top female vocalist in the genre and actually employs some vocals that are closer to rock which is refreshing and when she pulls out the operatic still is great. But these songs tend to favor her range between each and after an hour starts to wear. The choirs are inserted in tracks liberally and at times are unnecessary to achieve an atmosphere.Mark Janssen’s harsh vocals are good but on Requiem he also has regressed at times to the more blackened vocal style that used to grate me on earlier releases. There is no doubt that he is a great composer though especially when you consider that this band releases an album, tours relentlessly and is right back in the studio for a follow up. Other bands would normally require an extra year to get these kinds of compositions recorded.
I suppose this isn’t the most positive review in the world and apologies to the hardcore fans but keep in mind this is just one opinion from someone who has listened to a ton of Epica music over the years. On that note I should also probably get one last thing off my chest. I would really like to hear an Epica album that did not center around sociopolitical themes as heavily as this band does. Music is supposed to be at times escapism and I believe everyone who listens to this band knows the world can be a bad place. I don’t need to be reminded of these things constantly. If I wanted to hear songs about how we’re ruining the planet or that wars are bad I’d just continue to read the news sites like CNN instead. I certainly don’t believe that the themes that Epica throw out there are going to change anyone’s views on the world that didn’t already agree. I also believe that with 8 billion people in the world with different cultures, religions, temperaments, and mindsets are never going to come to an impasse and there be peace. Humans are tribal by nature and you throw spiritualism into the mix and you will have wars forever long after we’re gone. I know this album’s name is directed to people like me but it’s not indifference but realism that I feel. All we can really do is be the best people we can be to other people and know it won’t be reciprocated at times. And a Dutch metal band sure doesn’t have the clout to start any kind of revolution that hasn’t already been started by countries that have never heard of Epica. So let’s change things up a bit even for at least one album shall we Mark? Between Epica and Mayan I think we get the message.
Overall fans of Epica in general will eat this up and love it and if you’re new to the band or just getting into this form of metal do check it out. It is an enjoyable album I just don’t see it standing out much from earlier releases prior to Design Your Universe. I’ll leave you now with my favorite track off Requiem for the Indifferent which releases on March 13th in North America and March 9th in the old countries.