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Epica - "The Quantum Enigma" (CD)

Epica - "The Quantum Enigma" CD cover image

"The Quantum Enigma" track listing:

1. Originem
2. The Second Stone
3. The Essence of Silence
4. Victims of Contingency
5. Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code)
6. Unchain Utopia
7. The Fifth Guardian (Interlude)
8. Chemical Insomnia
9. Reverence (Living in the Heart)
10. Omen (The Ghoulish Malady)
11. Canvas of Life
12. Natural Corruption
13. The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven, Part II)

Reviewed by on April 16, 2014

"Epica has presented an album that is much stronger than 'Requiem for the Indifferent,' but falls just a tick short of the pinnacle of 'Design Your Universe.'"

When band’s reach a longevity of ten years, or even five full-length albums, it is easy to lose sight with just how incredibly hard it is to continue to make relevant music. Even with the forces of age, “current trends,” endless bands in a certain genre, the crumbling record industry forcing musicians to have multiple ongoing projects and of course, being judged against past achievements, a band of the caliber of Epica still seems to prevail. The minor/subtle changes and progression that spawned the 2012 release “Requiem for the Indifferent” was the first time the band has really met any adversity. Even that “backlash” was not at all that bad, just a handful of critics that seemingly grew sick of the genre. With album six in the offing, combined with some momentum generated by the amazing sophomore effort from MaYaN, Epica has returned the symphonic titanic to a stylistic area just beyond “Design Your Universe.” “The Quantum Enigma” doesn’t quite rise to that career pinnacle, but comes as close as it can get, and in some spots it's dead even.

One of the things that made MaYaN’s “Antagonize” so amazing was that the style was strikingly similar to “Design Your Universe” Epica and less progressive than its predecessor. Some of that writing seems to have bled over to “The Quantum Enigma,” which comes off a bit darker and riff laden than “Requiem.” You won’t find songs like “Delirium” here. It does seem that the album has a bit more Mark Jansen vocals than on “Requiem,” which comes with much applause from this author. When you do hear Jansen, he leaves his “mark” as always – cold, lethal and “gutterly perfect” in his annunciations.” Bookended by captivating riffs and soaring orchestrations, the album truly is the perfect follow-up to “Design Your Universe.”

The real trifecta of fantastic comes with “The Essence of Silence,” “Victims of Contingency,” and “Sense Without Sanity – The Impervious Code,” with “Victims” taking the nod as album favorite. With brutality wrapped in symphonic blast beats, it is a song of sheer brilliance and excitement – standing alongside the band’s greatest tracks. Simone is almost a backup vocalist here, and in as much as I absolutely adore Simone as a favorite female vocalist of all time, it’s refreshing to see a bit more balance of beast with the beauty. “Unchain Utopia” is one of the more prototypical Epica tunes, featuring gigantic wide open orchestrations with speedy riffs, well placed pauses, and powerful choirs. “Chemical Insomnia” starts off with a cool intro that comes across like a modern take on “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (the Edvard Grieg version), but contains one of the best choruses on the release.

Other notables are the amazing builder “Omen – The Ghoulish Malady,” which represents Simone’s finest performance on the album, and “Canvas of Life” where Epica clashes with Blind Guardian’s “Past And Future Secret” and Simone shows that softer, less operatic, style that makes her the most versatile singer in the genre. “Natural Corruption” is one of those tracks which is fantastic when you hear it, but for some reason doesn’t seem to resonate as well as the rest of the album.

Then there is the song that threw me off by its name, the 12 minute closer “The Quantum Enigma – Kingdom of Heaven, Part II.” With “Kingdom of Heaven” already the all-time best from Epica, how would this live up? Well, if I hadn’t seen the name before the first listen, it would have fared much better. Lured by unrealized expectation levels, the song fell flat. Keeping that in check on later listens reveals a deep multi-layered emotional track that takes on the hot science topic of whether quantum physics can prove the existence of God. It is the most progressive song on the album and it takes a bit to grow before one can really appreciate it.

All in all, Epica has presented an album that is much stronger than “Requiem for the Indifferent” (which should please fans that may have turned away), but falls just a tick short of the pinnacle of “Design Your Universe.” In terms of style, it is a better suited successor to the 2009 best, though “Requiem” was an amazing effort with some subtle changes that really stood out and was under-appreciated. There is a better balance of beauty/beast vocals, with Jansen stealing a bit more time and making it all count towards a darker and more brutal effort. This album is not going to redefine the genre, but it stands among Epica’s greatest. Since the band made its own trailblazing path already, Epica doesn't need to redefine anything.

Highs: Comes across much heavier and in may ways more brutal than its predecessor.

Lows: The title track raises expectations to high using "Kingdom of Heaven, Part II" in the title.

Bottom line: Want to know how to "design your universe?" The key is solving "The Quantum Enigma."

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)