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Epica - "The Classical Conspiracy" (2-CD Set)

Epica - "The Classical Conspiracy" 2-CD Set cover image

"The Classical Conspiracy" track listing:

CD 1:
1. Palladium
2. Dies Irae
3. Ombra Mai Fu
4. Adagio
5. Spiderman Medley
6. Presto
7. Montagues & Capulets
8. The Imperial March
9. Stabat Mater Dolorosa
10. Unholy Trinity
11. In The Hall Of The Mountain King
12. Pirates Of The Caribbean Medley
13. Indigo
14. The Last Crusade
15. Sensorium
16. Quietus
17. Chasing The Dragon
18. Feint

CD 2:
1. Never Enough
2. Beyond Belief
3. Cry For The Moon
4. Safeguard To Paradise
5. Blank Infinity
6. Living A Lie
7. The Phantom Agony
8. Sancta Terra
9. Illusive Consensus
10. Consign To Oblivion

Reviewed by on April 29, 2009

"While it may be long, it’s an awesome example of how classical music training and inspiration from Slayer and Megadeth (along with Kamelot and Nightwish), can lead to something incredible."

Epica’s latest release, a live album recorded in Hungary called "The Classical Conspiracy," is, well, epic. At two hours and 23 minutes, it’s a gargantuan two-disc listen that you’ll have to block out a large time in your schedule to hear all the way through. But, more importantly, it also reflects a concert well worth whatever the tickets cost, and is a testament to the talent and stamina of the band. Epica’s resume reads like those of famous composers long lost to history, and puts to shame any American contemporary musician.

With skills and educations that should have lead vocalist Simone Simons performing at the best opera houses in the world, and new guitarist Isaac Delahaye teaching classical guitar at the best music school in Europe, the metal world should feel privileged that these Dutch musicians opted instead to join Mark Jansen’s brainchild, Epica.

Their classical background has always shown through in Epica’s music, which mixes symphonic and opera elements with death growls and goth, but the first third of "The Classical Conspiracy" sees Epica paying tribute to a wide range of classical and modern composers. From Handel to Vivaldi, and a few that non-classical listeners have never even heard of, Epica adds its own twist, which usually means some chugging strings and almost speed metal drums, to some familiar pieces. Add to that some backup choirs, an orchestra, and even a harpsichord, and the first twelve tracks become a classical music masterpiece.

Even those who aren’t wild about classical music should at least take a listen to Epica’s versions of the famous Star Wars' "The Imperial March," where axe-grinding guitars add to the powerful trombone section, as well as the "Pirates of the Caribbean Medley," which unfortunately won’t be included in the U.S. release. Still, the last nearly two minutes of this track are as good as any metal instrumental piece, and may make it worth buying the European version online.

The most hyped track was the "Spider-Man Medley," which takes on a bit of a power metal sound, but doesn’t quite live up to its expectations. Fortunately, its follow up, a cover of Vivaldi’s "Presto," is a much better power metal tune, complete with dueling guitars and orchestra, and a nice galloping tempo. There’s even a bit to please fans of heavier sounds, as Prokofiev’s "Montagues and Capulets" takes on an almost doom metal sound, offset by upper range violins.

As for the classical portion of "The Classical Conspiracy," it includes only a couple minor flaws. Simons’ voice tends to get just the slightest bit nasally on the higher notes of "Ombra Mai Fu," but she makes up for it in spades on "Stabat Mater Dolorosa," a piece that calls for a lot of very difficult scale jumping that she pulls of very well. There’s also some trumpet feedback that causes just a bit of distortion in "Unholy Trinity," but if you’re not a band geek (or the mom of a band geek), you’ll probably never notice it.

The rest of disc one plays out great, with some of Epica’s fan favorites, like "Sensorium," and "Chasing The Dragon." The crowd goes wild over Jansen’s growls, which are especially great in "Sensorium," probably because it’s the first opportunity he’s had to show off his chops.

Disc two starts off with "Never Enough," and "Beyond Belief," both of which are pretty good, but don’t compare to the heavier "Cry For The Moon," or my personal favorite, "The Phantom Agony." Blending opera, speed, orchestra, and death growls, "The Phantom Agony" is one of the best compositions in metal music today.

As for the second disc, there are again only a few grievances. Because it is a live recording, you expect to hear the audience cheering and clapping. What’s interesting, though, is how the same respect isn’t shown on Epica’s tracks as was shown on the classical pieces to wait to do this until after the song is finished. Then again, that’s usually just part of a live album. The other part is the band’s interaction with the crowd, which is perfectly okay, except that by the beginning of disc two, you’ve grown tired of Simons’ repetitive "Thank you very much. Are you having a good time?" chant.

Musically speaking, though, the only weakness on disc two is in Simons’ vocals on "Safeguard To Paradise." It’s not that her voice is strained or weak (amazingly enough at this point in the game), but the mainly alto range of this song isn’t ideal for her usually near-tears inducing falsetto soprano.

All my nitpicky, petty little quibbles aside, "The Classical Conspiracy" is a truly amazing compilation, and even more so because it’s a live recording. While it may be long, it’s an awesome example of how classical music training and inspiration from Slayer and Megadeth (along with Kamelot and Nightwish), can lead to something incredible.

Highs: On the first disc, "Adagio" and "Pirates of the Caribbean Medley," along with Epica’s "Sensorium;" disc two’s highlight is "The Phantom Agony."

Lows: Minor feedback on "Unholy Trinity," and Simons’ less than original interaction with the crowd.

Bottom line: One of the greatest listening experiences available, from one of metal’s most talented bands.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

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)