The Classical Conspiracy
live CD, released earlier this year, found Epica performing classical and movie soundtrack compositions with a full orchestra and choir. Their latest studio effort Design Your Universe
incorporates a lot of those same elements and is their most ambitious album to date.
The Dutch band’s symphonic style has always been front and center, and with Design Your Universe
they’ve stepped it up a notch. The arrangements on songs like “Resigned To Surrender” are complex and intricate, with layers of symphonic sound. And Epica doesn’t forget the guitars, which are in ample supply.
“Martyr Of The Free Word” supplies all of the elements of a standout song: strong riffs, catchy hooks, plenty of atmosphere and excellent vocals. Simone Simons’ haunting soprano is contrasted by the death metal growls of Mark Jansen, providing an excellent balance. Most of the songs on the CD follow this general framework of dynamic and bombastic music, with primarily female vocals accented periodically by harsh male vocals.
Epica does change things up from time to time. “Kingdom Of Heaven” is a 13 minute tour de force. It begins with some of the crunchiest guitars on the album and harsh vocals before introducing the symphonic elements and melodic vocals. It’s a very cinematic song, with many ebbs and flows between extremity and beauty.
“Tides Of Time” is a piano based ballad that really lets Simons display her vocal skills. She starts with a soft, reserved alto, then ramps up into a more powerful soprano as the song builds in intensity. Just over halfway through, it kicks in with guitars and orchestra, building to a crescendo before dropping back to a soft ending.
Sonata Arctica’s Tony Kakko guests on “White Waters.” The duet is a ballad with a clever arrangement and a bit of a Middle Eastern vibe. It takes a while to get going, but both singers give a good performance. Design Your Universe
wraps up with the title track, another epic 9 plus minute song. This is Epica’s most well-rounded and technically proficient album to date. There are also a multitude of hooks and catchy sections to make things memorable. At 74 minutes, it is a bit long, and some filler could have been trimmed, but fans of symphonic, power and gothic metal will find plenty to like with this CD.
(released November 3, 2009 on Nuclear Blast Records)