• Epica - Requiem for the Indifferent

    17. Mär. 2012, 7:31

    What follows tries to be a review of Epica's Requiem for the Indifferent. A better description is probably "collection of personal impressions mingled with poor judgment", but since the reviews I see on the internet these days are not exactly paragons of objectivity and fail to address several (IMHO) important points, let me give it a try.

    The new album is very much a mixed bag. While Consign to Oblivion had something like a common style, the new album is much more diverse both in style and in quality. The style changes are not a problem per se, and they not a surprise either, given that there are now four people composing the music. As a consequence of this diversity, I am going to review the album track by track. This will make the review rather long. Sorry for that.

    Two things beforehand:

    1. I am pretty sure that I have given the album enough spins to let everything grow on me that possibly could. Spoiler: not everything did.

    2. Until this album, Epica used to have a very particular place in my musical collection: It was a band I liked every single song of, except for some instrumentals on The Score and a couple of bonustracks (Veniality and The Fallacy). This has now changed. Epica will still remain in my heart and my headphones, but I cannot hide the disappointment.

    The album sets off with the instrumental intro Karma, which blends into Monopoly on Truth. While Karma is a nice way to set off the album, it is less... epic than the older Epica intros -- but, to give respect where it is due, it is more subtle and less film-score-esque. 9/10.

    Monopoly on Truth is a beauty-and-the-beast chimera whose first 3:25 min are carried mostly by grunting and guitars, which, after a transitional phase (3:25-4:23), give way to Simone and choirs (the track achieves its climax when these are singing in parallel). This labor division works very well and the song is on par with the best of symphonic metal (the 4:33-4:53 part could be less pop-like, but still fits well into the song). 10/10.

    Storm the Sorrow is a lighter piece -- apparently light enough that somebody in the band found it necessary to add some aggression in the form of a grunt interlude (3:27-3:49). The interlude reminds me of Kamelot and (in some strange and probably subjective way) of nu metal. Full disclosure: I dislike both (although there are some Kamelot songs I can enjoy); unsurprisingly, I think this song deserves better. Still: 9/10.

    Delirium is the kind of gloomy ballad that you might have expected after White Waters. I found the melody somewhat elusive (in the sense that it seems to never go where you expect it to -- the earlier ballads up to Safeguard to Paradise were much more straightforward), so it took some time to grow on me. And it grew to a 10/10.

    Internal Warfare is where the album starts to lose momentum -- at least for me. This track has too little vocal melody and repeats it too often. The grunts, choirs and instrumentals between 2:52 and 4:18 contribute more to this track than Simone's vocal lines. Is this really how it was meant to be? 6/10.

    Then comes Requiem for the Indifferent to the rescue: symphonic metal played the Epica way, with heavy instrumentation, beauty-and-the-beast singing and choirs. If you liked Consign to Oblivion and Design Your Universe, you are almost guaranteed to enjoy this, as it is like these but better. Also a great example of how catchiness and complexity do not contradict each other. 10/10.

    Anima is a short interlude which unfortunately seems completely misplaced. It does not blend with any of the songs before or after it, and it has a style I would rather associate with the (significantly less bombastic and more introspective) style of After Forever's earlier, "gothic" albums, or maybe even old Tristania. This left aside, it still could be more distinctive and memorable. 7/10.

    Now for a real disappointment: Guilty Demeanor. I can't pin down what exactly I dislike about this track; there is just nothing about it that I would like, except of it being short. It feels forced and filler-like (but why add filler to an album which already has more than 10 songs?). Vocal lines and choirs are pretty trivial. Epica, you know better. 4/10.

    Deep Water Horizon is an elaborate ballad which at 3:24-3:35 suddenly decides to morph into an epic metal battlesong, then slows down again at 4:26 without having really covered a distance. 4:41 marks a new and more successful attempt at gaining speed. A strange song structure if you ask me, but I am fine with strange song structures. The melody could have been stronger, though -- I have heard better power ballads (think Chasing the Dragon) from Epica. 8/10.

    Stay the Course starts off with some rather forgettable beauty-and-beast singing (0:00-1:18; particularly the "sexy" vocals at 0:26-0:29 and 0:35-0:37 are simply annoying), but it pays to carry on listening. The song shines between 1:19 and 1:52, and from 2:39 on. I have a feeling that the composers of the song had something in mind when they mixed boredom with beauty, but I fear that whatever they wanted to express is lost on most listeners. 6/10.

    Deter the Tyrant is a programmatic piece which would function very well if not for the stupid chorus (1:35-1:50, 2:37-3:06, 5:55-6:26) which breaks the development of the music. Most blatantly, the last iteration of the chorus destroys the tension that has been steadily built up by the song from 4:00 on. Like most of the revolts it is about, this song ends abruptly and unsatisfactorily. 5/10.

    I am not entirely sure what to think of Avalanche. Maybe this one is really just too progressive for me, as far as the frequent changes of pace are concerned. But then again, it does not sound particularly complex on the melodic plane. As for now it is a 6/10 with potential for +1.

    The regular part of the album is concluded by a track which divides the minds: Serenade of Self-Destruction. It starts off in a very traditional (for Epica) fashion (1:17-1:37 could just as well be a choir in Consign to Oblivion), then goes borderline atonal between 1:39 and 2:00 (the riffs actually remind me more of Portal 2 background music than of anything I have heard in metal). After a second repetition of the same pattern, the track starts resembling more of a background soundtrack to a movie or a video game than an actual song. It is enlightening to compare the correct version of the track with the vocal-less one that Nuclear Blast originally pressed on their CDs. The difference is not that great! The vocal lines more often than not follow the leading tone of the instruments, and thus don't add much. Did Epica originally conceive this track as an instrumental with some choirs, and then tried to upgrade it to a song by adding filler vocals? I must say that the instrumental (with choirs) is not bad, though, even if it is too long for its content and does not get any better than 1:17-1:37. 6/10.

    The European bonus track Nostalgia is much like Guilty Demeanor, except even more boring. Dear world minus Europe, you are not missing out on anything. 3/10.

    Americans are getting Twin Flames (Soundtrack Version) instead. This is probably the first ever Epica song most of which is written in major scale. It is so much of a shallow love-peace-and-harmony ballad that my first reaction was suspecting that it must be some kind of cover (particularly since the melody seemed to sound familiar). Sadly, it is not. I guess I can understand why this was chosen as an American bonus track, since symphonic metal is not that much about philosophy, melancholy and struggle in the USA as it is in Europe. (These are some heavy clichées I am referring to -- both about metal and about the USA --, but they are backed by my personal experience. Metal is considered much less as entertainment and much more as a philosophy of life in Europe. Anyway, I was talking about Epica.) This aside, the song is rather generic. 3/10

    This is TL;DR already, but let me finally drop some words on the lyrics. There is a pleasant surprise in there: Roughly half of them are written by Simone and are indeed reasonable lyrics for metal songs. Don't get me wrong; I have great respect for Mark writing songs about things that noone else in music dared to even think about (and his stellar musical abilities made me look past the awkward lyrics anyway). But it was time that he was succeeded by somebody with better poetic skills, to say the least. This somebody has been found, and in defiance of all the clichées about lead singers with big tits, this somebody is Simone. Chapeau!