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Epica - The Holographic Principle

Epica - CD Review
The Holographic Principle

Epica - The Holographic Principle


CD Info
Nuclear Blast Records
English lyrics
12 tracks
Release date, 30 September 2016
10 / 10



Sonic Cathedral’s review of Epica’s previous album, The Quantum Enigma, wondered: “The Quantum Enigma leaves metal audiences debating the most important question: How much more complex and different can metal music, or really, Epica’s music become at this point?” The answer is simple: The Holographic Principle.

Before I started to write the review of The Holographic Principle, I checked what Wikipedia had to say about the underlying holographic principle. Here I found: “The holographic principle is a property of string theories and a supposed property of quantum gravity that states that the description of a volume of space can be thought of as encoded on a lower-dimensional boundary to the region—preferably a light-like boundary like a gravitational horizon.”. It sounds complicated, but there is a reference to Quantum Mechanics. Looking for a simpler definition, I came across the following: “When Stephen Hawking elegantly described the relationship of quantum mechanics with black holes, he inadvertently opened the door to a radical possibility: that our universe, as we know it, is like a hologram.”

Adding this all up, the album is clearly an evolution of Epica’s complex musical principles and the complex quantum mechanics. These themes have evolved from the epic A New Age Dawns, with highlights “Design Your Universe” (off Design Your Universe), “Serenade of Self-Destruction” (off Requiem for the Indifferent) to The Quantum Enigma. In some respects, you can see The Holographic Principle as The Quantum Enigma 2.0. There are also a lot of musical references to previous songs in this album’s tracks. However, the album is definitely not a copy or a reprise release. It’s unique in its own right, and at the same time, a next level. The Epica signature is so obvious, but nevertheless the sound is so specific, that the only one who can copy Epica is Epica. With that, they rank among with the biggest bands.

Very relevant to the next level is the level of detail the album reaches. Cleary, a lot of effort was needed to get to this … but that’s too easy. It also requires the ability to not get lost in those details. And Epica managed everything extremely well. The Holographic Principle is easier to “digest” for those who are familiar with The Quantum Enigma, but fans clearly will enjoy the new surprises they will encounter when listening the album, a next and a next time. For those who are new to Epica, prepare yourself to enjoy the pleasure of a musical expedition in the new Epica world called The Holographic Principle!

The Holographic Principle, Epica’s seventh studio album, opens with a standard instrumental overture. This introduction sounds boring, but the song “Eidola” is an amazing piece of music that immediately indicates the high standard of this rich symphonic metal album. The opening theme is cinematographic, and when it moves into an elegant Epica choir mode, you already could hear tiny nuances of small percussion, flute and later brass arrangements. The transition to a more bombastic choir reveals more nuances than you can write down. Towards the end, the opening theme reappears, first at a lower layer and then finishes at full level.

The first vocal track, “Edge of the Blade”, has kind of a similar atmosphere as “The Second Stone” (off The Quantum Enigma), starting with the heavy Epica riffs. After the choir, Simone Simons takes the lead. Her clear vocals reach from mid-high to the high end. The layer with heavy riffs underneath seems to be in contradiction with the vocals, but it fits naturally, so well that it’s balanced. After the chorus with key words “Time to breakthrough” follows a slower fragile intermezzo with a lot of details. Mark takes over starting with a grunting “watch your back”. I would love to go more in details about the lyrics, but they were not provided with the demo. And based on past experience, the lyrics are quite hard to capture solely from listening, so I will keep it to some easy-to-catch phrases that I assume to represent elements of the lyrics. Anyway, Simone takes over again with the chorus, and after that, the choir gets in a little later. The guitars take over to close the song.

“A Phantasmic Parade” opens with a subtle theme that’s taken over very quickly by the guitars, but it stays underneath. Simone opens with “Millions of pictures in my mind, that travel with the speed of light”. The pace is not that fast, and the singing of Simone and later the choir is nicely aligned. The break by the instrumentalists increases the pace and power. Bombastic orchestration is taken over by grunts and then back, all before the choir and Simone returns. Like all the other songs there are many layers and even more details to discover. It’s easier to listen than to describe.

The next song is “Universal Death Squad”. This is a longer song (6:36) but Epica chose to release it as a lyric video. Although I was not aware of this when I got the album some weeks ago, it was clear that this would be the first song Epica revealed to fans. Because it is already public, there is no need to go into details. The song provides all the elements that make it a typical Epica song, but at the same time it’s one of the most accessible ones.

“Divide and Conquer” is a little longer still. The intro can be used almost without any enhancements for a news program or action movie. In the theme, there are clear references to an older Epica song, not copied but integrated. The vocals start with the choir and then are taken over by a kind of duet of clean vocals and grunts. The guitar riffs, orchestration and vocals are layers on top of the strong drum themes that are the base of the song. The instrumental break starts with heavy riffs with occasionally supporting grunts, before going into strong orchestration with again references to another Epica song. Strong bass lines support the orchestration that is followed by a textual sample that is used more often by Epica. The opening theme returns during the sample in the orchestration and is completed by the choir. The key words in the chorus are “responsible” and “accountable”. The lyrics of Epica are used as a clear message to the listener.

The following song, “Beyond the Matrix”, opens as a classic power metal song. Of course with an Epica flavor. The Simone’s vocals are supported by dominant bass lines that almost seem to be bass solos; nevertheless, they do not overpower the vocals. The supporting layers are provided by guitars and orchestration. Towards the power metal choir parts pounding drums get in. The break starts with softer vocals of Simone creating a more ambient atmosphere, but the harsh grunts and heavy guitars and orchestration change that quickly. A great guitar solo is the bridge to the closing choir.

The seventh song “Once Upon a Nightmare” opens with a long cinematographic intro that easily would fit to an epic series. Simone’s vocal is in sync with the emotional atmosphere of the last part of the intro. The beautiful singing supported by subtle male and female vocals and piano. The piano theme is very minimal but strong. The ballad moves into a choir part with a little heavier orchestration and vocals. A small ballad referring part is the start for a closing choir part where the piano then finally closes the song. The structure of this song is so well-balanced and the multiple layers are so well balanced. An amazing song!

Now it’s time for one of the shorter songs, “The Cosmic Algorithm”. There is no real into, immediately to the action. Strong choir mixed with heavy riffs. Ready to head bang on pounding drums. In this song so many things are happening. Nice details, references to previous songs, clean vocals mixed the choir and/or grunts, guitar solo. It seems too much to handle in such a short time. It’s all of Epica within 5 minutes.

An intriguing intro with vocals of Simone interrupted by heave riffs opens “Ascension - Dream State Armageddon”. Pounding drums and bombastic orchestration take over, and the grunts are to be expected. Choir, Simone and Mark fill in the vocal lines until the bombastic break with screams and grunts. In there is a textual break: “Nothing appears to be what it really is, as we believe in the illusions, free yourself from walking in circles, this will be the end of the world as we …” (Armageddon). Then it goes into the chorus with clean vocals bringing a positive message that I can’t recall literally most likely referring to the Ascension. The closing it goes directly into a song with an Oriental (percussion) intro, “Dancing in a Hurricane”.

The sitar that joins in brings back memories of Mark’s time with After Forever and the first Epica album The Phantom Agony. Simone’s vocals synchronize with the rhythm of the percussion and then with the theme continuing she is changing pace. Everything is supported with subtle, in-sync orchestration. Initially, my thought was “this song is great but not consistent with the others.” OK, towards the middle of the song it gets better. After a little more listening, my opinion changed. It definitely is part of the whole. As I mentioned, in the middle of the song it moves to a more known Epica style, up-tempo with a choir and additional vocals by Simone. An impressive brass arrangement brings the song in the heavy mode; pounding drums, heavy riffs, grunts and choir. The same brass theme brings back the initial part before picking up the more heavy choir part.

“Tear Down Your Walls” is the second-to-the-last song. The “fantasy” intro sets your expectations into a certain direction. However, when the intro is done, the song goes into an almost classic (death) metal direction. The wall has to come down. This time, grunts open the vocal lines. Incoming orchestration prepares the way for the choir and Simone. The metal theme is not far away, and returns quickly. An unexpected break in the second part brings back very shortly the intro atmosphere, but then it’s back to the heavy stuff. I assume this track will be a great one live.

The closing song is a double-length one and also the title track “The Holographic Principle - A Profound Understanding of Reality”. This track is likely to become a classic. It’s almost impossible to describe the piece of music. The intro with orchestration, piano and choir closes with a short but very nice guitar solo. Grunts open the vocal lines with riffs and pounding drums. The choir gets in to give to the ballad-type vocal of Simone to go back to the heavier stuff. And so on … A Grande Overture, covering earlier-used themes and themes of older songs. I love this mix of all kind of styles; ballad, symphonic, bombastic, death and even some “circus” metal.

Whatever you think of Epica, they create a unique musical experience. This album is for sure the next level. On the other hand, it’s still the same Epica as the one from the first album. It’s great to hear that they didn’t forget their roots. I know I am starting to repeat myself, but Epica managed to balance their multi-layered music in a way that is not over the top. Instead of becoming a cacophony, it adds dimensions where you always will find new surprises. It will never become boring.

I’m really looking forward to Epic Metal Fest on 1 October to hear the album live. For me, there is no doubt that it will be a blast!