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Is there anything to say about Epica’s unique blend of classical music with metal that had not been pointed out already? Well, I suppose for those who know the band you will get their recordings if you liked them. If you didn’t chances are you will be criticizing them forever.
So let’s focus on their first official live album with all its opulence, shall we? This was a full scale live recording of 2 discs divided into two categories: the classical songs and the Epica’s metal songs. So what we get from the classical compositions is almost an hour of pure classical (by all means) delight, saying Spiderman’s soundtrack, Star Wars’ Imperial March, Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, plus some pieces from Vivaldi, Handel, etc. so if you are not into classical music appreciation, whether you are a metal head or not, this is definitely NOT for you. I wouldn’t have put those entirely at the beginning since it could drive away a lot of people. More likely, I’d have put them as interludes to maintain the people interested, but anyhow, I am not the producer.
To shake things a little, Ives Huts was assigned to write the metal arrangements for those classical pieces. He actually did an awesome job, considering that he auditioned for the band just as a joke (he said that in his very first interview), so he has become more and more involved with the band and I am glad. You get a lot of tempo changes and powerful arrangements that fit the music like gloves. The main thing with the metal arrangements is obviously to go-along with the classical music instead of overshadowing it or going behind it.
The first cd ends up with some of the regular tracks we have come to expect from Epica although played not so metallic and instead, they tend to soften them a little which is one of the flaws this recording has. Due to the magnificence and mood of the album, the harsh parts needed to be lightened so they do not sound out of place. It is a smart move if you are not fan of the band. If you are a fan like me, that tends to bore you a little. Nevertheless, this is done again purposely to give the atmosphere of bombastic metal music intertwined with classical music and elegance as well.
On to the songs we know there is not much to say except that for a first live album the production is exquisite and the set was carefully prepared to give the fans a lot of their entire career along with epic length songs such as The Phantom Agony and Consign to Oblivion and curiously enough, you get more songs from the first album than the second one. One of the things that disappoint me a little is Simone’s vocals (not that she is not excellent singer because she definitely IS) but the fact that she does not fully exploit her vocal range and potential makes me a little sad. I’ve always said that the true test of any band is playing live. This is where you really get to know whether a band is pure studio stunts or a true playing band and I think for some reason, listening to this, that they arrange Simone’s voice in the studio more than they should do. Indeed, in the We Will take you with us DVD you know she can sing perfectly without such amount of gimmicks so I don’t know why she does not reach the high notes, or sustain them, for that matter in this concert. On the death/black metal voice department I still think that the growling and shrieking fall short but as for the music itself I am ok since I am not a big fan of those voice styles so they don’t represent a big issue per se. The drumming part, although much better than the first drummer becomes repetitive because this guy makes the same things over and over so the songs follow the rhythm drumming parts almost identically. Of course, I am not asking for Mike Portnoy here, but the same rolls, changes and patterns tend to bore you after you figure them out and how they go.
I would again take into consideration ‘Never Enough’, being the single which I totally hate for its commercial-popish feeling except for the final note (in the studio version which is awesome) but here Simone falls short as mentioned above as far as this live version. On the other hand the interaction with the audience is little considering the length of the concert. Since there are a lot of classical musical you should maintain the interest of the people because they are mostly metal heads and not classical music lovers.
Thus, don’t get me wrong, I love the band and I actually got the deluxe version which brings some collectible cards and an awesome package and if you are a fan of the band get it, you will love it and you will be amazed for all the amazing arrangements and the atmosphere created which is very acoustic, specially crafted for this type of music. However, if you are expecting a crushing piece of metal from this band or the pinnacle of this style (saying like Within Temptation’s ‘Black Symphony’ which IS to me the best concert of this style put out) you will be disappointed. The meal is on the table my friends, serve yourself if you can swallow this magnificent but lengthy recording with patience and taste because it will take more than just one spin to completely digest.