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An indulgence of your ears and emotions - 80%

TrooperOfSteel, July 29th, 2011

The Netherlands native symphonic metal band, Epica, have returned after 2 years to bring us their 3rd full-length release, entitled ‘The divine conspiracy’. After hearing and enjoying their previous 2 CDs, I was eagerly awaiting their latest effort. And after listening to it I must say to you all, that you will need to be prepared for an absolute onslaught of dark symphonic speed metal to its highest degree.

Epica have completely pulled out all the stops on this CD. It is their most epic, speedy and emotionally charged bombastic effort of all their releases; and the most epic symphonic speed metal CD I have heard, possibly ever. All the tracks on the CD are just so emotional, whether it be the fast, epic and bombastic numbers or the soulful ballads. There are a lot of emotions thrown around during this CD, ranging from sadness, to anger, desperation and hope. But there is one major emotion which fuels this heavy release and that is, Epica is angry. They have a point to prove and boy, did they get my attention.

Accompanying the twin guitar attacks, heavy bass and the super fast double bass pummelling, are choirs and lots of them. Also there is an orchestra so epic, that it could feature on any ‘Lord of the rings’ type movie score. There is so much going on and so much to take in during all the tracks, that you just don’t get much time to digest it all, you just have to sit there and let it hit you over and over again.

Simone Simons’ vocals are quite outstanding on ‘The divine conspiracy’, as her unique vocals add further emotion to each track. I also must say that there are a lot of death metal passages, both musically and vocally, during the majority of the tracks on the CD. Mark Jansen does have a large roll in the vocal duties department; his rough and gruff vocals appear in almost every track, as well as death metal screams and wails in some of the tracks.

Epica lays it all out on the line of what to expect from the rest of the CD, with their 7-minute opener (after an intro build up), called “The obsessive devotion”. The song is one of the heaviest on the CD, and one of the most epic and bombastic also. The opener took me by complete surprise and blew me away at the same time. Epica have really improved since ‘Consign to oblivion’, particularly with their songwriting and creativity. There is not one dull or boring moment throughout this release, it is just “full on” the whole way through.

The 2nd track, “Menace of vanity”, is also very fast, epic and emotional; with an angry vibe all the way through it. The vocals are split down the middle with Simons’ soulful voice and Jensen’s death metal screams, and is another highlight on the CD. “Chasing the dragon” is, in my opinion, one of the best tracks on the CD. It starts out very slow and sombre, with Simons singing over acoustic guitars and keyboards. Soon enough, an orchestra can be heard, as well as the drums. But suddenly, the direction changes completely and the song becomes heavier and darker and gallops along to a supreme climax at the end. Just a fantastic song.

The 2nd best track on the CD would be “Sancta terra”, which is a little slower than the other songs, but it is quite heavy and uses a lot of down-tuned guitars, and heavy bass guitar. It has a very catchy and epic chorus; and Simons’ vocals are just brilliant on this track. Other song highlights on ‘The divine conspiracy’ include the 8-minute “Fools of damnation” and the final track which is also the title track, the 13-minute monster; “The divine conspiracy”.

All of the tracks on ‘The divine conspiracy’ are very good, particularly the ones I have mentioned. But with a couple of them, such as “Death of a dream”, they have so much going on during the song, that it is difficult to process and digest. It’s like they have gone a little over the top, with a heap of things coming at you from every angle the whole way through. It may be a small gripe, but it can stop someone from completely enjoying the song.

With all that said, I must say that ‘The divine conspiracy’ is Epica’s opus and by far their best release of the 3. There are a lot of different metal genres used throughout the CD, so it will appeal to quite a lot of people. Anyone who is a fan of symphonic metal, speed metal, dark gothic metal, epic power metal or even death/black metal; you will enjoy this CD.

Epica have certainly raised the bar in the symphonic metal genre, as well as taking speed metal and power metal with them. This is indeed an excellent CD and a complete indulgence of your ears and emotions. Great effort!

Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com

The Sinful Sale - 23%

The_Twisted_Mage, July 8th, 2011

In the present, many bands confirm that Nightwish served as an inspiration for them. And soon there were plenty of female fronted metal bands playing power metal almost everywhere. However, in 2003, Epica comes into play with some kind of original stuf: symphonic/gothic metal instead of regular power metal. After an entire original route, they release The Divine Conspiracy, a symphonic power metal album.

The mainstream single Never Enough is their worst effort ever. It is pretty catchy and predictable, just turning Epica into a popish metal band. Indeed, the great majority of the album is also catchy. Examples of this are The Obsessive Devotion and Menace of Vanity, both starting with loops of strings and having boring choir parts. Chasing The Dragon also known as The New Run for a Fall, is too repetitive during 5 of its almost 8 minutes, having some fun during the climax and then getting repetitive again. The other ballad Safeguard to Paradise, although a piano driven song, has some adornments which prevents it from boredom.

The last three parts of The Embrace That Smothers have a more distinct production. They are indeed more guitar oriented and have oriental melodies. However, these tracks are not that exciting. Beyond Belief has a guitar solo, despite not sounding like anything special, it just comes out of nowhere, not fitting in the whole song at all.

The Divine Conspiracy track has an intro and an outro (which resembles a mix of the titanic and X-men main theme) just to be a track with longer duration. Furthermore, on the other albums, the longest track had always an organized structure. It happens again, but this time, the chorus of the first part returns in the third flanking the middle part which could be promising if not for the boring repetition. In conclusion, this track is full of repetitive and expendable stuff just to be longer.

The good elements of this album are: Indigo, the intro, having an almost sad melody driven by strings and choir; La'fetach chataz rovetz, (another) intro for the three parts of The Embrace That Smothers, a folkish epic instrumental track and; Sancta Terra which is good mostly because of the idea of splitting the male and female choirs alternating them making a good combination with the whole song.

So, The Divine Conspiracy is almost predictable, and only three songs are worthy of your time. It comprises catchy melodies, mostly strings melodies. Simone’s voice is usually too high pitched while Marks grunts are empty of emotion and the worst performed to this date. Arien is a good drummer but the blast beats got kind of boring. The guitar riffs sound the same as ever, except for the solo which is not that good.

Main conclusion: no originality, just the same as other melodic/power metal female fronted bands. At the third album they sold themselves…

Emphasis on the word "Divine". - 95%

hells_unicorn, May 27th, 2011

For the connoisseur of metallic modernity, the expansion and hybridization of various subgenres tends to be an enthralling eventuality. But for most who simply like their metal epic and heavy in the old school approach of Manowar, there are actually a few bands that have created an interesting niche between the darker worlds of death and thrash metal and the lighter one of symphonic power metal. While perhaps not the most original act to follow this approach, Epica proved to be among the more consistent with a respectable pair of albums that followed the same general formula as guitarist/songwriter Mark Jansen’s work with After Forever. But while the obvious commonalities with bands such as Battlelore, Rhapsody Of Fire and Nightwish gave these albums a predictable musical flavor, the strength of the songwriting at play make Epica stand out nonetheless.

This strength in composition where catchiness meets complexity comes to a head in Epica’s third full length installment “The Divine Conspiracy”. The length and pomp of “The Phantom Agony” has been merged with an equally present desire for brevity as heard on “Consign To Oblivion”, resulting in a perfect middle ground between the two, while the greatest strengths of the band are emphasized. While instrumentally fairly complex, this is a band that relies much more heavily on atmosphere and percussive riff work than overt flash, and also puts a good deal of focus on the vocal work. Simone Simmons is often compared to Tarja given she has that same mezzo soprano range and a strong operatic vocal presence, but her approach is much less prima donna-like, and carries a soft, angelic elegance that perfectly plays off of Jansen’s garbled mutterings and blackened barks.

As a whole, this album comes dangerously close to Rhapsody Of Fire territory, putting slightly more emphasis on speed and majestic melodies. The overture “Indigo” kicks things off on a very dramatic note, though more in an atmospheric way that is more indicative of recent practices of symphonic bands rather than the bouncy, baroque-like character of “The Emerald Sword Saga”. With the entrance of “The Obsessive Devotion”, the familiar blend of Kamelot informed Middle Eastern themes with an even more overt orchestral backdrop and that galloping, muddy guitar tone that sounds half like Iced Earth, half Hamka. But the sound and approach is much more refined, as if upping the octane level from 89 to 91, and what unravels is a larger than life anthem with plenty of musical and vocal interchanges that runs over 7 minutes, yet can’t help but entice one into repeated listening. “Menace Of Vanity” takes things in a faster, shorter, and more aggressive direction, almost like a reference to “Power Of The Dragonflame” after a dose of “Unearth”; complete with a Jon Schaeffer meets Luca Turilli riff set that goes from good to better with each passing moment.

Alongside the mixture of long and short exercises in musically depicting a war torn battlefield is a clear and concerted effort at avoiding redundancy, resulting in some interesting asides into their side order of gothic influences. “Chasing The Dragon” shows a much more restrained take on Simone’s vocal chops that is more serene and enticing than overtly extravagant, sounding more akin to Sharon Den Adel, and touts a folksy acoustic session that really shifts the mood relatively early in the game, though like any great metal ballad it doesn’t stay quiet and erupts into yet another celebration of speeding brilliance with a hint of Cradle Of Filth insanity before closing out. “Never Enough” goes into an all out gothic stint at mid-tempo, featuring a vocal line that is heavily reminiscent of a couple of songs put out by Within Temptation and Evanescence at around this time. Rounding out the exercises in multifaceted greatness is a 3rd set of installments from the “The Embrace That Smothers” series that began during Jansen’s time in After Forever, all playing off the same winning formula of symphonic and extreme metal influences in an epic package, and an astoundingly catchy yet longwinded conclusion to the album in “The Divine Conspiracy”, among the greater songs I’ve heard in this style to break the 10 minute mark.

If there is one album that demands to be obtained by this fine collection of Dutch musicians, this is the one to get. Of all their respective releases, this is the one that rivals most of the work put out by the big names in this style, and would even go so far as to outclass most of Kamelot’s work. This is the kind of album that Nightwish should still be putting out had they not been seduced by the mainstream bug and then kicked out the most vital contributor to their sound. But whether this is seen as a great stand alone album by a young band or yet another in a succession of classics by a style that has been around for the better part of 15 years, the words great and classic are a given.

A Tale Woth Hearing Again and Again - 97%

Khull, January 10th, 2009

Authentic Latin choirs, a real symphony, and sweeping melodies. Beginning with a rather ambient feel that lasts throughout, more instruments are introduced in a slow but steady fashion until the choirs fire up in the final thirty seconds; culminating to an all time high in intensity. The two minutes of Indigo is an introduction Epica fans have come to expect, yet neither the introduction on A Phantom Agony nor Cosign to Oblivion truly established what Indigo does on The Divine Conspiracy; that is, a precursor who matches composition perfectly with the style of the entire album, and not a frilly, pointless piece to tack on at the beginning. A track that calmly states “Welcome, now sit back and willingly forfeit yourself to us for the next hour.”

This is Epica, yet another female fronted symphonic power/gothic outfit offered by the Netherlands. Originally formed and influenced by America's Kamelot, they have since carved their own niche in the genre, emphasizing the word symphonic significantly more so than their surrounding bands. After all, employing the services of a professional orchestra is not a task these other bands would go the extra mile to do, instead utilizing an extensive mix of synths and keyboards in order to induce a quasi-orchestral soundscape. Had Epica decided to pursue that route, this album would've lost nearly all of it's beauty; orchestra driven songs such as Indigo, La'petach Chatat Rovetz ~The Final Embrace, and The Divine Conspiracy would lose virtually all of their appeal factor and grandeur.

Of course, Epica aren't all about sweeping orchestras or choirs; they certainly wouldn't be metal if that were true. The more conventional instruments play equally important roles in The Divine Conspiracy.. The two guitarists, Mark Jansen and Ad Sluijter, incorporate a style and sound quite different than the usual; quick, heavy, and low pitched strumming with a certain roundness to it, hovering constantly between skillfully simple and slightly technical, and contrasting well with the orchestra. Menace of Vanity has the two men playing at a pace and tone reminiscent of black metal, and can be found again during sections of Chasing the Dragon, Death of a Dream, and the title track. Beyond Belief features a particularly awesome-but-short solo showing a bit more in the way of technicality. On the reverse side, they're both drowned out occasionally by either Simone's vocals or the bombastic orchestra; however, this is only limited to sections of Beyond Belief and Fools of Damnation. Also, as one would expect with symphonic power/gothic, there's not much in the way of headbanging riffs.

In addition to being one of the guitarists, Mark Jansen is in charge of the harsh vocals on the album, which are found in every track but Indigo, La'petach Chatat Rovetz ~The Final Embrace, Safeguard to Paradise, and Sancta Terra . They appear most often as a line or two before choruses, like on Never Enough, or as a couple lines acting as their own, small section, such as Chasing the Dragon or Beyond Belief, and alternate between low gutturals or extremely high shrieks multiple times on each song. His growling isn't outstanding; in fact, it lacks any special quality to it at all, yet it fits the context of the music well enough. When juxtaposed with Sander Gommans from After Forever on the song Death of a Dream, it becomes painfully obvious which of the two growlers is superior.

Ariën Van Weesenbeek's drums also have a very solid and real sound, and he wields them adeptly throughout the album, utilizing cymbals, snares, and bass as needed . Sometimes heard as a vicious double bass attack, such as Menace of Vanity or Death of a Dream, and other times carrying a decent and mellow beat, as on Sancta Terra and Never Enough. Similar to the two guitarists in situation, the drums tend to mesh with everything else, although not to the point of being indiscernible.

Keys and bass, done by Coen Janssen and Yves Hunts respectively, take the exact same hits. Their issue is that they're simply out played by the opposing instruments. It tends to be difficult to tell where the orchestra ends and the keys begin, and often you'll find yourself wondering whether or not they're actually playing anything beyond the technical bits. That piano on Safeguard to Paradise is just that; whereas I originally believed it to be a keyboard doing that. Bass is the same, only they're trying to compete to be heard over the guitars. They're definitely audible during the slower sections of each song, but don't expect to hear them over the hyper-fast strumming on Menace of Vanity.

Simone Simons vocals are truly something to behold when they arrive, and she's improved greatly since Cosign to Oblivion. Her mezzo soprano style of singing is still consistent and quite clear, but there's far more force and presence in her voice now than before. She also hits a wider range of notes compared to Epica's earlier works. The Obsessive Devotion, Never Enough, and Fools of Damnation have her singing in a rougher way with less soar and pitch and more realistic tone and force, and for those craving her more quasi-operatic tone, Chasing the Dragon, Beyond Belief, Safeguard to Paradise, and the title track offer just that. My personal favorite is the style she uses on Death of a Dream and Sancta Terra; how it smoothly combines the above two examples, alternating perfectly between the verses and choruses.

2007 was a fantastic year for symphonic metal, and The Divine Conspiracy emerges on top. Standout songs include Chasing the Dragon and the title track, although each track is still exceptionally good. This is an album masterfully composed and beautifully woven together, despite the minor issues with instrumental presence and growling, to create an amazing concept album of religion and time, and an effort well worth your time and money. Epica is performing at their finest, and their music here reaches for nothing short infinity itself. My only concern is that this might be their creative peak; this will not be an easy album to surpass by any means.

Like Nightwish before the mallcore - 50%

Zombie_Quixote, June 10th, 2008

I'm not quite ready to buy into this band yet. I love Kamelot and this band at times resonates that sound. Yet mostly they sound like a combination between early Nightwish and Battlelore.

This might not be such a bad thing. Nightwish had its moments before the advent of chugging, mallcore breakdowns infected their music like a plague. And Battlelore, well, I never really liked Battlelore, but I always thought that the one harsh, one clean vocalist, could be done well if done properly.

Which, unfortunately, very few bands are able to do, though not for a lack of trying. The trap they so oft fall into, and Epica is no exception, is that their vocal lines become predictable. It's almost become like clockwork, you can nearly time when the harsh vocals are about to kick in or when they are about to fade into clean vocals. Furthermore, it seems that many bands incorporate growls for the sake of incorporating growls. Such is the case with Epica. Their growler, Mark Jansen, is boring. He's unenthusiastic and stagnant. You kind of get the feeling he's struggling with the vocal style as though he'd prefer to just belt things out in an Anselmo (Pantera) impression. I never once got the feeling that he was into the vocals as I do so often while listening to Lord Worm or Mikael Stanne.

Simone Simmons is clearly much more enthused to be singing. She sings with operatic flair which sometimes is her downfall. Her vocal lines are often beautiful, true, but at times they seem like she's simply trying to exhibit her range rather than hook you in with a good vocal line which, really, is what power metal, or even symphonic metal, should be about. Tarja Turnen often fell into that same trap, and we forgave her for it for a while.

Which brings us to the music which is the true folly of Epica. I'm tired of symphonic metal that thinks if they steal a few tricks from Wagner and John Williams they should be dubbed symphonic when so often they come off sounding like a Disney sountrack with guitars. I'm tired of bands that "blur the lines" between symphony and goth. It's not revolutionary or even interesting. It's boring. Many doom bands- My Dying Bride, Evoken, and Pantheist to name a few- have learned how to include classical nuances with subtlety, and subtlety is really the key. For a power metal outfit, Blind Guardian did it the right way with A Night At the Opera, and sure it took them four years, but the finished product is an album that compliments the symphonic and bombastic with the bands guitar and vocal lines.

I'm not asking this band to be Blind Guardian. I'm not even asking this band to be Rhapsody. I'm asking this band to try and they haven't shown me that they're willing to do that yet.

Makes symphonic/gothic metal look good - 98%

Sir_General_Flashman, April 14th, 2008

Symphonic/gothic metal is the bane of many a metalheads existence for several reasons, mainly that is cheap, generally lousy, and that goth girls run to it because it's "so much like them". There are exceptions to that rule, however, and Epica is one of them.

Epica has the same line up as most other bands in this genre and employs the same beauty and the beast concept of a male death metal vocalist and a female operatic vocalist. Simone Simmons is one of the best singers this genre has, employing a wide range to get the job done. She also doesn't get lost in some of the faster and more death metallish parts of the album, where many others lose it. She can also sing extremely high and low in the slower sections and steals the show. The death metal vocalist is good, but nothing special, and it's more the placement of his parts than the actual talent that make him so interesting to listen to.

The instruments of the album is the next great part of this album. Most bands in this genre don't actually use real instruments, instead depending on a keyboard to do the part of violins or horns, this makes the music seem iffy at best. Epica does not depend on a keyboard and spends the extra money to hire violinists horns and choir. The music now sounds more real and genuine.

The composition of this album is seamless. It transfers smoothly from blast beats to violin, and from guitars to horns. Usually there is a build up, starting slowly and then, all of a sudden, breaking into death grunts and shrieks. Chasing the Dragon is probably the best of all these with almost six minutes of build up, getting better and louder and then just exploding. Death of a Dream takes a different approach, beginning fast and remaining that way throughout the whole song. It is in this song that you can hear the best duet of the male and female vocalists. Several songs have Latin chanting or news clips in them. The news clips fit surprisingly well into the rest of the song. Then comes the best song, clocking in at 13:50 the Divine Conspiracy is a joy to listen to the whole way through.

So, if there is a person who only listens to crappy gothic metal, let them listen to this and show them what well made music sounds like.

Epica's 2nd symphonic storm: this time's massive! - 99%

Daniel_2007_Pendulum, February 8th, 2008

The third album from the band, "The Divine Conspiracy", is maybe the most aggressive symphonic metal album of 2007, and one of the best albums of the year of the world. Once again, Epica showed their ability to gather an orchestra, grunts and religious lyrics in one album. But this time is different: we're talking about a concept album.

For those who always expected more from Simone Simons, I think they must be finally satisfied: Simone's vocal skills are better than before ("The Phantom Agony" failed to reach vocal perfection, and "Consign To Oblivion" isn't surprising at all).

One of the things that make this album interesting is the use of trash metal influences on more than the half of the songs. Even the slow ballads of the songs have some trash-metal sounds. Grunts are also better: Mark Jansen did his best for this album, and the highly-aggressive death grunts provided by guest singer Sander Gommans (After Forever) fix perfectly on the song where they are featured (Death of a Dream).

Still talking about guest apprearances, this album includes guest vocals provided by Amanda Somerville (The Obsessive Devotion), Gialt Lucassen (Living a Lie) and Jeff Wade (Fools of Damnation). But not only guest vocals are included: the album also contains acoustic guitars provided by Olaf Reitmeier (Chasing The Dragon).

It's a little sad to announce, but the "The Embrace That Smothers" saga ends with this album, with the last three parts: VII, VIII and IX ("Death of a Dream", "Living a Lie" and "Fools of Damnation" respectively) and the epilogue, "La'petach Chatat Rovertz". These three parts are different from the other six ones because all of them include guest appearances (that I've already listed above).

Now, let's talk about the songs. Most of them are incredibly excellent, musically and lyrically. Those songs are "The Obsessive Devotion" (a 7-minute song that "introduces" the essence of the entire album), "Menace of Vanity" (one of the most involved songs with the concept of the album, it's short but aggressive), "Chasing The Dragon" (another 7-minute songs that is one of the most complex songs of the album due to its variety of sounds), "Death of a Dream" (maybe the most aggressive song of the album, it includes two types of grunts, one by Mark Jansen and the other one by Sander Gommans), "Living a Lie" (its religious atmosphere and its prayer-like latin passage make this song one of the main songs of the album), "Sancta Terra" (a relaxed melody of interesting lyrics, the only song of the album entirely written by Simone) and "The Divine Conspiracy" (the longest song of the album and of the band's history, a little tedious but excellent, unfortunadely it's not the best long song of the year).

But there are some songs that aren't as good as the ones I mentioned before. "Never Enough" (good as a single, but it gets eclipsed by the other ones), "Fools of Damnation" (it's good but it's way too long, its length is its only bad element), "Beyond Belief" (imediately after the "The Embrace That Smothers" songs, it's left behind by them) and "Safeguard To Paradise" (the slowest song of the album, I thought it would be good but it's one of the worst). The shortest songs of the album, "Indigo" and "La'petach Chatat Rovertz" can be placed in the frontier of the two lists of songs, because they aren't bad but at the same time they are not good enough.

The album includes two bonus tracks on its Digipak Edition: "Higher High" and the Fear Factory cover "Replica". The first one is a slow, beautiful song; it's a very good song (I don't know why it wasn't included instead of "Safeguard To Paradise"). The second one, I must admit it, IT SUCKS! I don't know what the band was thinking in when they decided to record it.

Conclusion: The album is an excellent album, maybe the best one Epica has ever released. The concept is original and the songs fit very well in it. It has its failures, but they are few compared to the good points.

Vintage Epica - 90%

Sue, January 29th, 2008

If you know their first two albums you know exactly what you're getting into with a third. A symphonic opening, some moments of soft melody, some moments of wild intensity, and a long closing title track. What you may not expect is the middle eastern sound, the folk style native to anywhere but Netherlands that permeates the work and gives it a unique place in the Epica discography. It's a good thing.

Having just quoted Martha Stewart in a metal review I shall attempt to redeem myself by describing the album more thoroughly: Indigo is a great prologue, it is dark, sad and gentle but as moving as the best of Epica's works, and the best of Holst's since we all know where they got the influence for this one. Obsessive Devotion continues it's mood with the loud power of Consign to Oblivion's best moments. The is more recitative here than in previous works but Simone's voice isn't hard to enjoy, talking or singing. Menace of Vanity ups the stakes and grows harder and harder with all matter of original riffs and shifts and changes, the best rough vocals the band has shown off yet, and this continues after the slower beginning of Chasing the Dragon. Never Enough is more normal, more rock than metal but I don't tent to skip the track.

Then we get the grand finale to the Embrace series, now a total of 9 songs and a couple intro tracks. It ends squarely in Arabia. I have not heard a middle eastern sound so perfectly transfered into the metal form than here, this is Epica's most original material, most ambitious concept and accomplishment, and though the last four tracks on the album (Long, long album) are some good Weberry material, they are only the declining action to the dual tracks 'Living a Lie' and 'Fools of Damnation' that make a masterful arc through the middle of the work, intertwining the ancient and the brutally modern, deep death metal conceptual frame, and ideally realized symphony that Nightwish so sadly forgot how to use when they lost their first singer.

It's all good but somehow Consign to Oblivion remains my favorite of their works. But that is a slim favorite- All three (Ignore Score, rather dull) major works by the band are masterpieces, Divine Conspiracy is certainly the most ambitious, and it does exactly what it sets out to do.

Divine but with some pointless clichés - 85%

Hiryu, November 8th, 2007

Epica - The Divine Conspiracy

Here’s the fourth album from these charismatic Dutchmen and one that was undeniably in my list of most eagerly awaited albums of the year.

This is the band’s first fully conceptual album, but all the elements that made Epica great are back with an increment in quality. Songs remain complex and overwhelming, with very characteristic instrumentals that masterfully combine metal’s symphonic edges with Power, Progressive and even Black Metal. And here we have to point out right away the great drumming by Ariën van Weesenbeek (ex-Delain, God Dethroned): diverse, imaginative and very technical, it’s a pillar of this album’s strength.
And if instrumentally we’re in a terrain that is sometimes sublime, in the vocal department, the beautiful Simone appears less stuck in her operatic side, delivering a varied and quite unbeatable performance, filled with passion and commitment. Curiously, her new approach has a lot of similarities with the one of Floor Jansen in After Forever’s latest effort and both singers deserve the highest praises, since they are in a phase where their talent is nothing short of fascinating.

As for the gutturals, although they have improved in variety, I find them anachronisms on several occasions. They work deliciously well when they contrast with Simone or blend in the songs but when, abruptly, the music changes to an orgy of typically Black Metal blastbeats to accommodate them, they simply cut the music’s flowing and ruin the atmosphere. With Simone really at an outstanding level, I don’t understand why she should lose importance to gutturals that end up contributing little to this band’s genial originality.

Also less than great is “Never Enough” that, although a good tune, is a flagrant and typical single that doesn’t fit in well with the rest of the tunes. It’s probably a nice way to attract new fans but… a too obvious one.

In the remaining album, the instrumental diversity and high technical skill make the songs the kind of music you’ll have a lot of pleasure discovering and whose richness will inevitably reveal itself to the dedicated listener, never losing its replay value. Clear highlights would be the orientalized “Fools of Damnation”, “Sancta Terra” with a superb performance from Simone, and the final “The Divine Conspiracy”, but pointing out individual songs in such an exceptional album is almost impossible.

Sascha Paeth’s genial production is the cherry on top of the cake, masterfully harmonizing the variety of influences Epica use to create their unique sound. The band has been evolving from album to album and I’d risk saying that if anyone will ever make the definitive Symphonic Metal album, it will be them. “The Divine Conspiracy” has some flaws and some compromises, but remains an extraordinary album that will make old and new fans fall in love, and one that has the potential to become a band’s reference.

Originaly for www.rockheavyloud.com

The Divine Music Experience! - 90%

Kalelfromkrypton, October 30th, 2007

We all know Epica’s skills to perform great music; their previous releases were solid efforts in many ways, and most for our musical pleasure, different between them.
So, the time has come for their 3rd. release: The Divine Conspiracy. What we get is a heavier onslaught of metal perfectly mixed with symphony elements. So is the heaviness that sometimes it reaches the boundaries of black metal elements.

The emphasis this time goes on the powerful drumming (their first drummer is gone) so I guess this guy is much much more metal focused. Second aspect is the vocals of Simone Simons; she is not longer the power of the record. Indeed she hits some really high tones and they are very cool, however, she goes more into the background due to the powerful guitar and drumming section that comes straight.

More guttural chords, more complexity in the composition and songs structure is what this has to offer. I just purchased the digibook edition with the bonus cd including video clips and with these I think they are trying to reach new markets, since the singles are really cool for commercial purposes, which is ok, the clip is cool anyway.

So, with the 3rd release Epica is evolving by pounds and tons and for good, although we get the same cd structure (symphonic intro, 2 killer pieces, the mandatory ballad and an epic super long song at the end) this metal feast will please most fans because of the heaviness, for those who expect more classical vocals they will be disappointed, because Simone is barely the focal point of the cd but the overall top production, more diverse lyrics and more focus on the power of the guitars and drums. If you like this kind of music and these bands go ahead and but it, this guys are going to be around for a while, so give yourself the chance to get this cd and enjoy it!