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Full concert DVDs are everywhere. Some of them are really great and some of them are utter shit. When I say utter shit I refer to Cinderella’s ‘In concert’ mainly because the first camera is pointed at Tom Keifer almost the entire concert so you cannot appreciate the rest of the band. That is awful, not even in the solos you can see Jeff LaBar. So with Epica we get not a concert but a full studio recording of The Phantom Agony.
I must say this is really pleasant since rarely you see this kind of quality in a DVD. Certainly the cameras are well placed and the dynamics are quite interesting since you get a chance to see every single musician from cool angles and you get the chance to enjoy all the instruments.
No guy can resist Simone and her astonishing beauty. Since at this point in their career she is without any doubt the focal point of the band she gets a lot of attention. Her performance is absolute perfect and she hit the high notes perfectly plus the variations in her singing which are performed flawlessly, especially when you consider for example Sarah Brightman and that Simone is a mezzo soprano, whereas in vocal theory they have some qualities that even the sopranos cannot reach.
Now that you get the chance to actually see how the music is basically recorded and made, you realize that their music is not complex by all means. The riffs are rather simplistic and the drumming is basically very groovy, following the bass and the guitars and nothing else. The complexity comes from the classical music since composing an entire classical music piece to mix it with metal could be quite a task. At this point the bass lines are very basic as well, nothing out of the ordinary.
However, another highlight is to see the guys having fun playing the songs. They do not seem forced and that is why they have a really good time, so do we watching it. On the other hand one of the best things to watch here is the fact that being European, you see the precision in time and pace. This can be rather difficult being the mixing of classical music with metal music but they master this like if they have done it thousand times. Of course, if you are a musician you know the basics: scales, time, etc. but rarely, especially in the metal scene here in America, you get the chance to watch quality metal recorded like this.
In regards to the extras yes, they pretty much suck. The two video clips are rather silly since epic-medieval concepts are now overused and in a very mediocre way. They think that by just putting a beautiful blonde or red hair in a Notre Dame Punishment casket you have an epic video. Faint is much better although silly in the ghostly concept. I enjoy even so, what bothers me and A LOT is the metal fingers salutation with undertaker robes while they play the instruments. I mean how more stupid that can be? Anyway, as far as the interviews the ones where the comment how they got together are very interesting, especially when you listen to Simone and how she got interested in music. There are some other interviews like in a restaurant or a hotel which are quite boring and silly.
In the end, being that this was around the very first album it is really interesting and you get a chance of how their music is performed in studio in a fashion way. If you like the band this is a MUST HAVE (like me LOL!) and if you can get it just for fun it is worthy. If you absolute like pompous concerts saying Within Temptation or Nightwish this is rather amateurish but again, whoever likes Mark Jansen’s approach to music will enjoy this. So it is, 100%= +80% for the studio recording and -20% for the silly videos and boring interviews. It is a pity we never got something like this but from After Forever.
The wisdom of a band releasing a live recording after only a single studio album will always be called into question, but this '2 Meter Sessies' gig is a apparently quite prestigious over in Holland, so it's at least understandable as to why Epica didn't pass up the opportunity.
The thing that seperates this from your usual live album (or DVD) is that Epica were given the opportunity to 'recreate' the recording of their debut album by being given access to two string quartets and a full choir. This of course means the sound is much richer than it would be at a regular gig, closer to the way they intended the songs to sound without having to resort to backing tracks or extra synth parts.
The performance is divided into two parts - the first 6 songs are live versions of tracks from The Phantom Agony while the final three are acoustic versions of the album's two ballad/semi-ballad tracks and a rendition of the song Memory from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'Cats'. I know, I know, I shuddered at the prospect as well, and while it's the worst song on here, but Simone Simons' performance makes it listenable.
Oh yes, Simone. Sweet, sweet Simone. Yes gents, the young lady looks astounding throughout the recording. With that essential bit of information out of the way, I suppose we can get back to the performance.
The six regular songs are performed more or less exactly as they are in the studio. The use of strings and the choir really helps create an atmosphere - I really have no idea how this stuff would sound without them. Boring as Hell, probably. Unfortunately guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen doesn't have the luxury of multi-tracking his vocals in the live setting, and his grunts and screams sound much less impressive than on the album verisons of the songs. He still gets credit for trying though, as he obviously isn't a natural at this kind of thing and really pushes himself to get the job done.
The acoustic tracks are not perfomed by the full Epica, only Simone, second guitarist Ad Sluijter and keyboard player Coen Janssen, with assistance from two additonal vocalists, one of whom is Amanda Sommerville of Aina fame. These tracks are really a showcase for Simone's vocals, and she impresses greatly, hitting ever note perfectly. Feint is the best of these three tracks, as Run For a Fall has been edited down to remove the heavy parts and grunted vocals.
While the tracks are played well and are enjoyable to watch, 9 songs for your money seems a bit stingy, and this is where the DVD loses marks. Obviously aware of this, the band and/or producers have filled the release up with extras to compensate. We get a making of, with a series of interviews (all in Dutch) that reveal a few interesting, if unessential, bits of information about the band. Mark Jansen has plenty to say about why he wanted to form a band like Epica.
There is also a pair of music videos included on the DVD, both of which are, well, awful. The minscule budget really hinders them and they look terribly amateurish. Also included is a CD version of the nine tracks perfomed on the DVD, which is a nice extra, even if it does only serve to highlight how limited the band's catalogue is at this stage of their career. The obligatory extras of picture gallery, discography, etc, add nothing and merely serve as padding, to my mind at least.
So, a good, if somewhat limited release from Epica that was a nice way of tiding the fans over while they recorded their second album.