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Systems Go - 95%

Larry6990, September 14th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Chaos Reigns (Japan)

Who could wish for more from an EP than six brand new tracks? Not just new material, but of such a standard that they might as well be included on a full-length album. For those who like the idea of enjoying Epica's brand of ultra-heavy symphonic metal but find their LPs to be an enormous slog - may I present to you The Solace System: the perfect way of sampling what the Dutch masters are all about, without being overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of ideas presented on a studio album. It follows the direction taken since the line up stabilized around 2013: more intricate orchestrations; heavier riffs; more harsh vocals; and an ever-improving production quality.

Everything on offer here is between three and 6 minutes long, making it easily accessible for any eager fan of the genre. However, let that not lull you into a false sense of security. Direct and focused though these songs may be, they still contain plenty of twists and turns performed in that noble way only Epica can pull off. Fourth track "Wheel Of Destiny" is exemplary in this respect - pushing the tempo up to almost thrash standards for its main riff, but familiarizing us with its hooky mid-tempo chorus and spaghetti-like middle section. Simone's voice seems to age like a fine wine, becoming increasingly angelic no matter how aggressive the accompaniment. Be it the vicious riffs of the title-track, or the remarkably delicate air of "Immortal Melancholy", her parts always shine brightly - reminding us of just how much talent lies right under our noses.

Mark Jansen's growls also deserve much praise. Despite being very hit-and-miss live, on disc he's always brutally wholesome, providing the yang to Simone's yin in rapid-fire numbers like "Fight Your Demons". Listen to him in the middle section of closer "Decoded Poetry"; given that this segment directly precedes a lush orchestral arrangement, it's all the more effective. It's definitely the opening half of the EP that strikes with most impact, taking more accessible structures and beefing them up with seriously groovy riffage and colossal choirs. But only a fool would lose interest before getting to the awesomely varied closing track. With its melodic hooks, choral interplay, blast beats and sense of dramatic climax - "Decoded Poetry" is the one track I wish could've made it onto The Holographic Principle.

Their tenth year with Nuclear Blast proves Epica to be on a winning streak. This wasn't a throwaway EP full of b-sides and useless rarities that only die-hards give a shit about. This was a way of saying 'bear with us whilst we work out how awesome our next album is going to be. In the meantime, here's a little bit of said awesome stuff'. I understand if the casual metalhead would ignore EPs for being less momentous, but The Solace System is half an hour of well-written, perfectly executed and thoughtful symphonic metal that is more than worth your money. If you find yourself lost in the ridiculous scope of their lyrical content, just lie back and absorb some true musicality from the Netherland's finest.