ALBUM REVIEW: EPICA’s “Holographic Principle” is Simply Perfect

I’ve said time and time again since I got into this business that I love female-fronted metal/rock/whatever, and EPICA is certainly no exception. I remember very well the first time I ever heard EPICA mentioned – it was my birthday in 2012, and I was getting off the subway to go see another Nuclear Blast artist, Nightwish at The Beacon Theater here in New York. The couple I was talking to mentioned EPICA and very flatly told me that if I like Nightwish, I should definitely check out EPICA because Simone Simons has an amazing voice. So I did, and those random strangers on the street could not have been any more correct. It took me a while to really get heavily into them, and covering them back in January (which you can read about here) certainly helped – seeing a band live for the first time usually goes a long way when they put on a show of such high quality – and I’ve been in love with the band ever since that night last winter.

Fast forward some 8 months and the Dutch symphonic metallers have released their 7th studio album, The Holographic Principle, which came out on September 30th. We received the album a few days late, so we’re a little late with our review, but we promise it’s worth the wait. The Holographic Principle is based on the idea that the universe is a digitally generated hologram, which is an interesting concept especially considering actual people have been digitally generated holograms in recent years – TupacRonnie James Dio – the fantasy behind the album is certainly fun to think about. (side note: can I get a hologram of Adam Yauch so I can see Beastie Boys again?) The Holographic Principle opens with the nearly 3 minute instrumental track Eidola, which was written by founder/guitarist/growler Mark Jansen and arranged by both him and the band’s keyboardist Coen Janssen, a track that segues nicely into the album’s first offering, Edge of the Blade. The first thing you notice on Edge of the Blade is that not much has changed in the 2 years since EPICA released The Quantum Enigma, and yet the opening track gives you a different vibe than past albums. The sound is there, the vocals are on point, but Edge sets the tone and tells you this effort is going to be a little different than past albums.

Indeed, the premise alone makes the album feel like something I’ve become accustomed to hearing from Nightwish – music and lyrics based on pure fantasy – rather than what I’ve been hearing from EPICA the past few years, but it absolutely works very well. It seems obvious that EPICA’s goal here was to create an album that could further push the limits of what they’re capable of, much in the way The Quantum Enigma felt like the band had reached its peak. That wasn’t good enough as the band set out to beat what many would argue was their best album and put out something even better in The Holographic Principle.

And EPICA has done just that with, with tracks like the nearly 8-minute Divide And Conquer, which features Mark Jansen’s growling vocals more prominently and offers a huge contrast to the chorus, highlighted by Simone’s operatic vocals that are second to none. And that isn’t even the album’s longest offering. That honor goes to the album’s title track – The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality. The 11-and-a-half minute masterpiece begins with male vocals that sound like something out of an opera, in a language other than English (I really wish I knew what was being said) before going into Mark Jansen’s growlies for a brief moment when Simone’s voice finally greets us around the 3 minute mark. I could talk about this song forever, but there are other tracks on the album, after all.

In fact, there are 8 more that I haven’t touched on. I won’t go over all of them, but I will say that Once Upon a Nightmare is by far my favorite offering. The orchestral instrumental at the opening is masterfully done and really leads you into what’s to come, which is a track that really showcases Simone’s voice well. It’s a very mellow track for a symphonic metal band, but I do love when symphonic metal bands slow down and do something different, especially when it just works like it does here. What’s more is it picks up the pace a little around 4 1/2 minutes – the track clocks in at 7:08, making it the third-longest on the album – making it long to listen to, but like the two longest tracks, worth every second.

Each and every track on the The Holographic Principle serves to tell a different piece of a story, weaving together the idea that the world is just one giant hologram. From A Phantasmic Parade and Universal Death Squad to Beyond The MatrixThe Cosmic Algorithm and Dancing In A Hurricane (which I can literally do at the moment – we’re getting the winds from the tail end of Hurricane Matthew here in NYC as I write this), you feel as if you’re being read a story based on the band’s own imagination. It works very well, as the album as a whole has quickly become a staple in my playlist.

I’ve listened to The Holographic Principle 3 or 4 times over since we received it here at Soundboard Magazine, and about 3/4 of the way through the second listen, I had an epiphany. EPICA’s new album sounds like Nightwish and Lacuna Coil had a love child, and that’s an amazing thought. If you know me, you know just how much I love Nightwish, and Lacuna Coil is right up there too, so realizing The Holographic Principle sounds like a mashup of those two bands, but better, is simply perfection. Design Your Universe was my favorite EPICA album – Quantum Enigma was a good album, but I’ve always enjoyed Design Your Universe – but now, The Holographic Principle has secured its place as my favorite EPICA album.

With stellar music and Simone’s always incredible vocals contrasted by Mark Jansen’s growlies – something I normally don’t care for but work very well for EPICA – The Holographic Principle has instantly become EPICA’s best album in their 13-year history. It’s hard to believe they’ve only been a band for 13 years. 14 if you count their time as Sahara Dust way back in 2002, but The Holographic Principle proves once again that EPICA  is a true metal powerhouse and the best thing to come out of Mark Jansen’s departure from After Forever. Even if I do love Floor Jansen in Nightwish.

Track list:

01. Eidola
02. Edge Of The Blade
03. A Phantasmic Parade
04. Universal Death Squad
05. Divide And Conquer
06. Beyond The Matrix
07. Once Upon A Nightmare
08. The Cosmic Algorithm
09. Ascension – Dream State Armageddon
10. Dancing In A Hurricane
11. Tear Down Your Walls
12. The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding Of Reality