REVIEW: EPICA’s “Principle” Tour Takes Over NYC

Dutch symhonic metallers EPICA came back to NYC for the second time in 2016, following up on their North American Enigma opening night show at Irving Plaza (review here) with a late-tour performance at Webster Hall on Friday night to promote this year’s release, The Holographic Principle. Along for the ride were The AgonistArkona and Fleshgod Apocalypse, who also came through town this year on their own headline tour. That combination formed a United Nations-like lineup, as all four bands hail from different parts of the world – The Agonist, founded by former frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz, are an extreme metal group from the great white north of Canada. Arkona hail from Mother Russia and subscribe to pagan metal, where heavy influences in Slavic mythology and Russian folklore. Fleshgod Apocalypse are the Italian death metal group while EPICA hail from Netherlands. That’s quite the international tandem on a single tour, which makes for an interesting variety of music coming to a single stage.

The early open resulted in missing too much of The Agonist to say anything about them, sadly, because what little I did hear sounded solid and they seemed like they would have been fun to watch. I was, however, able to catch the rest of the show starting with Arkona. The downside here is that their set list is entirely in Russian and I have no idea what any of the song titles mean. The singer, Masha “Scream” Arkhipova, is one of the only female vocalists who can get away with the “death growl”, or as I call it, the growlies. Not many women can pull that off in English, much less Russian, and it makes for a unique combination when paired with the Russian folk metal that Arkona plays a bit of. I wish I understood Russian or could at least read it so I knew what the set list translated to. I do like Arkona, though, and they’ve gotten my attention enough to pique my interest in listening to their music even if I can’t understand it.

Fleshgod Apocalypse were the pleasant surprise of the night. I missed them on their headline tour this year despite wanting to see them for a while, and disappoint they did not. Fleshgod had time for about 8 songs and made the most of their time, playing mostly tracks from their latest album, King, which was released nearly a year ago on New Year’s Day, while throwing in a couple of their more popular songs to fill out the set list. The band did a solid job of promoting their second studio album, with 5 tracks from it including Cold as PerfectionHealing Through WarIn AeternumMarche Royale and The Fool – four of those in the first five songs – giving listeners the sense that the relatively young band, they haven’t even been a band for a decade yet, are here to stay for a good while. Now with four albums under their belt, the band have finally found their niche with King and are solid showmen on stage, complete with the whole dead-guys look and accompanying theatrics, along with an imposing opera singer in the background. I’m excited for what the future holds for Fleshgod Apocalypse  after seeing them for the first time. Italy produces some great stuff – pasta, wine, pizza – but they’re not really known for metal outside of Lacuna CoilFleshgod Apocalypse are about to change that.

Tommaso Riccardi/Fleshgod Apocalypse

And then it was finally EPICA’s turn. If you’re a fan of symphonic metal like I am., you are no doubt an EPICA fan. If you’re not, what’s wrong with you? I’ts no secret that I am a fan of any form of rock or metal that features a female vocalist – NightwishWithin TemptationLeaves EyesAmarantheLacuna CoilAfter ForeverEPICA are no exception. Simone Simons is one of a kind and is right there with Floor Jansen (no relation to EPICA’s Mark Jansen) as the top female metal vocalists on the planet. I’ve long been an EPICA fan, but only saw them for the first time back in January and was immediately blown away by how good they were live. Round 2 Friday night at Webster Hall was no different, even as the band was winding down its Holographic Principle tour after being in North America for the second time this year.

EPICA kicked it off with the new one, Edge of the Blade and followed up with the album’s second track A Phantasmic Parade, ultimately playing 8 of The Holographic Principle’s tracks – the other six being Beyond the MatrixDancing in a HurricaneDivide and ConquerAscension – Dream State Armageddon, Universal Death Squad and Once Upon a Nightmare, which closed out the main set before the band came back for an encore. It was obvious right off the rip that EPICA were going to be on point on the second-to-last night of the tour, as Simone’s incomparable voice sounded like it was opening night while the rest of the band had more energy than most I’ve seen at the end of a tour.

While the band had all the energy of an early-tour show, it was the crowd that was most amped up for the show. It’s hard to tell whether a show is sold out at Webster Hall given the unusually large space for a venue that has three rooms, but the crowd was definitely near capacity by the time EPICA came on, and they made their presence known immediately, singing along to their fair share of songs, sometimes as loud as the band and erupting a few times, most notably during the 3-song encore. In addition to the 8 tracks off The Holographic PrincipleEPICA brought out a pair of songs each from their previous album The Quantum Enigma and The Divine Conspiracy. On offer from Enigma were Unchain Utopia and The Essence of Silence, while the two from Divine Conspiracy were The Obsessive Devotion and what is probably that album’s most popular song, Sancta Terra, which made its appearance as the first song of the encore this time around.

EPICA wrapped things up with the fan favorite title track of their second studio album, Consign to Oblivion, which received the biggest ovation of the night, and that was that. Another stellar EPICA show was in the books and it was time to say goodbye until they come around again, which I can’t see happening for a good while after two US tours in the same year. Then again, I didn’t see this tour coming so soon either, so what do I know? While EPICA’s set list was in line with their history of playing as many songs as possible from the album they’re promoting, I would have enjoyed a little more variety – I still have not heard Our Destiny live, and since that’s my favorite EPICA song that’s just one more reason to see them again and again. Not that I need a reason, the fact that they’ve blown me away twice this year is reason enough.

I’m looking forward to what the future holds for EPICA and hopefully we’ll see them come this way again sooner than later. Doubtful, I know, but a guy can hope.

Simone Simons and Mark Jansen of Epica at Webster Hall during The Holographic Principle tour
Simone Simons and Isaac Delahaye of Epica at Webster Hall during The Holographic Principle tour