Artist: Epica

Album Title: The Holographic Principle

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 30 September 2016

I’m nothing if not honest – ‘beauty and the beast’ symphonic metal is a genre that I have lost a lot on interest in. Subsequently, I’ve not been sufficiently invested in this seemingly saturated loose sub-genre order to follow the scene intently over the last few years.

However, Epica and I go back a number of years – they were one of the first bands that I met in the early days of my Powerplay career whilst undertaking my first press trip to the Nuclear Blast Headquarters in Donzdorf, around the release of ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ in 2007.

And whilst I have never classed myself as an out-and-out fan of Epica, I certainly admired what they were trying to do, namely offer something a little different from the hordes. Yes they have in their ranks a beautiful singer in the form of Simone Simons who duets with the growled male vocals of Mark Jansen and they like to pepper their music with lashings of keys and symphonic elements to make the compositions as grandiose and over-the-top as possible.

However, in addition, Epica have never been afraid of trying to inject other interesting elements into their songwriting. The output has always, to my mind at least, been harsher and heavier than most. The aforementioned growls are often quite savage-sounding and the guitar work does generally come across as having more bite and menace than others. Add to this a certain understated progressive element and a dramatic cinematic depth and you can begin to see why Epica are so highly rated by many within the heavy metal community.

Having almost entirely missed the last two releases, I come to album number seven with fresh ears and I have to say that right off the bat, I have been left impressed by the sheer scope of this record. The above-mentioned elements all exist from before and there is no doubt as to the intent of the sextet, as ‘The Holographic Principle’ bristles and sparkles like a giant film score to an unknown blockbuster that apparently questions whether we live in a real world or whether our existence is intertwined with some alternate reality.


Opener is a classic intro piece, cinematic and bombastic in scope, an exercise in building a sense of anticipation and tension. It ebbs and flows nicely but if I’m honest, it does little except set the scene for what is to come. It is nice enough but I find myself generally skipping it to get to the meat of the album.

The album starts properly with ‘Edge Of The Blade’ which is a nice starter for ten. With a catchy chorus, plenty of orchestration from ivory-tinkler Coen Janssen, some strong riffs from guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye and the unmistakeable vocals of Simons and Jansen, it is a bombastic and up-tempo composition that grows with repeated listens. ‘A Phantasmic Parade’ follows and is equally as entertaining. Again the guitars crunch and the rhythm section comprised of drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek and bassist Rob van der Loo gallops along at a fair lick. The melodies are memorable too. However, the track is dominated by the symphonics and the vocals which give the song much of its impetus.

The scene has been set and the album then follows a broadly similar pattern for the remaining nine tracks, with bombast and pomp the watchwords throughout.

And, if I’m honest, this is where the problem lies with ‘The Holographic Principle’ and with symphonic metal in general. As dramatic as the opening couple of tracks are, and as grandiose as the whole album is, it doesn’t take too long for the sheen to wear off and for me personally to lose a little bit of interest. Although I have no doubt that Epica are giving their all to create the best material of their lives, it just doesn’t unfortunately equate into a body of work that I feel compelled to listen to time after time.

That said, I love the melodic chorus, huge choirs and the crescendo of ‘Divide And Conquer’, which is a real anthem of huge proportions. I also find ‘Once Upon A Nightmare’ to be a wonderful listening experience. It might be a ballad but I’ve never disliked a really well-executed ballad and here, that’s exactly what we get. It begins with a sombre classical introduction that conveys real emotion and is carried by a sublime performance from Simons. It takes time to erupt but when it does, it does so gratifyingly to complete a top quality piece of music.

Then there’s the ludicrously named ‘The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality’ which has a much lengthier, progressive feel to it that I quite like.

I have absolutely no doubt that ‘The Holographic Principle’ will stand at the top of the symphonic metal tree come the end of the year. Blessed with a slick production, moments of real brilliance and enough bombast to flatten a small village, there will be a huge number of fans delighted by this release and rightly so. For me, though, it doesn’t set my world alight quite enough and I’m left wishing that Epica had been braver and experimented with their sound just a little more. Or maybe I’m just a hard man to please?

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.0

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Ys_W7ySkM&w=560&h=315]

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