Kamelot - Epica

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Noise Records
Catalog Number: NO3772
Format: CD
Total Time: 52:17:00

There's a lot one can talk about with Kamelot's Epica. It is such a rich album that to just focus in one aspect doesn't give you a complete picture. It's one of those albums where the best description is either thousands words long or could be summed up best by saying "you have to hear for yourself." Truly, that is the case. If you already love melodic metal then I need just tell you that this is excellently done and will blow you away. If you don't ? well, this will make you fall in love with the genre - all the best aspects of it are here. This album serves as an example of what I truly love about music. Epica is the kind of release that evokes an emotional response, one that strikes you much more deeply that at would first appear.

Epica is concept album loosely based on Faust by Goethe, and follows the character of Ariel as he searches for the meaning of life, and in the process sells his soul to the devil, Mephisto, and loses the woman he loves, Helena. That's putting the whole story in simple terms (and it is not a direct retelling of Faust). As the band note on their website, there many layers to the story. You don't just listen to it, you feel it. The expectation is not that you'll just listen to the album, but become immersed in it. If a story or novel truly grabs you, you leave the mundane for the fantastic - it becomes your world. The band goes to great lengths on their website to detail the story behind Epica and I'll direct you there for that, though Keith, in his review, has also included these details.

I was immediately struck by Kahn's vocals. I had already heard him sing on Karma and on the live release The Expedition - Live ? and, in fact, truly live at the second ProgPower festival and was impressed. And, just to go on record as saying it, to me Khan sounds a lot like Marillion's Steve Hogarth. But if you think I'm going to make any Marillion comparisons ? that's the only one. And in the best epic power metal tradition, Khan sings with a great deal of emotion and power, his voice easily able to transition between soaring epically and drawing back to become more intimate.

And musically, this is a band that understands the use of shadings, contrasting heavy, rapid-fire drumming, screaming guitar solos, racing bass runs, and richly symphonic keyboards with the more touches like tinkling piano-like keys and orchestration. This dynamic is present right from the get go with "Center Of The Universe," which goes from the bold and big statement of driving percussion and dual guitars (Thomas Youngblood and producer Sasha Paeth) to the more subtle use of piano-like keyboards, what sounds like harps, and voice -- both Khan's (deep and intimate) and guest Mari (sweet and lilting) - for the bridge. One his hooked here with this piece - you know you're in for something dramatic and sweeping. And beautiful. The darkest moment musically is the first interlude, "Interlude I (Opiate Soul)," where a chorus of deep voices chant a phrase in, I believe (or so it sounds), Latin. And, though you might not expect it, the band uses a tango rhythm in "Lost And Damned" to "musically describe the tension between Helena and Ariel," they say. Guest Fabricio Alejandro plays the bandoneon (an accordion like instrument often associated with the tango).

Another example of this use of contrast is the two ballads here. Ballads yes, but not mushy, sloppy ones, as they lose none of the power even if they scale back on the energy. The first of these is "Wander," which begins with just Kahn's voice but subtly, slowly more and more elements are added - orchestration, effects, percussion - to underscore the mood set by the lyrics - reflective and warmly romantic. Here Ariel thinks on the woman he loves, Helena, and a moment they shared. The contrasting ballad is "On The Coldest Winter Night," a piece that includes Olaf Reitmeier on acoustic bass, Robert Huneckke Rizzo on jembe and Andre Neygenfind on D-bass, muted percussion, lovely piano accents, and the ever present orchestration. Their rhythm is calm and relaxed, and foreshadows the tango to come in the very next track, though only at a slower and colder pace. Here Kahn's voice reflects both the joy and sadness that Ariel feels at seeing Helena again, an emotion that carries over to "Lost & Damned," when he sends her away from him (he has, by this point, made his deal with Mephisto). An especially sublime moment is "Helena's Theme," a delightfully dizzying array of swirling keyboards, orchestration and percussion. And yet, it is at this point in the story where she, despondent over having lost Ariel, kills herself (and her unborn child by Ariel) by drowning. Of course, a despondent woman drowning herself also brings to mind Ophelia (from Shakespeare's Hamlet).

Key for me is that drummer Casey Grillo makes full use of his kit, which helps give the music dimension. This is the element that bands can get wrong, relying too much on the hammering of double bass at the expense of the rest of the kit - the use of the full kit only gives the double bass elements that much more power. Keyboards, courtesy of guest Miro (who also provides the orchestration) are all over Epica, and are mixed perfectly. This is also another spot where sometimes things go wrong, the keyboards being set too far apart from the rest of the mix, or mixed so low as to be unheard. Oh, but not here, no. They are there and their use is perfectly balanced, the right tone and style just where it needs to be. In addition to Miro, Vanden Plas' Gunter Werno and Jan P Ringvold guest on keyboards. While the guitars and keys provide the "light" elements in that they are bright, crisp, clear and sharp? I hate to use the metaphor of a sword, but that would be a good visual? the "dark" element that keeps one grounded comes from the drums and the bass of Glenn Barry. All combine to give this music, as I said, depth and weight. These two elements, by the way, "light" and "dark" are really what Ariel is struggling with, the duality of human nature? Though in this chapter - Epica is part one of the multipart story - it is "dark" that wins out.

There is something to love about each and every track, and one can tell that the band put a lot of thought into each composition, filling out the sound with touches both big and small. In fact, I daresay the riches to be found here rival those that Mephisto lures Ariel with, only you don't have to sell your soul in order to enjoy them for a lifetime.

Prologue / Center Of The Universe / Farewell / Interlude I (Opiate Soul) / Edge Of Paradise / Wander / Interlude II (Omen) / Descent Of The Archangel / Interlude III (At The Banquet) / A Feast For The Vain / The Coldest Winter Night / Lost & Damned / Helena's Theme / Interlude IV (Dawn) / The Mourning After / III Ways To Epica

Roy Khan - vocals
Thomas Youngblood - guitars
Glenn Barry - bass
Casey Grillo - drums

Eternity (1996)
Dominion (1997)
Siege Perilous (1998)
The Fourth Legacy (2000)
The Expedition - Live (2000)
Karma (2001)
Epica (2003)
The Black Halo (2005)
One Cold Winter's Night (2006)
Ghost Opera (2007)
Ghost Opera - The Second Coming (2008)
Poetry For The Poisoned (2010)
Poetry For The Poisoned & Live From Wacken (Limited Tour Edition) (2011)
Silverthorn (2012)
Haven (2015)

One Cold Winter's Night (DVD) (2006)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: March 7th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.kamelot.com
Hits: 992
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]