“The Classical Conspiracy” by Epica

Artist: Epica
Title: “The Classical Conspiracy”
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: 5/19/2009
Genre: Symphonic Operatic Metal
Rating: 5/5

While there were already quite a few female-fronted Symphonic Operatic Metal bands in existence at the time that Nightwish came into their biggest prominence, it was their overall success at the craft that allowed other bands who offered an equally interesting sound the chance to rise to greater heights themselves. One such band is Epica, whom I have enjoyed since I first heard their debut “The Phantom Agony” and with each release they never cease to amaze me with their levels of creativity and powerful Symphonic Metal. The band was founded by guitarist Mark Jansen, who came to notoriety from another Dutch band called After Forever, and together with Mezzo Soprano vocalist Simone Simons have really pushed the envelope in terms of what one can do with this kind of Metal. “The Classical Conspiracy” is a very interesting live effort that finds the group performing with a full symphony orchestra much like we found Within Temptation doing with their own “Black Symphony” release. However, the difference between the Epica recording from their Dutch counterparts, the group delivers the first half of the show as a full on classical recital while the second act presents a healthy dose of their rocking Metal originals.

For lack of a better description, the first CD is heaping portion of classical standards and movie scores and this comes from guitarist Jansen having a deep appreciation for the format. You will be hard pressed to find a Metal band doing the theme from “Pirates Of The Caribbean” or “Spider-Man” anywhere else I can safely say, and while the band does not deliver the very catchy song from the web-spinner’s 1096’s TV show, the version they do from the live action movie is rather good. I also enjoyed hearing them deliver “Hall Of The Mountain King” which many might recall as being done by the band Savatage under the title “Prelude To Madness” on one of their recordings. “The Imperial March” (or “Darth Vader’s Theme”) was an interesting touch and this little ditty has always been one of my favorites. I often swore that if I ever got married that the future Mrs. Me must let me use the melody at some point during the services. Dare to dream I always say. From “Romeo & Juliet” we find a stunning “Montagues & Capulets” and “Dies Irae” is just incredible. My hope is that this comes to a DVD release sometime because while just listening to it was an experience I would love to see the interplay between the band and the orchestra. They really work well together and this makes sense since so much of Epica’s sound is deeply rooted in classical themes. It’s very big sounding and that will be the case when they use a forty piece orchestra and a thirty member choir.

The second CD presents a wonderful sampling of the bands original material and it starts off with “Indigo” from their Nuclear Blast Records debut “The Classical Conspiracy”. The intro leads us into “Last Crusade” from their long out of circulation “Consign To Oblivion” CD. It’s tracks like this that make this part of the live set so amazing since it delivers a number of the bands older material which is next to impossible to find for a reasonable price based on the unavailability of their back catalog. With only “Consign” and their debut “The Phantom Agony” coming before their Nuclear CD they made sure to present staple tracks from each alongside their powerful new numbers. “Sensorium” and “Phantom Agony” have long remained favorites of mine from the first recording and they stand up well against the bands newer winners like “Never Enough” and “Chasing The Dragon”. I’ve been lucky to see them when they had toured my region and felt that this CD drew you into the band’s majesty and power very easily. Musically this was tight as a snare drum and Simone was magnificent in her vocals and never makes me question my view that she is one of the best of the genres singers. Mark provides the necessary growls when they are called for and really delivers on the guitar which is the most important. Also proving that he was an amazing choice for the drums is Arien van Weesenbeek who joined the lineup with their last album. This was an amazing piece from beginning to end and the booklet included offers up a number of excellent photos of the band in action with the orchestra and choirs. If you are a fan of this band already then you need to snare this one, and if you are just somehow still one of the curious, then this one shall make you join their already loyal ranks. Nice work Epica, I can hardly wait for the new material and forthcoming tour. Keep your eyes out for them since the return is set for early 2010 in the States if that is where you are geographically.

Track Listing:
1. Palladium
2. Dies Irae
3. Ombra Mai Fu
4. Adagio
5. Spiderman Medley
6. Presto
7. Montagues & Capulets
8. The Imperial March
9. Stabat Mater Dolorosa
10. Unholy Trinity
11. In The Hall Of The Mountain King
12. Pirates Of The Caribbean
13. Indigo
14. The Last Crusade
15. Sensorium
16. Quietus
17. Chasing The Dragon
18. Feint
19. Never Enough
20. Beyond Belief
21. Cry For The Moon
22. Safegaurd To Paradise
23. Blank Infinity
24. Living A Lie
25. The Phantom Agony
26. Sancta Terra
27. Illusive Consensus
28. Consign To Oblivion

Official Website: http://www.epica.nl

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