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Epica - Design Your Universe
CD Reviews
Written by Max Levites   
Tuesday, 03 November 2009
Epica - CD Review
Design Your Universe
Epica - Design Your Universe

CD Info

2009

 Nuclear Blast Records

13 Tracks

English Lyrics

 

 

 

Design Your Universe has been highly anticipated since the band announced that it was working on their new album. Two years after The Divine Conspiracy we hear the results of the band’s hard work. This is also the first album featuring new Epica guitarist Issac Delahaye, formerly of God Dethroned.

The intro is unfortunately a little boring and not particularly new at all. In fact, the intros to the previous albums were better. The intro leads into "Resign to Surrender" which is kind of similar to something we’d hear on the previous albums, but Epica has definitely turned the dial up on their new songs. The composition is interesting, as usual, and Simone’s vocals are as beautiful as ever. There’s even a guitar solo on this song! This track is also part of the ongoing A New Age Dawns series, which dates back to Epica’s 2nd album, Consign to Oblivion. If I’m correct, the series ends on this album, but then again, you never know!

Next is "Unleashed", which came with a rather interesting music video. Music videos were never Epica’s strongpoint, and it’s definitely an improvement over past clips. For those of you who thought "Never Enough" from the last album was too mainstream for Epica, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised at this choice for a single, because mainstream is the last thing anyone would call it. It’s heavy and awesome, just as we’ve come to expect from Epica, featuring some great vocal lines and some cool choral parts. No grunts from Mark though. Simone takes a less classical approach in her singing on this album than in earlier Epica works, building on the style she started using on The Divine Conspiracy, although you do hear a bit of her classical roots popping through near the end of the song.

Then we dive right into "Martyr of the Free World" which starts out heavy with beating drums and an awesome riff that strangely turns into a pleasantly surprising mix of middle eastern and some sort of southern-inspired style guitar interlude, quickly followed by Simone’s vocals. After that, the song turns heavy again and features a Gregorian choir part-way through. This song is all over the place, but in a really good way. Kind of experimental, if you ask me. I don’t know why, but it almost reminds me of something I’d hear from a band called iwrestledabearonce (all one word and just as weird as it sounds) that features seemingly random genre changes mid-song. It’s just a lot less hardcore. Either way, it’s an awesome song. Probably one of my favorites, at least from the first half of the album.

"Our Destiny" continues in sort of the same vein, just a bit more structured and at a slower tempo. It’s still holds its own as a song and doesn’t fade into the background, despite being surrounded by two of the best songs on the album. You get another little taste of Simone’s classical singing in parts of this song, which is pleasant. As Epica songs are wont to do, it changes tempo half way through and gets heavier, featuring Mark’s growling and some awesome choirs. You then hear the refrain again and the song closes with the choir and Simone singing over each other, followed by a soft piano line.

Instead of saving the fourteen minute monster of a song for last as they did on The Divine Conspiracy, "Kingdom of Heaven" is featured smack in the middle of the album. It’s just as epic as it sounds, moving quickly from soft Gregorian chants to a heavy riff and growls. The ever-present orchestra adds a lot to this song, coming in with a sort of Middle Eastern melody. This is Epica at its best. I found the long title track on TDC rather boring, especially at the end of the album, but there’s not a point in "Kingdom of Heaven" where I’m bored in any way. The mention of Quantum Physics in the chorus also grabs my attention, although the song is about how science is leading us to find out things we’re not supposed to: "Quantum physics leads us to / Answers of to the great taboos / We create the world around us / God is every living soul". The overall theme of this album seems to be that mankind creates its own destiny, but science may take us too far in the wrong direction. Like TDC, Design Your Universe is divided into parts. So ends part one.

The second part to the album kicks off with an interlude entitled "The Price of Freedom". It starts off with a rather creepy, Halloween-esque keyboards, overlaid with excerpts from famous speeches that get louder and louder until we move into the next song, "Burn to a Cinder". This song probably has my favorite melody of all the songs. It’s just very catchy, but still doesn’t deviate from Epica’s usual style. Here we also hear a bit of the lower register of Simone’s voice, which is a nice change. The chorus is a bit too similar to some past Epica songs for my taste though. The song ends with a beautiful vocal line from Simone, which leads into the next song. "Tides of Time" is a slower song, but a pleasant one as well. Epica does well with slower songs, especially with Simone’s beautiful voice which is perfectly suited to both the fast and heavy songs and the slow and soft songs. On this song we really hear how high Simone can go and still sound amazing, as well as her different singing techniques.

This is followed by "Deconstruct", which starts out with an orchestral part that sounds like an intro to a song in some sort of epic musical. Even with the added guitars, it still fits that mold for the first minute or so. It improves after that but it’s not the best song on the album, and it’s actually the shortest non-interlude track. It still spans a little over four minutes, and it’s still pretty good. It’s just not as good as all the other songs. "Semblance of Liberty" comes in with some heavy guitars and drums, reminding us that Epica is still very, very metal. After this comes "White Waters" featuring special guest Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica. It’s another ballad and just as amazing as "Tides of Time" was, although rather different. Tony Kakko really does have some of the best male vocals in the music industry, if you ask me, and when combined with Simone’s vocals it just creates magic. The song itself has a rather dark atmosphere, especially when the two vocalists aren’t singing.

At the end of the album there’s still a rather long song. The title track, "Design Your Universe", lasts more than nine minutes, but long songs are what Epica does best. It starts off slow and dark, much like the previous song, but then a killer riff comes in and speeds up the tempo, followed by Simone’s beautiful voice. Like "Kingdom of Heaven", there isn’t a boring part in this song at all and it acts as a great closer to the album.

Design Your Universe spans almost an hour and a quarter, but I can’t imagine getting bored for a minute of it. The music is a lot more guitar oriented (even featuring solos in most of the songs!) and doesn’t rely as much on the orchestra parts as previous albums did, although the classical element is and will always be a big part of Epica’s sound. This album is both experimental and an evolution of their sound and has definitely met the high expectations Epica fans had for the new longplayer.

From their humble beginnings in 2003 with The Phantom Agony, Epica has grown into a formidable force in the world of Female Fronted Metal and with this album they definitely secure their place as one of the best metal bands in the scene.

9.5 / 10

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