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Epica - The Phantom Agony
CD Reviews
Written by Dennis Arancio   
Wednesday, 09 July 2003

Epica -  CD Review
The Phantom Agony
CD Info
2003
Transmission Records
9 tracks - 51:53
Holland - English lyrics

Remember when, After Forever's "Prison of Desire" was released back in 2000 A.D.? The words such as "Magnificent" "Awesome" and "Masterpiece", were all seen, in reviews that were written about AF's debut album. Well, I am here to inform you, that you will be seeing those words allot, in this review and what will be written by others about Epica's, "The Phantom Agony". This group of Dutch artist's use to go by the name of "Sahara Dust", but that name is way too dry for the likes of these Titans to be. So they changed their name to something that more symbolizes what they are, EPIC with an A. This is what happens when bands such as After Forever and Nigthwish, have members who leave those bands and go on and start others. You get a multiplication of talent times a thousand. In this case, one of the members here, is from AF. Actually, all of the bands members have had experience in other bands, but I will get to that later. What makes them different from such bands as I have mentioned so far, you ask? Let me just put it to you this way. They have taken all of the best influences from the two bands I list so far, plus they have added some of the gothicness of Tristania and Within Temptation to round out what is a unique sound, to these ears.

The production level is high, but what else would we expect from founder and leader of this sextet, Mark Jansen. His work with After Forever only solidified his talents for this masterpiece. For my part, he has come full circle on "The Phantom Agony". Along with ex Cassiopeia guitarist Ad Sluijter, they have formed what is likely to become a formidable unit in classical metal in the years to come. But no, it doesn't quite end there. Here we find a new talent who is ready to stand at the apex of stardom, possibly replacing Tarja Turinen as the leading siren of metal. ( just an observation of mine and not that of SC or MM ) Her name is Simone Simons and I have been reading and hearing that name for quite some time now. I have heard demo songs and wondered who this angel is, in the lead. No more wondering. Think Tarja, (Nightwish) Floor, (After Forever and Star One) and Sharon, (Within Temptation) all rolled into one great singer and that's the only way to describe Simone. I'm sure their will be those who would say, "what's this guy on"? And you will have every right to. But I'm going out on a limb to make that statement.

This talented red haired beauty can hold her own with all of the leading ladies of metal and beyond. She is the centerpiece of the band and what a find by Jansen. She states in her bio, that she sung Nightwish, 'til she was 16, so right there, we all know who was a BIG influence on her career. And why should she be so coy as having one of the greatest talents of our time, as mentor. With the success that Tarja and Nightwish have had, I would think that there would be allot more talent, like her, coming from around the world. And it does, from every corner of it. A perfect example is the band called Seraphim, from Taiwan, of all places. Pay, lead singer of that fine outfit, also states Tarja as being influence to her career. Well, enough about Miss Turinen, she's gone on to enhance her operatic talent and has left us to one's, like Simone, who will possibly replace her.

The rest of the band goes like this. Jeroen Simons also ex Cassiopeia, on the thundering drums, Coen Janssen, (no relation to Mark, only one S in his name) on synthesizers and holds the distinction of being the only non-ex in the band, although he did play a couple of gigs for After Forever, when their keyboard player left. And then to round it out is Yves Huts, ex bassist of the Belgian band known as Axamenta.

The first and second tracks on the album open in very After Foreverish way. "Adyta" is an intro of sorts, but right from the outset, the band shows its influence on their sleeves. "Sensorium" is our introduction to Simone, as she does a very good impression of Floor Jansen's openings on either of AF's first two albums. After that though, it gets a bit tricky. "Cry for the Moon", the third track is kinda like a mix of Nightwish meets Tristania and is the first track where we add some growls to the music. (And just a note at this point. The growling vocals are not used overbearingly. They seem to be timed, just perfect.) It starts out Power metalish and leads into some great chorusing. As a matter of fact, that is one of the greatest attributes of this awesome production, the choruses. They make it sound so heavenly. Just think Classical Opera Metal.

The fourth track "Feint" is all Simone expressing that wonderful operatic voice of hers. This is a very ballad-y track with Simone pulling it off with a Turinen flair. She doesn't quite have the Tarja bombast yet, but with time and experience, she will get there. With the opening of the 5th track, "Illusive Consensus", the band really seem to take off and begin to become more cohesive and like any opera style music, you have to absorb this production as a whole. By the end of the last song, which is the albums title track, "The Phantoms Agony", you will be treated to a wide array of different styles of different bands.

Any fan of the aforementioned bands plus Edenbridge and a number of projects like Avantasia or Missa Mercuria (see my review at SC & MM) will go absolutely bonkers over this album, as you can tell, I have. Just add it to the list of the Greats. Now for my but! If you are turned off by clones, then this album is definitely not for you. There is very much of it going on here. There is plenty of style copying and this is a debut album, lest we forget. But, if you can put that aside and see it for what it is, great music. Then your ears will be rewarded by what you hear. Simone is a verifiable talent as is Jansen, there can be no mistake about that. So Epica, give us a second helping, and take your time to develop your own style. You've gotten your foot in the door, don't chop it off.
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