Kim : I was very curious about the new Epica album 'The Divine Conspiracy'. The past year they changed their label, drummer (Epica replaced Ariën van Weesenbeek by Jeroen Simons), and while they were at changes anyway, also tried to change their style without stopping the musical development. They came out of it all with flying colors!
Immediately at the first few times of playing the disc, I came across some remarkable new turns. For a start the intro contains much more atmosphere than the intros on the previous albums: you might even fit it in without any problem in a major fantasy movie classic. The songs itself are much more aggressive, bombastic and less catchy. Because of these changes the album sounds innovating and it succeeds in maintaining the listener's attention much better compared to earlier work. The guitars have shifted much more towards the front while the keyboards have stepped back in the big picture. Repetitions of choruses and choirs are hardly present and I see this development as a huge advantage; progression. The dark, screaming grunts are present on the majority of the tracks; one of the guest 'whistling-buoy' is Sander Gommans from fellow Dutch act After Forever in the song 'Death of A Dream'.
The most impressive thing on this 'The Divine Conspiracy' is vocalist Simone: astonishing and prestigious: wow! What a development her voice has gone through! I'm sure that one of the main causes for this is the extensive touring and shows of the past two years, they sure as hell contributed. On a regular basis she moves from her opera voice to a tough rock voice: this is especially shown in titles like The Obsessive Devotion' and 'Never Enough'.
Nevertheless the typical Epica sound of the two predecessors can be heard back clearly on this new album, particularly the drums, choir arrangements and the Arabic melodies in the parts of 'The Embrace That Smothers' (of which Mr. Jansen finally succeeded to put the finale part on this CD); also a song like 'Fools of Damnation' has that typical After Forever sound like on 'Prison of Desire' and 'Decipher'. Personally I would have liked it if the drums had made the same general progress of the entire band on this 'The Divine Conspiracy'.
Once again Sascha Paeth en Amanda Sommerville had a significant participation on the production of this album. Once more they did a great job, and as usual Amanda also made some vocal contributions to this album. A nice knowledge is the fact that Gjalt Lucassen ( indeed, the brother of Arjen) takes care of the spoken word passage in 'Living A Lie - The Embrace That Smothers Part VII.' It's a pity that the concept got stuck once more on the themes God and religious convictions: I think that one was already a bit worn out already on 'The Phantom Agony' and 'Consign To Oblivion'.
My verdict: this album is a growth through adolescence into fully grown-up. It is more than a worthy successor of 'Consign To Oblivion', yet in my humbler opinion a somewhat careful step towards a sound of their own. For me the change could have been a bit more radical and more provocative. However, Epica fans can last for many time to come on this album, for it is, without any doubt, an album that is not very likely to bore you on either CD or MP-3 player. Unfortunately there will be no SA-CD of this album (for a better sound), like with 'Consign To Oblivion'. Anyway, I am looking forward to their CD presentation at the Effenaar venue, where the integral album will be performed on stage, as promised by the band. If you can't be there, you can at least buy this album!