Michiel B. : After we could have got acquaintance with Holland's latest gothic metal revelantion through the interview and listening session right now it's time or what it's all about: the debut album "The Phantom Agony” by Epica, the new band formed by former After Forever icon Mark Jansen is about to be released. All troubles regarding his forced departure from After Forever should be known by now. Back and forth blames have been made but finally what it's all about is the music of course.
And to say it straight: the music is solid as a rock! "The Phantom Agony” continues where After Forever's "Decipher” stopped. The album opens with the omnious intro "Adyta” which has the sub title "The Neverending Embrace” with which the "The Embrace That Smothers”-cycle from the first 2 After Forever albums is continued. Once again a choir performs Latin hymns and in the end the piano-intro of "Sensorium”, song 2 on the album, is started. Now (mezzo-)soprano Simone Simons comes into play. Her angel-like vocals fit perfectly in the mainly orchestral accompany. This puts the guitars more backwards and later in this song the choir and grunts enter the song. Next up is "Cry For The Moon” ("The Embrace that Smothers - Part IV") which was already released on the demo. The intro reminds me a little of Ravel's "Bolero” and futher in this song the first heavy passage of the album is found with some nice Iced Earth-like guitar riffs. Song 4 is the ballad of the album entitled "Feint”. This song is remakably easy listening while the included message (this song was written after the murder of Pim Fortuyn, a(n) (im)popular politician in The Netherlands - MB) is rather heavy duty.
The album continues with "Illusive Consensus”, also previously released on the demo. This earlier version hasn't been changed much. Next up is my personal favourite "Façade of Reality” ("The Embrace that Smothers - Part V"). This song is not only the heaviest song on the album, it's also the one with the moest variety inside. Especially the sampled speech by Tony Blair and the whispers of the 'suicide commando's' ("It doesn't matter where we die... It doesn't matter that you cry.... We will take you with us...”) add a lot of impact to this song. After this one in "Run for a Fall” Mark writes off all his frustrations regarding his split with After Forever. It's too bad I don't have the full album here (one day after our deadline I received a cd-r by one of the band members - thanks a lot for that - to be able to still write a review for our June issue) because I would love to read the lyrics of this song as well as the other ones by the way. With the Arabic sounding "Seif Al Din” ("The Embrace that Smothers - Part VI") and the movie score-like title track one of the best debut albums in the past years comes to an end.
I'm fairly impressed although I still would like to make some remarks to album (Michiel B. wouldn't be Michiel B. if he didn't have something to complain about). There where the keyboard and orchestral parts are really magnificent, in my oponion the guitars slightly fail. In the first place this is partly due to their place back in the mix compared to the keys and the orchestra but also regarding the melody aspect and themes in which they reduce themselves too much to power-chord riffs. It's obvious that the main composing instrument while writing this album was the keyboard. Also the efforts of cover model Simone, who is only 18 years old, are really impressive although I'm convinced she hasn't reached her top by far. Her voice is really pretty but unfortunately she isn't yet able to give me the goosebumps because in my opinion her voice doesn't have enough 'body' yet. But well. Epica now is a short cutting with the ability to become a beautiful flower in the future.
After Forever now are up to play ball. I sincerely hope this band won't undergo the 'Tristania-effect' who released a rather mediocre album with "World Of Glass” after they parted ways with their inspirator Morton Velend who stole my heart with Sirenia's "At Sixes And Sevens”. With that I think "The Phantom Agony” will also be well received by people who normally detest metal and prefer classical music.
The road is open for Epica and now they have signed to The Netherlands' biggest concert company I think they'll have a good oppotunity to promote this gogious debut album with many live shows. Furthermore I would like to speak out my hopes that with all the enthusiasm the band will take the time to write their follow-up album. "The Phantom Agony” seems to be mainly Mark's creature and therefor I'm curious what the influence of the other band memebers will be in the future...