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Epica - Design your Universe Gold Edition (Reissue) Award winner

Epica
Design your Universe Gold Edition (Reissue)
by Justin "Witty City' Wittenmeier at 20 October 2019, 9:42 AM

EPICA is a Symphonic Metal band from the Netherlands, formed in 2002 as SAHARA DUST before changing their name in 2003. To date, they have released eight full length albums plus several EP’s and live albums.  Alongside NIGHTWISH, they are one of the biggest bands of this style.   Originally released in 2009, “Design Your Universe,” is the fourth album from the band.  It is an important album for many reasons and is a fan favorite among a lot of fans, although I personally do not claim it to be their best.  However, this was the breakthrough album for EPICA, the one that put them on the Metal map, so to speak.  In addition, it was the first album to feature Isaac Delahave on guitar and Arien Van Wessenbeek’s first album as an official member, as he was just credited as a session musician on their previous effort “The Divine Conspiracy.”

The album opens with the prelude “Smadhi,” which is a symphonic instrumental that really sets the stage for the rest of the album.  Prelude/intro tracks tend to annoy me but EPICA always pull them off with finesse and glory.  It flows nicely into the first proper song, “Resign To Surrender – A New Age Dawns Part IV.”  The song begins with hammering riffs, courtesy of guitarists Mark and Isaac,, a duo who have grown to prove they are two of the best in Metal. One of the band’s trademarks is Mark’s Death growls and they are in full force here.  They aren’t as brutal as anything you’ll find in an actual Death Metal band but they are well done and definitely gives the band a heavier edge than of this style. Simone comes in at 1:19 minutes into the song and, as always, her voice is powerful and commands immediate attention.  As far as clean vocalists go, I would put her among the very top.

Next up is “Unleashed,” a catchy song that opens with another one of EPICA’s defining traits: the use of choirs.  Structurally speaking, this is one of their simpler tracks, but the orchestrations are sweeping and the chorus is about as a catchy as you can get. “Martyr of the Free Word,” is easily one of the best songs the band has ever written.  It is fast paced, every instrument playing with a sense of urgency.  Simone’s vocals take a different approach here, with a bit of eastern flair to them but she pulls it off and then some.  The middle part of the song with the Death growls being backed up by the frantic orchestrations is epic, even for a band who write nothing but epic music and are, you know, called EPICA.

There are several deep cuts that are worth mentioning too.  “Burn To A Cinder,” has great guitar and soaring vocals plus some drums that just encompassing the band’s sound so well.  “Deconstruct,” balances the three-pronged vocal attack (Mark Simone), Choir) extremely well, adding many dimensions to a song that is under four minutes, a shorter length for this band. One of my favorite tracks has to be “Semblance of Liberty.” It fires right out of the gate with some badass riffs and the rhythm is just crushing, not the last of which because of the drumming and bass.  Simone’s operatic vocals are both lithe and robust, a contrast against Mark’s deep growls but the song throws the two together nicely.

So now that I have talked about the main album, what is different this time around for this “Gold Edition?”  Firstly, it has been remastered and remixed—at first I thought that was unnecessary because the original had a clear mix but the new version actually sounds better.  It dials back on the loudness of it all, as the original was a bit too overbearing in that respect.  As a result, this new edition sounds a lot more dynamic to my ears and makes for a much smoother listening experience. Beyond the new production values, it also features five bonus tracks in the form of acoustic versions of the album’s songs.  These tracks are nearly a stripped-down version of the originals but instead total reworkings of the songs. The arrangements and even vocal approaches are very different, thus proving EPICA’s depth can translate just as well outside of the Metal spectrum.

But is the album worth adding to the collection again?  Depends.  For hardcore EPICA fans such as myself?  Yes.  We are getting a better sounding album with bonus tracks.  For casual EPICA fans who only listen to them occasionally?  Not so much, considering the original still sounds good on its own and the acoustic tracks are more fan service than anything mind blowing.

Songwriting:9
Originality: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Samadhi (Prelude)
2. Resign to Surrender (A New Age Dawns – Part IV)
3. Unleashed
4. Martyr of the Free Word
5. Our Destiny
6. Kingdom of Heaven (A New Age Dawns – Part V)
7. The Price of Freedom (Interlude)
8. Burn To A Cinder
9. Tides of Time
10. Deconstruct
11. Semblance of Liberty
12. White Waters
13. Design Your Universe (A New Age Dawns – Part VI)
14. Incentive
15. Burn To A Cinder (Acoustic version)
16. Our Destiny (Acoustic version)
17. Unleashed (Acoustic version)
18. Martyr of the Free Word (Acoustic version)
19. Design Your Universe (Acoustic version)
Lineup:
Mark Jansen – Guitars, Vocals (Death growls)
Simone Simons – Vocals (Cleans)
Isaac Delahaye – Guitar
Yves Huts – Bass (main album)
Rob van der Loo – Bass (acoustic tracks)
Arien Van Weesenbeek – Drums
Coen Janssen – Keys, Piano
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
     


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