The Divine Conspiracy by Epica
Release date : August 2007
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
In collaboration with axeman Sander Gommans, Mark Jansen gave birth to Dutch Gothic Metal act After Forever. After cutting two full lengths in the form of Prison of Desire and Decipher during a seven year period, Jansen developed an irrepressible urge to spread his creative wings. Thus, Jansen founded Sahara Dust (later renamed Epica). Initially recruiting Helena Michaelson (Trail of Tears), Simone Simons took over the position shortly after. A two song demo entitled Cry for the Moon was recorded, securing a deal with Transmission Records. Epica's sound delves further than the alleged confines which Heavy Metal impose, the creative fruits of Jansen's love for movie soundtracks. The operatic vocals of Simone Simons weave against impressively technical music, Extreme Metal vocal intricacies, and a host of orchestral elements. Since their 2002 formation, the group has eventually garnered global momentum. Produced by Sascha Paeth, 2003's The Phantom Agony accrued critical acclaim throughout Europe. The album spawned three singles, namely; “The Phantom Agony”, “Feint” and “Cry for the Moon”.
However, 2005 sophomore effort Consign to Oblivion equipped Epica with the tools necessary to grasp the Western world's attention. A history lesson in some respects, the elusive and enigmatic Mayan culture formed the crux of the album's lyrical content. In a guest capacity, Kamelot vocalist Roy Khan features on the track “Trois Vierges”. A technical masterpiece which cited composers Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman as inspirations, it still proved an unquestionably arduous listen for the casual fan. Only two singles were issued to plug the full length, in the guise of “Solitary Ground” and “Quietus (Silent Reverie)”. In September 2005, Epica released the soundtrack album The Score - An Epic Journey, penned in aid of Dutch adventure film Joyride. Alongside Kamelot, Epica handled their first North American dates in 2005 and 2006. Jeroen Simons left following the tour, and God Dethroned drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek eventually occupied the slot as a session member. Inking a new recording contract with the esteemed Nuclear Blast label, Epica return with August 2007 work The Divine Conspiracy.
Lending its queue from immediate predecessor Consign to Oblivion, The Divine Conspiracy paints an epic landscape which requires sufficient time to wholly comprehend. With every listen, the full length unveils fresh intricacies. When critiqued against Epica's 2005 work, the album wisely opts not to submerge itself in dense aspects quite so much. Within the realms of Nuclear Blast's hefty back catalogue, it carves itself a position as one of the most complex full lengths. Those who particularly admire straightforward or Extreme Metal need glance no further since The Divine Conspiracy can be hailed as majestic and operatic, and even accessible in certain respects. However, it never administers an unnervingly crushing blow.
While a seemingly remote possibility, the more accessible aspects comprise the album's greatest moments. All in all, the track “Never Enough” submits compelling evidence as to this. Epica embraces a hefty bounce redolent of Lacuna Coil, and that smoothly unites the Dutch sextet's Gothic nature alongside the group's more radio friendly “Metal” tendencies. Boasting soaring vocal work, “Never Enough”' wields a hook-laden chorus. Plugging more Classical leanings, the ballad “Safeguard to Paradise” is yet another composition which befriends radio's commercial preferences. Albeit utilizing a modest display of Pop stylings, Jansen's traditional Opera and Classical preferences remain largely predominant. Beautiful in its simplicity, this alone warrants the track for special attention. Midway into the album, a clutch of four tracks commit the full length's primary mistake. “La’petach Chtat Rovetz ~ the Last Embrace” inaugurates the quartet, and so The Divine Conspiracy journeys through “Death of a Dream”, “Living a Lie”, and “Fools of Damnation” (the Embrace that Smothers parts VII, VIII, and IX respectively). Truthfully speaking, the assemblage fall victim to their very own ambitions. At their greatest, the compositions seem awkward. At their bleakest though, the compositions seem incomplete. An ambitious approach executed with such courage could easily be praised, though it simply fails to work. The wild, erratic journey ultimately afflicts a whiplashed feeling - in effect, this robs the full length of much of the potent dynamism which The Divine Conspiracy's opening and ending segments toil so arduously to establish. Epica possess much talent. Thus far though, the full length records which the group have opted to pen can be simply described as an extremely difficult listen. Simone Simons' voice still carries an undertone of discomfort too often, whereas the chosen songwriting approach is unnecessarily complex. For most of its duration, Epica play towards their very whims as opposed to their strengths. While vaunting many wonderful moments, The Divine Conspiracy neglects to adequately flow for any length of time.