Epica - The Holographic Principle (Nuclear Blast Records)

Epica deliver a magnified volume of their iconic glorious symphonic metal style in The Holographic Principle.
Release Date: 
30 Sep 2016 (All day)

Dutch symphonic metal maestros Epica are set to unveil their seventh studio album The Holographic Principle on September 30. Following on from their resoundingly successful last release The Quantum Enigma; Epica have continued their musical search for the nucleus of reality in today’s world of virtual smoke-and-mirrors. This lofty thematic content works well with Epica’s classic full-bodied orchestral-infused metal arrangements. While there are a handful of lengthy and some slower tracks on this release, The Holographic Principle maintains texture, pace and interest. As in past releases, Simone Simons’ crystalline voice celestially dances through the guttural vocal of Mark Jansen in one of symphonic metal’s most captivating vocal dualities.

The Holographic Principle opens with a largely instrumental piece Eidola, with a menacing twist and militant advancement, then clearing away into celestial choral sections reminiscent of cathedral mass and a monastic chant. Edge of the Blade jumps in next, with an upbeat message of defiance that showcases Simons’ ability to fluctuate between powerful operatic and softer approachable vocals. This track has a satisfying mosh section towards the end making it an obvious winner for their live set.

The Holographic Principle’s twelve tracks are primarily vocal and keyboard-driven, and in doing this they have showcased the more ‘symphonic’ side of ‘symphonic metal’ that they do really well. That said, by the midsection of the album, Epica turn up the heavy with A Phantasmic Parade. This track kicks off deceptively and delicately with staccato violins before hammering in with thick guitars loading in behind the strings. The mystical-style melody makes this a quirky track with a bit of a theatrical vibe. Universal Death Squad is another example of Epica’s deceptive-intro fetish on The Holographic Principle. It opens with what sounds like a mournful viola then explodes into a bouncy, machine-gun-like blasting number. The ‘urgent’ tone of this track underscores its lyrical message of the snowballing march of technology. Divide and Conquer uses a call-and-answer device between Simons and Janssen to interrogate human agency and is one of the most symphonically paired-back tracks on the album, though still extremely epic, and for me, a contender for one of the strongest tracks on The Holographic Principle.

The Holographic Principle crescendos into its central tracks with Beyond the Matrix, a strong composition that gives each strength of the band a chance to shine, and Once Upon a Nightmare, an ephemeral piece that elegantly showcases Simons’ operatic range. The following three tracks present the diversity of Epica to an even further extent and I must confess this came through as a bit too staged for me at some points. The exploration of meta-themes continues with ‘why are we here?’ in The Cosmic Algorithm, which has a power-metal flavour to it. In Ascension – Dream State Armageddon, the mix of eerie, menacing sections and an overall message of positivity made this track a bit too cyber-gothic for my taste. I find spoken-word sections need to be used carefully and the one on this track came through a bit unconvincing. Dancing In A Hurricane is a curious folkish indulgence with a Middle Eastern flair that overall is an interesting song but for me a bit too theatrical, though this is a personal taste.

I welcomed the return to a heavier sound with Tear Down Your Walls as the album wrapped up in its epic over-eleven-minute final track The Holographic Principle – A Profound Understanding of Reality that salutes the concept of the album and the myriad of symphonic and metal strengths of Epica. Overall The Holographic Principle has very polished production and continues in the glorious symphonic maximalist style familiar to Epica fans. It is stacked full of impressive orchestral overtures and sweeping vocal work. This is Epica fully exploring their diverse range of strengths.