Epica - The Solace System (Nuclear Blast Records)

Epica release a captivating and intriguing EP in the wake of The Holographic Principle
Release Date: 
1 Sep 2017 (All day)

Dutch symphonic power metal giants Epica are set to release their new EP The Solace System this September. Although technically a supplement to 2016’s The Holographic Principle, The Solace System is a solid and memorable release in its own right. These six tracks were recorded during the creation of The Holographic Principle but were not included on the final record. Consequently, these six tracks now see the light of day as their own EP, and for fans of the heavier and less melodramatic side of Epica, The Solace System is a welcome addition to The Holographic Principle album-family tree.

The Solace System is indeed for the most part heavier than its parent-album and features a welcome prevalence of guitar-lead compositions. This is not to suggest that the melodic or symphonic elements of Epica aren’t present, certainly the band’s classic grandiose style remains, showcased in the opening title track. However, tracks such as ‘Fight Your Demons’ and ‘Wheel of Destiny’ are clearly driven by chunky power-metal riffs and feature some energetic guitar soloing. The Solace System is far less theatrical- musically and lyrically - than The Holographic Principle, which in my opinion this is a positive direction – less theatre, more power, is good. And Epica have got the mix of energy and symphony just right here.

The comparative lack of theatricality on The Solace System does not undermine Epica’s ability to produce highly varied compositions. On the third track  ‘Architect of Light’, Lyrically one can tell it was meant for The Holographic Principle but it fits well on The Solace System. This track has some fascinating textures but does run the risk of sounding cluttered. It was a solid song, though initially confusing, with shifts from a regal intro into a spooky melody, which broke up the general air of positivity generated by the soaring overall Epica sound nicely.

A strange, but beautiful, interlude was provided by the acoustic piece ‘Immortal Melancholy’. This sparse but pretty track featured a delicate classical guitar and Simone Simons’ soft vocals reciting dark but enchanting lyrical poetry. I found this track intriguing, as the musical tone was not close to as sinister as the lyrical themes suggested, making it an almost-gothic but nonetheless captivating little track. It was great to hear the acoustic classical guitar, and ‘Immortal Melancholy’ has stayed on my mind; lyrically this little song has a lot of gems.

By far the standout track on The Solace System was ‘Decoded Poetry’. Similar to ‘Architects of Light’ it is a highly varied track between Simons’ clean vocals and dropping into the solid guttural sound, into a monastic atmosphere and then exploding into the heaviest sound that I have heard from Epica – a death-metal tirade of double kicks that really brought drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek out of the woodwork and edgy pinch harmonics through fantastic vocal layering. This song is how I hope the next full-length Epica album sounds.

Overall, it is fortunate that these tracks did not become obscure; they are six worthy songs and work well on this shorter release together. With less overtly dramatic elements, I actually prefer The Solace System EP to The Holographic Principle. Lyrically this release has more complexity and for me it has continued the best musical elements of last year’s full-length release into a concentrated set of songs that I hope heralds an ongoing direction for Epica.

The Solace System is out 1 September 2017 via Nuclear Blast