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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Epica

The Divine Conspiracy

Review by Gary Hill

As with the previous CD by Epica reviewed here, I’m putting this into the progressive rock section. I know there are those who will disagree with this, but really their blending of styles is so complete and powerful that (despite the fact that there is a lot of metal in this) I think it belongs in prog. This group is symphonic and epic in their scope. They seem to have no problem with melding classical music and harder edged rock and metal into something that is organic and natural. This is an extremely talented group and this album is a great representation of their skills.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Indigo - Prolougue
Symphonic and powerful this feels like movie soundtrack music. It starts gradually but really becomes something special. We get chorale styled vocals and potent keyboard textures before it ends. They bring this up into seriously epic musical styles. It really equates well to a classical opening fanfare.

I
The Obsessive Devotion
They scream out in a fiery, frantic metallic jam, but still the symphonic instrumentation remains. There are nearly operatic female vocals on this, but also death metal growls. We get epic metal journeys and neo-classical excursions. As diametrically opposed as these elements would seem to be they somehow work well at creating an incredible whole. Perhaps the most glaring example of this dichotomy is a short segment where a deep nu-metal line is counterpointed by a symphonic flare. They also drop the track to full soundtrack stylings for a time. There’s a section in here that reminds me of the music from the original “Omen” movie, too. This is an amazingly diverse and dynamic piece of music. Whenever a new segment comes up it doesn’t stay around long as they shift out to something newer in quick succession.

Menace Of Vanity
The contradictory sounds continue here. In many ways we get some heavier and more brutal metal on this. Yet we are also given sections that are very much in a modern rock take on classic opera. Classical sounds and metal merge in one seamless composition. One change from the previous track is that while that one was slow in places and fast in others, this never lets up its pounding intensity to slow down. It moves between more classically oriented and metallic variations, but remains furious throughout.

Chasing the Dragon
They drop it way down to a beautiful and very prog oriented classically tinged ballad. This is pretty and a great change of pace. Just before the two minute mark they power it up, but it still does not rise anywhere near the level of metal. A nearly full classical interlude takes it around the three minute mark and only after this do we get any real metal. Then they combine the classical and metal in another powerful arrangement. There are some incredibly potent sections as they work along the road that is this track. In many ways this has some of the most pure metal of the CD. Yet we also get full on symphonic passages at other points. In any event this is one of the most dynamic and strongest cuts on show here.
Never Enough
This one is more straightforward than the stuff we’ve heard so far. There are still classical elements to be found, though. And rather than coming across as pure metal I’d say this is closer to some of the more accessible of Lana Lane’s output. It’s a good song, but the first that isn’t quite on a par with what we’ve heard to this point.
II
La'Fetach Chatat Rovetz - The Last Embrace
A gentle musical groove brings this one in. It’s almost fusion, but with a definite classical bent to it. As it carries on world music sounds are brought into the midst. This never rises up far, though. Instead it is a short instrumental interlude.

Death Of A Dream - The Embrace That Smothers Part VII
Here we get another killer slab of metal meets classical motifs. In many ways this doesn’t differ from the formula of the rest of the album. The thing is, as wide a range of sounds as this group have, they don’t need to change that map every track to keep it interesting. Each song has its own sense of variety and alteration built right in. This has some of the most soaring vocals of the whole disc and some of the most beautiful classical music passages, too.

Living A Lie - The Embrace That Smothers Part VIII
The choir vocals that lead us off here might make you think that you’ve wandered into a church service at Christmas time. That motif holds the intro, but the group jump from there into another killer dosage of their metal meets classical prescription. This has some cool staccato stuff in the midst of it. In keeping with the tone that lead us in, we even get a drop back to what sounds like a Priest delivering a sermon in Latin. We also get some killer classical music in the guise of metal later.

Fools Of Damnation - The Embrace That Smothers Part IX
In a seeming contradiction with the last track we get an Arabic texture (both in terms of what sounds like someone at the “wailing wall” and in terms of the musical themes on this piece. This one is a change up due to the different musical orientation brought on by that new venue. It’s another powerful helping of the soundscape these guys make their homeland otherwise. There is a killer hard edged, but classically oriented jam on this one that is amongst the best musical passages of the whole album.

III
Beyond Belief
The opening on this makes you think that we’re about to jump into something not unlike the last track. It does make its way back to that territory, but they have other plans first. They drop it back to some of the gentler and more poignant vocals of the disc. This is pretty and does a great job of setting the track apart. They do create more of their standard fare (of course, as creative as this group is, their “standard” would  be “incredible” for many other groups).
Safeguard To Paradise
There is absolutely no metal on this track. It’s a beautiful balladic number. When it does power up at all, it’s not with even rock elements but rather classical instrumentation and stylings. This is a great change of pace and quite a cool track.

Sancta Terra
We’re back into the main music we get on this disc here. This is dramatic and quite strong. It manages to standout amidst a sea of powerful music. The Lana Lane comparisons are valid again at points during this ride.

The Divine Conspiracy
At almost fourteen minutes in length this is the longest cut on show here. If you wanted a good idea of what this disc sounded like, but didn’t want to put the time into listening to the whole thing, this track would do it. It’s got the epic scope and pretty much every type of sound that the group produces built into its structure. It’s like a mini-album all its own. It’s also a great way to end this adventure
 
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