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Review: Epica – The Solace System (EP)

Release date: September 1, 2017
Rating: average (3)

Line-up:
Simone Simons – vocals
Mark Jansen – guitar, vocals
Isaac Delahaye – guitar
Rob van der Loo – bass
Coen Janssen – keyboard
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums

Epica, to me, is the best example of a band that steadily climbed towards success. Nightwish may be the better known band in the genre, but Epica make up for that with hard work – they seem to have been working harder than their Finnish counterpart have for the past five years. Just look at how well they have been developing. They aren’t just another symphonic metal band anymore; Epica have become a symphonic metal powerhouse with all the bells and whistles. Not only do they collaborate with highly acclaimed orchestras and choirs for their very well-frequented shows and studio albums, they also release well-produced videos and have one of the biggest metal labels at their side since ten years.

Epica have even been working so hard that they wrote enough material for their latest full length record “The Holographic Principle” to release an EP called “The Solace System” with the songs that didn’t make it to the album, and this EP is more than overdue to be reviewed. So my first question here is: Why would a band do that? If the material isn’t good enough to make it to a full length album, then it probably isn’t good enough for an EP either. Yes, that is a harsh statement, but these days, I don’t believe that any band can afford releasing mediocre material when everybody knows they can do better. (In this case, though, I do have to add that there are a couple of tracks on “The Holographic Principle” that sound like garbage.) Also, if Mark Jansen and co. are so eager to put out all the material they have been writing, I’d rather have a new Mayan album, as I always liked their quasi Epica-side project more.
Of course, this EP doesn’t sound bad: Take tracks like “Architect Of Light” and “Decoded Poetry” or the heart-warming ballad “Immortal Melancholy” (Epica are great at ballads in general) – beautiful tracks that could have easily made it to “The Holographic Principle” in my opinion. But the rest, and even the aforementioned tracks, sounds so typical of Epica it’s almost ironic. This doesn’t have to be a negative point – if that’s what you want, be my guest. For me, it’s just not enough.
Also, what in the name of God is Simone doing on this EP? Her voice lacks any kind of warmth and emotion. Yes, everyone who knows me also knows that I had a hard time getting used to her vocals until I finally had to admit that she does a pretty good job – sometimes at least. Most of the time, her vocals sound like charivari to me. Additionally, beginning with the last full-length record “The Holographic Principle”, her voice has increasingly been sounding way too autotuned and quite bland most of the time. I much preferred the vocals in Epica ten years ago – just listen to “The Divine Conspiracy” and you will understand what I am talking about. Back then, Simons’ long notes had power and grip to them. Now she is doing … whatever she is doing. I am not attempting to understand what that exactly is, but she is definitely struggling.

The main problem, however, is that Epica are getting predictable: Choirs, epic melodies, heavy riffs and confusing vocals, we know the drill by now. The purpose of this EP probably wasn’t pushing boundaries, I will admit that, so for what this is, it’s solid. I just can’t help but think that Epica have released much better material before. “The Solace System” is average – not more and not less.

Tracks:
01. The Solace System
02. Fight Your Demons
03. Architect Of Light
04. Wheel Of Destiny
05. Immortal Melancholy
06. Decoded Poetry

Examining Arion’s last three singles

I didn’t plan to write this post. But as fate willed, Arion released a new track not long ago, and I just had to give it a listen (even though I should be doing something more important, for example calculus).
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, Arion is a melodic power metal band from Finland. The band is formed by a couple of music students not older than a little over 20 years, with exception of their fairly new singer. Their debut album came out three years ago and I remember going nuts over it. It was my second favorite release of 2014 and I knew all the lyrics by heart. You get the idea.
As you might have guessed by the date of their first and latest album release, Arion haven’t managed to put out a new record, but they are making sure that they aren’t forgotten completely. Last year, they released two singles and a brand new one just yesterday. If they will be continuing like that, we will soon know all the songs off the new album without getting a new album … so shall we get into some details about the singles?

First of all, it never bothered me that Arion sounded like well-known and loved bands such as Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, at times even like Children Of Bodom; they somehow managed to create a good mix of these bands and threw in their own style and signature sound. But now, it does bother me that their new tracks increasingly sound like bad copies of their greatest tracks off “Last Of Us”.

“At The Break Of Dawn” (feat. Elize Ryd)
Let’s face it, Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) has collaborated with numerous artists in the rock and metal scene, with pleasant and not so pleasant results. So having Elize sing on your song or album is no guarantee for success (Timo Tolkki, I’m looking at you…). However, in the case of Arion’s first single after their debut album, Elize took this song to the next level. It is fresh, catchy and energetic, the vocal line is absolutely stunning and it still sounds like Arion. I do have to admit that I was a little sad that former singer Viljami Holopainen (who by the way has nothing to do with Tuomas Holopainen) didn’t get to sing this duet with Elize, they would have sounded beautiful together, and he would have probably really loved to collaborate with her.
Note that this song is Arion’s most listened track on Spotify, with over double the amount of listens than their other top tracks. So I am definitely not the only one who thinks that Arion did everything right with this track. I am wondering, though, if Elize was involved in the songwriting process. It would explain why “At The Break Of Dawn” turned out so well…

“Unforgivable”
When this song was released, I listened to it one single time and I thought it was so mediocre that I didn’t feel the urge to listen to it again … ever. I still did for research purposes, though. The vocals are weird and I can’t really see where Arion are going with this song. It is kind of all over the place. Not a hit for me.

“No One Stands In My Way”
So first of all, what we have here is a song title that could easily fit onto an Arch Enemy record. I was expecting a cheesy song title! Alright, it is kind of cheesy, I suppose …
“No One Stands In My Way” starts with a riff that instantly reminded me of the opening riff of “10 Silver Bullets” by Swallow The Sun. Shortly after, you can hear a bass line that is very similar to the one on “Out Of The Ashes” from Arion’s first record. In general, this song sounds like a new version of the aforementioned song, and it is without question that I like “Out Of The Ashes” a lot better.

The weird thing about the last two tracks is that if you start listening at every single instrument individually, you really start questioning what these guys are trying to do. But weirdly enough, the tracks aren’t awful as a whole. I don’t get it.

I am very anxious about the new album, in case it will ever see the light of day. I truly doubt that I will adore it as much as their first album. Without their talented former singer Viljami Holopainen and with their new singer Lassi Vääränen (who is not bad but not exactly outstanding either), the quality of Arion’s songs seems to be decreasing with every new release. Could it be because they are on their own now? It is a known fact in the metal scene that Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering) and Matias Kupiainen (Stratovarius, Arion’s drummer’s elder brother) helped the band in the songwriting process for “Last Of Us”. Are they lost without a little help from some more experienced musicians? Or have they been able to write such hits as “Seven”, “Lost” or “Last Of Us” all on their own, but are somehow drifting into the wrong direction now?

Let’s hope we will find out soon … until then, I will listen to “At The Break Of Dawn” and their first record on repeat.

2017’s most impressive releases so far – Part 2

Some of you might look at this short list and ask themselves “Where is all the heavy stuff?”. Well, a little while ago, I introduced part 1 of this series with the fact that I haven’t had much time to listen to a lot of music in 2017 because of different reasons, and when I did, I have almost always been opting for “softer” music.
Two of the next albums have been accompanying me during most parts of this spring – can you guess which ones?

Kobra And The Lotus – Prevail I
Release date:
May 12, 2017
Having always been skeptical about artists who seem self-publicizing or too concerned about their looks, I avoided Kobra And The Lotus for quite some time. Frontwoman Kobra Paige looked as if she could fit into the aforementioned category of musicians; however, after listening to the latest album by the Canadian band, I learned that she is a gifted vocalist and as I watched some interviews with her, I concluded that she has to be a genuinely nice and down-to-earth person. This is probably another typical case of “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Also, shout out to a female in the metal genre that is not a soprano – middle-ranged ladies and altos are way too underrepresented in the metal scene. In a world full of Sharons, Tarjas and Elizes, we need more Kobras!
Prevail I has been growing on me with every new listen: It has the right punch to it despite being full of hits. It also feels a lot fresher than Kobra And The Lotus’ previous releases. Some of the most outstanding songs are the opener “Gotham”, “Triggerpulse” and the semi-ballad “Light Me Up”.

Imminence – This Is Goodbye
Release date:
March 31, 2017
I would say that I normally don’t listen to “this kind” of music, but that would be bullshit. I listen to whatever works for me, and even though this new type of core music is not what I generally opt for, I genuinely enjoy Imminence’s new record This Is Goodbye. It is true that they have changed their style quite drastically; however, both styles, namely classic metal-/deathcore and modern melodic/alternative rock/metal, suit them very well. If this is what a band wants to do, why not?
This Is Goodbye is basically a record that has been written with a broken heart: There are quite a few songs on here that express feelings of sadness, loss, heartbreak, and chagrin. Nonetheless, all tracks are memorable and full of energy.This record soothes the listener and makes him want to party at the same time. “Energetic” is also a term to describe Imminence’s live shows: The Swedes give everything on stage and especially vocalist Eddie Berg is one of the most enthusiastic frontmen I have ever seen live. And to top it all, he even produces all of Imminence’s music videos, and he’s doing a fantastic job.
It is fair to say that I have been playing this record on repeat ever since I bought it at one of their shows as support for annisokay. Also, have I mentioned that these guys are some of the nicest dudes I have ever met? I have never been hugged so much in one single evening. Anyways, if you are into great melodies and don’t mind a little electronic action alongside with guitars and a little cheesiness, give This Is Goodbye a listen. Favorite tracks: “Coming Undone”, “Broken Love” and “Cold As Stone”.

Soen – Lykaia
Release date:
February 3, 2017
When I reviewed this record for progressivemusicplanet.com, I remember liking two songs off Lykaia a lot and the rest sounded rather mediocre to me. Despite that and the fact that Soen sound way too perfect for my taste, I have still being coming back to this album. And now, as I am listening to Lykaia again, I do like it more than a couple of months ago. So that’s why I had to mention it as part of this list. Unmistakably influenced by Opeth and Tool, Soen created an atmospheric and dynamic prog rock record and even added some elements of world music. In my review, I wrote as a conclusion that you should give this record several listens so you could “discover the colors that I tried and failed to find”. Slowly, but steadily, it seems that these so-called colors I tried to find in Lykaia are finally revealing themselves to me.

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