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Review: Epica - The Phantom Agony
The Phantom Agony

Label: Transmission Records
Year released: 2003
Duration: 51:53
Tracks: 9
Genre: Gothic Metal


Review online: May 23, 2004
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Readers' Rating
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Rated 3.89/5 (77.78%) (9 Votes)

I must say, after the thorough savaging Tony gave this I expected a horrible listening experience from this CD, but I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music on display here. Epica is the band founded by former After Forever guitarist/growler Mark Jansen after leaving that other great Gothic Metal outfit. This is their debut, and while it has flaws, it bodes well for the future.

This is Gothic Metal firmly in the vein of After Forever, Tristania, Elis, or even Trail Of Tears. Stylistically there are few surprises here. Despite the band's claims of drawing on middle eastern influence, I don't hear much of that in the compositions. Here we have classically-inflected keyboard and vocal arrangements backed up by the usual sort of heavy guitars and the expected operatic female vocals. I have to say the songwriting on the first half of the album is solid, and catchy arrangements make songs like "Sensorium" and especially "Cry For The Moon" highly enjoyable. Simone Simon is an excellent singer, with smooth tone and perfect diction—she really stands out as technically better than a lot of other singers in bands like this. There are some growling vox on here, but they are pretty sparse, and don't really seem to fit the music that well. The songs on the latter half of the CD seem to drag a bit, in particular "Façade Of Reality" is too darned long, and the 'full' version of the title track (9 minutes long) is much less fun than the Single Edit (which is a more manageable 4:35).

The package is classy, with a good cover that shows the band is smart enough to put Ms. Simon on the cover in a low-cut dress. Hey, if you've got a fox in the band, put her on the frigging album cover, it makes perfect sense to me. I must say the festoon of pine snakes they photoshopped around her is none too scary—but that's because I know what they are (pine snakes are about as dangerous as, say, yarn.) The overall art design is really excellent. What needs help here are the lyrics. I'm not a fan of 'realistic' lyrics anyway, but these are so preachy they make me flinch: "Tears of unprecedented beauty/ Reveal the truth of existence/ We're all pessimists" or "People created religious inventions/ To give their lives a glimmer of hope/ And to ease their fear of dying" Wow, deep. Also: boring and aggressively non-poetic. This band is named in part as a tribute to Kamelot, who they should really read carefully and see how to write introspective lyrics without becoming pedantic. This is music, not a tract.

So this is a good first album, and I can see potential for Epica to develop into a first-rate band in their chosen style. If they can rein in the urge to lecture in their lyrics and tighten up the arrangements a bit, I can see good things for this band, as there is just a ridiculous amount of talent on display here, they just need to harness it a little better next time out.

More about Epica...
Review: Consign to Oblivion (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Epica vs. Attack on Titan Songs (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: Requiem for the Indifferent (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: The Alchemy Project (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: The Divine Conspiracy (reviewed by Bruce Dragonchaser)
Review: The Quantum Enigma (reviewed by MetalMike)
Review: The Solace System (reviewed by MetalMike)
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