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What ya listening to: Epica “The Divine Conspiracy”

A trip out of the norm is a musical contradiction

Many times in our newsroom, conversations will devolve into silly discussions of music, only to re-evolve into serious discussions, stuffed with little known facts and opinions.

Jason Schoonover reviews Epica's "The Divine Conspiracy"

From this has come a continuing new feature that will see reporter Jason Schoonover and photographer Eric Johnson challenging each other to listen to something outside their music comfort zone.

This month will feature Jason Schoonover, who kicks the column off with a band as far out of his norm as it is out of the United States.

Dutch metal band Epica’s “The Divine Conspiracy” (2007) is like contradictions in your headphones.

On one hand, its produces operatic vocals from female mezzo-soprano Simone Simons.

On the other, it’s grunts and growls from Mark Jansen. On one side it’s orchestral arrangements are reminiscent of a movie soundtrack. On the other it’s Yves Huts’ powerful bass and Ariën Van Weesenbeek’s blitzkrieg of drums.

The album stretched my musical pallet, since I am far from a metalhead. The bashing metal and near-ceaseless double bass drum pedal was hard to get used to at first.

But, the blend of string and horn arrangements with the metal made for an intriguing and creative sound.

 Dig it

It’s clear Epica’s members are skilled musically. Mark Jansen’s orchestral arrangements sound like an Epic film soundtrack that peaks on a mountain top scene.

With Simone’s vocals leading the way, the band is able to find a harmony and grace unlike most metal albums. The arrangements and blends of sound make for a creative, unique sound the most other bands can’t pull off.

I also loved Epica’s mix of shorter tracks with long tracks and even a few that blend into each other. Longer tunes break the mundane pop system of using a few verses and a chorus in about three minutes.

The track “The Divine Conspiracy” clocks in at about 14 minutes. “Fools of Damnation: The Embrace That Smothers Part IX” is just under 9 minutes, but the track is anything but repetitious. The track runs more like an orchestra with multiple, varying parts and switches gears enough to leave some pop fans’ head spinning.

 Didn’t dig it

Van Weesenbeek’s drums are skilled, but the double bass pedal persists like a meat grinder. Like I said, the double bass is a musical pet peeve, no matter how well a drummer pulls it off.

Even though Epica fuses multiple sounds almost effortlessly, the heart-pounding bass and Jansen’s growls place the band in a specific genre for a specific audience.

Memorable songs

For most of “Chasing the Dragon,” the band eases the reins on the harsher sounds and lets Simone’s vocals lead a more subtle charge.

Verdict

While I’m not likely to add Epica to my playlists, I respect the band’s musical style and skill. It may not fit into my usual musical tastes, but anyone listening for a band that can blend metal and musicianship will appreciate “The Divine Conspiracy.”

 Note: Epica’s “The Divine Conspiracy,” is the band’s, third full-length studio album.

Website: http://www.epica.nl