EPICA – 20th Anniversary Event [Livestream Review] (September 3rd, 2021)

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he European metal scene has come a long way in the past two decades, following a seemingly miraculous rebirth of the melodic strain with a fresh coat of auditory paint towards the turn of the millennium. In what some might dub the 2 wave of power metal, much of northern and western Europe experienced a veritable renaissance with a slew of bands following the standard originally set by Helloween in the late 80s, but revival and gradual evolution were not the only things this happening had in store. Spearheaded by the early strides of Nightwish and Rhapsody, a new movement of operatic and symphonic bands that held a more tangential relationship with the original trappings of the German power and speed metal scenes of the 80s ended up taking the world by storm, the former being particularly noted for its ties to the 90s gothic and doom metal crazes. It was at this point that Dutch-based symphonic metal powerhouse outfit Epica came into the picture, and now 20 years to the day that this union of symphonic bombast and eclectic metal trappings took shape, it’s massive legacy was brought full circle via the live streaming medium.

Led by the immaculate and charismatic mezzo-soprano of fire-haired front woman Simone Simmons and the pummeling power metal meets death/thrash riff work and guttural barks of guitarist and songwriting mastermind Mark Jansen, this celebration of sound and fury reached, pardon the expression, epic proportions. With a gargantuan banner and visual backdrop that bordered on something seen at an IMAX theater and an elaborate light and pyrotechnics show to rival the 4 of July, this mighty sextet of virtuoso players would recount their past studio accomplishments in a fashion that could only be described as Hollywoodesque. The dense orchestral backdrop would be accomplished through a combination of well-placed backing tracks and the handiwork of keyboardist and co-founder Coen Janssen, who played with the proficiency of Jordan Rudess and the tasteful restraint of Tuomas Holopainen, and made frequent occasions to engage in some crowd work of his own. The percussive bombardment of the rhythm section provided by drummer Arien van Weesenbeek and bassist/de facto new guy Rob van der Loo was a flawless display of precision and force, and the semi-frequent solo displays put forth by guitarist Issac Delahaye were as complementary to the arrangement as they were technically impressive.

True to the lofty imagery that comes with their adoptive name, and also the mystique of their briefly held early moniker Sahara Dust, the selection of anthems that spanned this outfit’s eight studio albums were a dual course in sonic largess and Near East-tinged stylistic nuance. A heavy degree of enthusiasm from the avid throngs of onlookers rounding out the audience would be reserved for earlier classics from Epica’s formative years, with the opening operatic cantana turned pummeling metallic onslaught of debut album “The Phantom Agony”’s classic chapter “Cry For The Moon” all but bringing the house down just as things were getting under way. Not far behind in the sheer degree of loud approval from the crowd department would be the closing hurrah of their sophomore album’s title song “Consign To Oblivion”, bringing more of a Neo-classical flair with plenty of technical high-jinks into the equation as Simone and Mark would give their resounding thanks to the fans. Another highlight of audience approval combined with a stellar performance would be found towards the middle of the set with the banger off 2012’s “Requiem For The Indifferent” in “Storm The Sorrow”, which was also an exemplary moment for Simmons’ resounding mixture of soft croons and operatic pomp.

Naturally Epica is a band that continues to exist in the here and now, and thus there was no shortage of brilliant performances featuring new material to be found during this extended concert extravaganza. A pair of truly riveting renditions were to be found in the haunting yet largely infectious banger with a pummeling, groovy bottom end “The Skeleton Key” and the extended symphonic adventure with an eye to the empyreal “Kingdom Of Heaven Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe” off their 2021 smash and latest studio opus “Omega,” showcasing a band that represented a rather sizable evolutionary leap in their base style sticking fairly close to home in relation to their now 20 years history. Indeed, when also considering some of the material from their equally renowned 2014 LP “The Quantum Enigma,” specifically the utterly crushing display on the extreme metal-tinged beast “Victims Of Contingency” and the slightly less agitated yet still dark and heavy “The Essence Of Silence”, this celebration of a long-running career was marked not only by a consistency in quality, but also in that of a loyal adherence to the stylistic formula that the band adopted from the example of Nightwish and Kamelot during their formative period.

For a project that originally came about as a breakaway from the similarly styled symphonic metal trailblazer After Forever, which also benefited from the six-string and compositional expertise of Mark Jansen during its earliest era, Epica is a name that has surpassed much of what preceded it in terms of studio accomplishment and popular outreach. All of this owes to a band that has been more than capable of bringing their highly involved and complex art form into the concert venue without losing any of its polish or luster outside of a studio context, a fact that was underscored at every point during their rousing celebration of two decades of exploring the subjects of religion, philosophy, politics and human society at large in a style that one would come to associate with the fantastical. The ultimate takeaway from those who caught the event live and the exponentially greater number that likely tuned in from their computers was one of unfiltered realism with a seemingly unreal level of quality, and it goes without saying that all in attendance, either in person or virtually, will be following the resounding toast to 20 years in the can with another 20 years of similar greatness down the road.

EPICA Setlist:

Epica Setlist Poppodium 013, Tilburg, Netherlands, Omega Tour 2022

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