I'd been meaning to do a real time review for awhile on this album but lacked the motivation. *Brootal Advisory* If symphonic metal is too pansy ass for you, this article can be skipped. You've been warned. And now onto the review. Let it be noted that I have listened to this album before so it's not going to be like previous entries where I came in blind. However due to various distractions while listening I'm pretty sure I've missed alot so I can still be in for some surprises, both good or bad.Here we go.
1. Samadhi(Prelude): As with most albums of this genre there has to be the opening "number" if you will. Alot of bombast. Mark Jansen wants to be a composer and wants you to hear he's qualified. Not too original but I always dig these type of openings. 7 of 10.
2. Resign to Surrender(A New Age Dawns): Fast double bass intro with choir in the background. Song goes balls out with a cool heavy riff and Mark Jansen starts up with grunts. But unlike previous releases his grunts are actually melodic and fit the rhythm very well. Simone Simons comes in with her almost operatic vocals.Nice trade off between the two.Segue way to the choir again. Alot of tempo changes and song keeps you interested. Voice over midway through with heavy organ music. Solo and back to the main riff. Now to piano with Simone's vocals.I love all of the changes how they flow into each other. Closes out with voice over again leading to a notion that this is a concept album of sorts. 9 of 10.
3. Unleashed:Choral opening. Fast heavy intro with strings. Simone says "Back in the day". Hmmm....trying to have some street cred there Simone? I kid.This song is pretty standard Epica fair here with Simone as primary vocalist. I don't think Mark makes an appearance here. Simone at the end ramps her vocals up to the next level and pretty much gets full opera. It's a nice song. 7 of 10.
4. Martyr of the Free World:Another fast heavy intro without the fast double bass for once. Oh wait, never mind, there it goes. Segue way with some cool sitar effects. Simone singing and this song so far is middle eastern style and catchy. There's Mark. Grunting along with blazing fast rhythms. I'm still waiting in dread for when he switches to his black vocals. Some Gregorian style chanting in the back.
Very cool. Pretty heavy ass music to go with the strings. Solo time. Back to catchy Simone phrasing. Uh oh Marks starting to black metal croak but it's not as bad as previous albums. Song is pretty kick ass. 9 of 10.
5.Our Destiny: Slower tempo intro with keyboards. Drums on this album are thunderous as hell. Soft passage with Simone singing. Bass kicks in. Mark is sprinkling in his grunts a bit. So far this song is the closest to a ballad they've come to but then the double bass kicks you in the head to wake you up. Ah hell there's the black metal screeching from Mark. I'll get more into why I don't like that aspect of his vocals after the albums done. Choir is kicking in here with heavy mid tempo rhythms.Overall I'm liking this song. 8 of 10.
6.Kingdom of Heaven(A New Age Dawns Part V)At over 13 minutes the longest song on here. I'm not going to cover every aspect of this tune but I will say that by far this is my favorite track. It might even be my favorite song by Epica period. With five passages it's progressive, epic, heavy as hell, mixes in symphonic with middle eastern influences, and provides an ass kicking wrapped up in one song. Even Mark's vocals don't piss me off. 10 of 10.
7.The Price of Freedom(Interlude)Short instrumental. Voice overs, repetitive piano and symphony.
8.Burn to a Cinder:Mid tempo song heavy on the double bass. Simone on vocals. Another track reminiscent of previous albums. Not to amazing or different from other songs in this genre. 7 of 10.
9.Tides of Time:Slowest song on here. Simone singing over soft passages primarily with piano and some strings. About 3 minutes it starts to build up. Pretty song if unremarkable. 7 of 10.
10.Deconstruct:Back to ass kicking. Mark finally makes an appearance again trading off grunts with Simone's vocals but it's not to often. I'd love to hear her sing a song in a lower register. For once. Maybe she can't. 7 of 10.
11. Semblance of Liberty:Pounding rhythm as an intro.Mark's grunts welcome us into this song. Finally since Kingdom we're treated to some heavy as shit music. Welcome change after the last three songs. Now Simone cuts in for a brief bit but this is more of a Mark Jansen on vocals song.Some evil voice overs.I love the drum mix on this album. It's pretty punishing the way metal drums should be. You listening Lars?Oh for crying out loud, George H Bush voice overs with the "Read my lips". I thought that sound byte was done years ago.Otherwise a pretty kickass song.8 of 10.
12.White Waters(feat.Tony Kakko): Shaping up to be a ballad. Long soft acoustic intro.Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko begins and trades off with Simone. Tony's vocals are pretty good in this song. I still need to fulfill my promise and listen to some SA.Pretty nice song with no over embellishment. 7 of 10.
13.Design your Universe: The title track obviously. Starts very slow with Acoustic guitars. Slow heavy string buildup. I'm thinking this song is going to blow up soon. And here we go. Cool riff kicks in.And then promptly slows down again. Oh one of those I see. Mark Jansen cuts in with grunts.This song clocks in at under 10 minutes so I should probably just listen to it and give my impressions after.Plus my fingers are cramping. I'm old, shut up. The song is a nice close out in that's its epic with tempo changes but in a calmer way then Kingdom was. Kind of like doing aerobics after an hour and then playing something to wind down and decompress. 7 of 10.
So there you have it, the latest Epica Album 'Design Your Universe'. Without a doubt my favorite album by them. It seemed with every album Mark Jansen was trying to find a balance for all of the music influences and just didn't quite get there but I think he's come pretty close here. Where in the past his death/black metal vocals were a distraction and at times unnecessary, here they blend nicely in places and he didn't go over the top with the black metal style which is horrible by the way. Simone Simons is a great vocalist for what she does but like I mentioned earlier it would be nice to see if she can display a range in the lower registers. After awhile I find I sort of tune her out because there is a pitch to her vocals that bugs me after too long.
I really wish this genre would have a bigger audience in the States but I guess we're not that refined yet. So if symphonies, hot red heads with operatic vocals, and death metal grunts are your bag, check these folks out.You can check out more of their music here. I'll leave you now with the video for the song Unleashed. Enjoy.