Symphonic metal has its enthusiasts and its haters. With so many practitioners of the form, there's been little much else to say that hasn't been said already. Then again, you have EPICA, a band that's heavier than the norm in this sanction and you just knew one day they were going to lay down something not only of significance but of outright spectacle. That's been achieved with their tenth anniversary concert, entitled "Retrospect".
EPICA has all the components for success: a proud and sometimes fierce mezzo-soprano who could likely pull off a convincing Red Sonja if you simply handed her a sword, two guitarists who shred both their frets and esophagi, an energetic drummer described by his fiery band mate as (paraphrasing) someone who carries explosives in his ass, a bassist who stands tall in the pocket and a keyboardist/music director who just might've had a better time than everyone else on March 23, 2013 for EPICA's anniversary bash at Klokgebouw in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
"Retrospect" is a three-hour concert commemorating a decade's worth of work for EPICA, spread over a hardbound package containing two DVDs and three CDs and limited to 3,000 copies. If you're already a fan of the band, you'll want to move fast on this. If you've merely been curious about EPICA, you'll still want to move fast before you miss out on a truly astounding performance.
Backed by The Extended Remenyi Ede Chamber Orchestra and The Choir of Miskolc National Theatre, what has only been pre-recorded and compressed on their studio albums is brought to life onstage in one of the most thrilling symphonic metal sets ever assembled. EPICA is lifted to majestic heights by their orchestra and choir and Lord, do they ever seize the moment by tightening up, hammering down and going to town with a visual presentation worthy of their raging typhoon of sound here. Only just showing a trace of her baby bump in this show, Simone Simons is a tempest all by herself and the future mommy will no doubt cherish this night with every ounce of fondness.
EPICA arms themselves with pyro cannons, lasers and spotlight erections galore that look like crossed spires and change colors depending upon the moods of the songs. All of this plus acrobats, a violinist duking in a note-frantic square-off against lead guitarist Isaac Delahaye, two guest appearances by current NIGHTWISH and REVAMP vocalist Floor Jansen (including a breathtaking cantata alongside Simone Simons) and an "Empire Strikes Back" symphonic interlude including a badass take on Darth Vader's "Imperial March" theme. On the latter, the EPICA band lays down heavy ammo at the feet of their orchestra's whirling Sith sweeps. Add a brand new song, the pop-flavored anthem "Retrospect", written specifically for this concert and a reunion with former EPICA members Ad Sluijter, Yves Huts and Jeroen Simons for "Quietus", and "Retrospect" gets pulled off as one hell of a party for all involved.
There's so much sensory stimuli going on in EPICA's "Retrospect" show that even ten cameras can't seem to get it all. Albeit, what they do capture is plentiful and shot beautifully, as beautifully as Simone Simons wails on "Delirium", "Serenade of Self-Destruction", "Consign to Oblivion", "Twin Flames" and "The Divine Conspiracy (Anniversary Edition)". Her two duets with Floor Jansen, "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" and "Sancta Terra" are mesmerizing. The mini opera the duo puts on with "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" having only The Extended Remenyi Ede Chamber Orchestra backing them is, as would be expected, sublime.
Suffice it to say, Simone Simons stops hearts all over the Klokgebouw, which hosted guests from a reported fifty countries around the world. The men are frequently found smiling like lovesick puppy dogs in front of Simons, while the ladies bang their heads with even more zeal than their male counterparts. During "Serenade of Self-Destruction", you'll even spot a couple of girls weeping at Simons' emotive outpouring of the song's final bars.
As Mark Jansen provides more than a lion's share of woofs, roars and screeches as Simons' "beast" counterpart, EPICA as a band lays down even heavier chords to the bombastic "Monopoly of Truth", "The Obsessive Devotion", "Sensorium", "Unleashed", "The Phantom Agony" and "Martyr of the Free Word". Jansen, Rob Van Der Loo and Isaac Delahaye pinwheel their follicles with aggression during EPICA's faster parts, and the entire front line, including Simone Simons, have a knack for bobbing and fluffing their hair with perfect synchronicity to their varying tempos. Drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek knocks himself silly keeping time with EPICA's hours-intensive marathon, but he never loses stride. All part of the show and you can detect admiration from some of the orchestra and choir members, who give their all to be a part of this explosive gala.
On the slower songs, the homogeneity between EPICA and their supporting players becomes even more eloquent. Simone Simons tells her audience she's a film junkie and that Johnny Depp's "From Hell" is the primary inspiration to a lot of her lyrics before opening up the dark and sensuous "Chasing the Dragon". Acoustic guitars from Jansen and Delahaye and delicate synths from Coen Janssen (who boasts a curved, lap-splashing carry-along keyboard amongst his hardware) play sweetly next to the reed section dotting their lines. A pair of acrobats emerge during the song and they ascend silk tapestries to the amazement of all, even Simons herself. Simons does her best to stay focused on her performance but is compelled to watch the aerials, twirls, splits and suspensions overhead as "Chasing the Dragon" turns from esthetic to ugly. The aerials increase in tempo to fit the agitated thrash section of the song and thus the entire scene is amazing to behold.
Classy that EPICA gives their ensemble a few center stage moments (obviously to let Simone Simons catch her breath and slip through wardrobe changes), but there's a congruous naturalness to having the "Orchestral Melody" appear between the complex and hyperactive "Serenade of Self-Destruction" and "The Divine Conspiracy". The orchestra's interplay with the EPICA front line on Vivaldi's "Presto" that culminates in the violin and guitar battle exhibits a mutual respect that has every bit to do with the success of "Retrospect". All the time the orchestra and choir laid down in practice for a composite 81 hours is treated with undeniable reverence by EPICA and their devout.
The only word of caution to this package, go by the track listing on the liner notes instead of the back and holders, particularly for the midway point of the show. Otherwise, "Retrospect" is one for the ages, not just for EPICA, but for this neoclassical brand of metal itself.