Thursday, January 21, 2016

Epica at Irving Plaza

Simone Simons
After seven years in Dutch progressive/symphonic metal After Forever, rhythm guitarist Mark Jansen in 2002 formed a similar band, originally called Sahara Dust. Both bands were led by a smooth female singer whom he contrasted by adding death-metal growls. Sahara Dust initially assembled a choir (made up of two men and four women) and a string orchestra (three violins, two violas, two cellos and an upright bass) to play along with the core band. Sahara Dust soon became Epica, inspired by Kamelot’s album of the same name. Epica presently consists of lead vocalist Simone Simons, guitarists Isaac Delahaye and Mark Jansen, keyboardist  Coen Janssen, bassist Rob van der Loo and drummer AriĆ«n van Weesenbeek. The band's seventh and most recent album is 1994's The Quantum Enigma.

Last year, after launching a North American tour with Eluveitie, Epica cancelled remaining dates so that Simons could fly back to the Netherlands to tend to a family emergency. Epica began a 2016 tour tonight with a headlining show at Irving Plaza. Entering to a pre-recorded orchestral "Originem," the musicians took their positions and opened with two live songs from the most recent album. While the males spun their long hair, Simons made sure hers did not get in her face as she soared into high operatic ranges. When Jansen came forth for his death growls, Simons retreated and joined in the hair spinning. Simons' melodic singing matched the band's power metal elements while her retreats signaled the band to move into more symphonic metal interludes. The songs were complex compositions, and the multiple crescendos in the orchestration aided the soft and hard transitions. Halfway through the set, Jansen invited fans to vote between "Storm the Sorrow" and "The Last Crusade," then played both. Simons cautioned the stream of crowd surfers early on ("I'm a mother, so I worry about everybody"), and at the end of the set asked that they halt so that the fans in the front could enjoy the final song. Epica performed a 100-minute set that included one to four songs from six of the band's albums; Epica’s non-metal 2005 album The Score – An Epic Journey, the soundtrack for a Dutch movie, was not represented. Epica's performance demonstrated that progressive metal and melodic, symphonic power metal can breathe harmoniously.

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