epica-the-holographic-principleThe cultish devotion to contemplating endless variations of Descartes’s “evil demon” question mixed with Hume’s ridiculous skepticism has led some philosophers to seriously contemplate if saying “I have hands” is a valid assertion because we can’t definitively prove that we’re not just brains in vats (BIVs) imagining the whole world, our hands included. Somehow this line of thought is still taken seriously, and it’s given us plenty. It’s given us proof positive that if your philosophy abandons Aristotle and Aquinas, it’s going to be terrible. It gave us The Matrix; a good action flick. It’s also given us a record based around wondering whether our world is actually just an elaborate VR simulation in the form of Epica’s The Holographic Principle.

While I could argue that The Holographic Principle might not actually be real according to its own logic because neither I nor Epica themselves can demonstrate that Epica even has hands, I won’t because I’ve somehow not been fired for gross insubordination yet [Leave the vat!Steel Druhm]. So, take Nightwish’s general sound, mix it with Dimmu Borgir’s Abrahadbra for more symphonic and metallic cheese, and throw in a few more “progressive” elements (read: longer songs with more detailed midsections and/or extended introductions that stick to the general verse-chorus-verse format), and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect in sound here.

Continuing what must look like a dauntless effort to torpedo my metal cred, I’ll say that I enjoy what Epica is doing here. “Universal Death Squad” and its Terminator-inspired lyrics make for a good cheeseball arena metal tune with solid hooks and satisfying climaxes in just the right places. The energetic “Edge of the Blade” is meticulously crafted to keep the listener engaged and entertained, and succeeds at both handily. The quasi-Eastern flair of “Dancing in a Hurricane” reminds of Blind Guardian (“Wheel of Time”) and Wintersun (Time I), and while it’s more in line with blockbuster soundtracks than metal it’s a good piece of music nonetheless. Vocalist Simone Simons puts on a gorgeous performance in “Once upon a Nightmare” that carries the song, elevating what would be average lactose-laden balladry into a quality tune. “A Phantasmic Parade” is concise, catchy, and builds its chorus hook around the operatic vocals, a successful and memorable use of Epica’s favorite embellishment.epica-2016

The Holographic Principle is one of the least guitar-driven metal records I’ve heard in my entire life. The primary focus of Epica’s compositions is Simons’s voice, the secondary focus is symphonic keyboard embellishments, and guitars occupy tertiary territory. Given that Epica is at their best when shooting for total sensory overload, the guitar-led verse of “Beyond the Matrix” sounds like an audial loading screen for the bombastic chorus instead of an integral part of the song, and it’s easy to forget that guitars are actually involved when said chorus occurs. Epica’s song structures are relatively basic, and in turn the band is best off when they’re concise or keep a consistently high level of quality throughout a song. “Divide and Conquer” has the usual nice, catchy, and uplifting chorus, but at nearly eight minutes long it spends too much time on too few ideas, being composed of an extended soundtrack-style intro, a verse, a chorus, and a bridge in two relatively inconsequential parts. “The Cosmic Algorithm” is the most straightforwardly “metal” track here and consequently the weakest part of The Holographic Principle. It sounds like slower second-rate power metal with pretty vocals over top and the odd growl thrown in, doing nothing of note for five minutes straight. To the surprise of nobody, The Holographic Principle is hyper-modern and sterile in production, which works for Epica. Everything can be heard, but preference is given to vocals and symphonic noodling. The guitars sound much better behind the usual layers than on their own, so the efforts to play heavy riffs a la carte don’t often pay off.

The Holographic Principle is an entertaining exercise in excess, a well-done weekend blockbuster in musical form. It’s going to repulse the pretentious, appear as an amazing display of art to dabblers in the genre, and be an accessible yet moderately enjoyable listen to most others. Epica’s good at what they do, which is making grandiose and fun soundtracks for lengthy adventure films that don’t exist with a competent metal band bolstering the whole affair. I was entertained and satisfied after each listen to The Holographic Principle, content that I hadn’t wasted my time, but found myself wishing that I was further enthralled by the whole affair.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 277 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: epica.nl | facebook.com/epica
Releases Worldwide: September 30th, 2016

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  • I remember when lyric videos were just animated versions of the band’s album cover. They sure have come a long way! :)

    • [not a Dr]

      It’s one of the best lyric videos I’ve seen. However, it exposes the lyrics: so you can’t pretent you don’t know what they’re saying. It seems like they wrote the rough draft of a concept after a brainstorming session instead of going through the trouble of working it into actual lyrics. I still like the music and the singing.

      • jetblindracos

        Me too!

  • Jason

    Epica, Delain, and the latest Sabaton all leave me scratching my head because I can’t decide if I like them or not.

    • brutal_sushi

      Like the new Sabaton… The tracks from it that I saw live where fucking awesome.

      • Jason

        I kinda like ‘Sparta’ and ‘Shiroyama’. I’ll have to give it another chance.

        • brutal_sushi

          Looking back at the set list I thought they played more than they did. But ‘Sparta’ was one of the tunes, and my buddy who HATES power metal, loved the shit out of that song live.

  • Dr. Wvrm

    Wheel of Time I actually sounds like a pretty fun time.

  • Vega Magnus

    Epica was one of my gateway bands so I’m always gonna appreciate them for that, but upon further listening to their stuff recently, they are uneven at best.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Hmmmm…. nope.

    • BlackSlumber 13

      your loss.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Fear Factory meets Carmina Burana = Epica

  • Innit Bartender

    What about The Human Equation then? Does “Friend” exist? Does “Wife” exist? I know, though ones…

    • Oh “Wife” exists. If you have one, you’ll know it. Trust me.

      • Innit Bartender

        And I’m just glad she does!

  • Maximos662

    Meh. I still enjoy The Divine Conspiracy and Design Your Universe every once in a while, mostly risible lyrical concepts notwithstanding, though the two albums that succeeded the latter bored me so thoroughly that I cannot recall their titles. This strikes me as falling into the latter category, and I don’t know whether I’ll commit the time to reconsidering that opinion.

    OTOH, awesome review.

    • Danny

      I find it interesting that you combine Requiem for the Indifferent and The Quantum Enigma when I find those records to be completely different. Requiem is a tedious meandering slog with a killer radio single, while Quantum Enigma is like Design Your Universe volume 2 with even better editing and songwriting, and is thus my favorite Epica record. Holographic Principle is very much in the same vein as Quantum enigma though, so if you disliked that record this may be much of the same.

  • ricin_beans

    “It’s given us proof positive that if your philosophy abandons Aristotle and Aquinas, it’s going to be terrible.” I didn’t expect to read that in a metal review tbh but I wholeheartedly agree. But now I am dreaming of a metal album based on scholasticism. Maybe “The Prime Mover”? Just spitballing here.

    • Maximos662

      Or on Plotinus’ Enneads.

      • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

        There are six of those, which means you’ve just found Swallow the Sun’s next project, probably; one disc per Ennead. Make sure you get credit and royalties!

        • Maximos662

          Wouldn’t they release that as no more than two albums?

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            Not if they want to top their triple album in a ridiculously excessive way they won’t.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      If the length of the Commentary on the Metaphysics is any indication, it’d be a 12-disc epic, which means Steel has first, second, and third dibs on it and AMG would fire everyone if we reviewed it. Someone needs to do it!

      • The middle 4 discs drag, but overall it’s a strong 3.5.

        • Note to the folks in TV land: Steel’s “strong 3.5” is a “solid 4.0” in reviewer arithmetic.

          Personal note: It took many years screaming at his reviews to come to that realization!

          • A strong 3.5 is a 4.0 without a Jorn cameo.

    • maartje

      We all know the prime mover is Black Sabbath !

  • IndignantN00b

    “Somehow this line of thought is still taken seriously…”

    Probably more seriously than it used to be, seeing as science can now demonstrate that this is how our brains actually work. Not only can “the world out there” that we experience be shown to be a mental construct, but now we know that much of that construct is filled in by unconscious processes rather than sense data. How large the gap between that construct and “actual” reality is depends on your epistemology.

    Mine should be clear- I’d much rather have Wittgenstein as my guide to reality than go chasing ghosts and jabberwocks with Aristotle. But somehow the Greek fabulist is still taken seriously!

    Epica- ‘snot for me. Fun review tho.

    • You could have just said, “Not my kind of beetle.”

      • IndignantN00b

        But then we’d be having a private language debate in a public forum- how rude!

        • True. So true.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Very Kantian, that. If we can’t know what “actual reality” is we certainly can’t know definitively what it is not, and just saying “science does” is inconsistent and puts more reliance on God-like powers than St. Thomas Aquinas’s entire oeuvre did. Plus, don’t the four causes explain what science does? Regarding things in the purview of science (which is a limited area), what is it, why is it, what is it made of, and what caused it are questions we’d want it to answer. Finding those answers, along with non-contradiction, are the building blocks of Aristotelian (and in turn Thomistic) metaphysics. Aristotle’s physics don’t hold up today of course, but that does no damage to his metaphysics, which is, especially in contrast to Hume’s denial of cause and effect and limitless relativism, an extremely rational way to view the world and friendly to scientific advances.

      Glad you liked the review!

      • basenjibrian

        some of the odder corners of physics are calling into question traditional understandings of “cause and effect”, so we shall see who has the last laugh. :)

      • Chen Liangyan

        >If we can’t know what “actual reality” is we certainly can’t know definitively what it is not

        This kind of “negative reasoning” was done by both Aquinas and Kant and is indeed possible.

        And I would take Kant’s conclusion that using Reason to speculate about Aristotelian metaphysics leads to contradictions and antimonies, hence why rejecting Aristotlian metaphysics. I would much rather Hegel’s route in “universalising” the contradictions and using dialectics instead of metaphysics

        And I don’t believe Hume was a relativist. His sentimentalism did lay some groundworks for moral relativism, but his epistemology is certainly no relativistic.

        • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

          Hume’s idea of morality is what relativists will claim; he was more of a skeptic, though. Elizabeth Anscombe called him “a mere – brilliant – sophist” and wasn’t far off the mark there in my mind.

          Aquinas’s metaphysics deals first anf foremost with causes, and unless one does the Hume thing causes are there and each field of knowledge deals with them in some way. He’s remarkably consistent, and derives a coherent natural law theory, morality, and impressive scientific understandings (for his day) from a theory based on Aristotle.

          Hume can’t even assert his passion-reason thing without contradicting himself. What passion led him to reason that reason is driven only by passion? A passion for knowledge? A passionate dislike of Aristotle? Who knows? Not Hume, because passions cannot be rational or irrational; they’re strong impressions. His whole theory becomes arbitrary. This is how he reaches the “sentimental” morality thing, and the absolute moral truth that there are no absolute moral truths (~p and therefore p is ludicrous). It’s nonsensical.

          Then there’s Hegel, who Karl Barth believes had good reason to be called “the Protestant Aquinas”, and it’s easy to see why. Philosophy of Right has a consistent system that can be used to figure out just about everything, just like Aquinas. Absolute and Objective Spirit, universality and particularity, abstract right and morality, these make a coherent system of natural law.

          Aristotle’s metaphysics has no significant contradiction,

          • basenjibrian

            Thanks for this. A very interesting summary for a non-philosopher.
            Now, if you take this further and claim that Aquinas has proven the Christian God and that we should all worship Yahweh…some might disagree. :)

          • PanzerFistDominatrix

            Indeed… makes ya wonder how you can read and namedrop all those guys and still go back to the least plausible explanation for anything (religion).

          • basenjibrian

            LOL. I have debated our darkly-named philosopher before.
            As a simple and not very well educmacated man, I confess I have not fully absorbed the airy castles of justifications for a fucked up religion. I like the Edwardian minor noble’s thesis the best: “Created Sick, Commanded to be Well”. Of course, I find the pretentions (often vile and juvenile) of “the Satanists” silly, but the only moral approach to Yahweh IS absolute rebellion. He IS The Owner of All Infernal Names, as the Bible itself quotes him claiming.

          • PanzerFistDominatrix

            Credit must be given to Diabulus for engaging. I had a long-ass conversation with him in this forum, very interesting. Ultimately fruitless though, since he didn’t denounce God immediately and became a good stand-up atheist like the rest of us because my arguments were so overwhelmingly good. I guess that’s why it’s called ‘faith’ :-)

            And yes, satanists, especially the black metal kind, are über lame, regardless of whether one likes the music or not.

          • basenjibrian

            Would agree with you there. I mean, not immediately changing one’s world view because of a discussion on a heavy metal forum just exhibits a degree of intellectual rigidity that is shocking in its depravity. (LOL)

  • Oberon

    I’ve been looking forward to this album, but it does seem like an album outside of your wheelhouse. If you slapped a Jorne sticker over the label, I bet that would make for a pretty amusing prank.

  • aaron bergman

    I’m having flashbacks of Styx’ Mr. Roboto. Or am I?
    I really wish the words were in a language I didn’t understand.

  • Iain Gleasure

    A man who likes a beer called hoptical illusion has no right to question Scotland’s mighty titan Hume.

    Just kidding, but seriously find better beer. Like Scotland’s mighty titan Innis and Gunn since you can get it in Ontario

    • Lay off Hoptical! That’s from my home town brewery, you fiend!

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Innis and Gunn is great, but there’s room for Hoptical Illusion too! We can also get Duvel here, which is grand. We might get that Megadeth beer too, because the people who make La Fin du Monde are doing that.

      • Iain Gleasure

        I’ve never seen Duvel in my local LCBO. As for band beer, I’ll stick to Trooper, which is really quite fine.

        • maartje

          Being a resident of Belgium beer paradise, I consider Duvel as pretty generic, a bit like Epica :-) I take it when there’s no other strong beer available.

          There was a Hellfest beer some years ago, I really liked that, lots of herbs.

          • themetalbeernerd

            As a lover of belgian beers, I’m actually super jealous, and this is actually a fantastic analogy. Even though Duvel is still awesome compared to the generic beer in the US.

          • maartje

            That reminds me of a small scale doom festival years ago. There was an american in the crowd who was seen all day long with a bottle of Duvel in his hand, and judging by the gradually evolving state of drunkenness he regularly changed an empty bottle for a full one. He appeared not to be used to drinking this strong kind of beer :-) At the end of night he turned out to be the singer of headliner While Heaven Wept … Had to use the mic standard in order not to drop from stage, barely couldn’t sing. Not the best concert I suppose, but it was entertaining.

  • Treble Yell

    Love the epistemological opening but all that discussion of questioning reality and no mention of Plato’s allegory of the Cave? For shame.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      If Plato’s understanding of the world was referenced that would lead to Timaeus (my favourite work of his) being discussed and then the review would be 3000 words long. In hindsight, you’re absolutely correct in saying I should’ve mentioned it.

      • Bas

        The review was already fun like this !
        Keep that for another review ;-)
        Interesting to see your phenomenological preoccupations directed at non-phenomenological (obviously because centuries earlier) philosophers !
        I turned to Latour’s work (which was an obvious turn because I did philosophy of science and technology…)
        Now back to the things themselves… Epica is not for me…

  • Elton Chagas

    Uh… corny lyrics.

    Almost “korny” lyrics.

  • Dead1

    I can’t stand this kind of stuff. It all reminds me of a less entertaining Eurovision pop contest.

    • BlackSlumber 13

      fuck you.

  • METAL OTTER

    With all due respect, Mr Diabolus, you are wrong in your assumption that Descartes and Hume are to blame for this! The line of thought endorsed by Epica in this album is attributable to a much more contemporary thinker, whose published work (Smith, 1 May 2013) has been debated fiercely and cited authoritatively in recent years. The basic tenet of his philosophy, “How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real”, even inspired Internet memes! Please issue a correction and apology immediately.

  • basenjibrian

    Gawd. I opened my dictionary to the “Gs”, found “Generic” and this photo was tucked in next to the words.

    I guess I will wear my Pretentiousness badge with pride. Heck, I listen to Sopor Aeternus and the Ensemble of Shadows, so I deserve it. :)

  • Oscar Albretsen

    A band I try to like, but can’t for some reason.

    • Fuzzybunny

      I completely agree. Not sure exactly what it is, I think I SHOULD like them but end up ‘meh’ everytime.

      • BlackSlumber 13

        it takes a lot of time to love EPICA..

        • Fuzzybunny

          Will keep plugging away at it…
          Don’t get me wrong, I respect them, it’s just that I don’t seem to understand my eclectic tastes…

          • BlackSlumber 13

            eclectic? you mean your misplaced sense of superiority.

          • Fuzzybunny

            No, silly person.

  • CyberJesus

    Hate to be that guy but i have to ask, can we expect a review of the new Obscure Sphinx record?

  • Ywen

    “To the surprise of nobody, The Holographic Principle is hyper-modern and sterile in production, which works for Epica. Everything can be heard”

    Don’t see how that’s a bad thing. That sort of production sounds great (at least on Universal Death Squad). Not every album has to have a raw production, and it’s nice to be able to discern every sound.

    • Merijn Kooijman

      ‘Everything can be heard’ is probably meant as a minimum. O hey, I can hear the sound of my air conditioning, although I’m on the other side of the room. O hey, I can hear some bass guitar in the background, do you hear it as well? Ah, yes, I can hear it too.

    • [not a Dr]

      Not a bad thing, it just doesn’t surprise anyone that’s familiar with Epica. A good description.

  • Feytalist

    “Audial loading screeen”… my sides. I’ve noticed that phenomenon before, and never had the words to describe it. Great stuff, DiM! (Dim, heh.)

    I liked Epica’s first three albums, but everything since then has grabbed my attention less and less. And I say that as a shameless symphonic fanboy. I’ll certainly check this out – Simone’s voice is that good – but without much high hopes.

  • tomasjacobi

    Before this discussion gets out of hand with philosophical mumbo-jumbo, let me just add that I think the score should have 1 point added for Simone being (and this is an understatement) rather hot.

    • Alexandre Barata

      I saw her (and the rest of the band too) live, and while the show was very teenage girl appealing, she was the brightest star in that stage for the whole night. I mean I had to go to the front row (and yes, this on an Epica show…) just to better evaluate her talents! Talentful girl I’ll tell you!

    • Oscar Albretsen

      Well, that hair is pretty red, so you may have a strong case…

    • PanzerFistDominatrix

      No N-word in this thread but I had to post this anyway :-)

    • PanzerFistDominatrix
    • sir_c

      Even the mic is throbbing

    • nunka

      Thank you for this insightful comment that doesn’t *at all* reinforce how the metal scene is an immature boys’ club. You’re doing God’s work.

      • tomasjacobi

        You’re welcome! The metal scene is a bit of a boys’ club, but luckily I think that’s changing as we see more and more talented women releasing awesome metal. I think that’s great.
        However, Simone is, besides being very talented, also quite pretty.
        Oh, and let’s keep God out of this…

  • Merijn Kooijman

    I know this is very elitist to think, and I’m ashamed for it :-), but I think it’s odd that Epica are the curators of a Dutch metal festival where The Ocean, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Katatonia, Textures and Myrath play, while I find their music (Epica’s) pretty generic. However, I find this particular song more enjoyable than other (too) high-pitched female vocal metal songs/bands.

    Good review. And I agree with it.

    • BlackSlumber 13

      generic? seriously?

      • Merijn Kooijman

        Yes. Or as the review states:

        “So, take Nightwish’s general sound, mix it with Dimmu Borgir’s Abrahadbra for more symphonic and metallic cheese, and throw in a few more “progressive” elements (read: longer songs with more detailed midsections and/or extended introductions that stick to the general verse-chorus-verse format), and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect in sound here.”
        The embedded song basically sounded exactly the way I thought it would sound after reading that part of the review, even to the point that there’s nothing more to it than that quote says. For the other bands I mentioned, it would at least be a little bit harder to describe their sound in words so precisely. Anyway, given your other comments here, I suppose you’ll say that I just didn’t listen good and long enough ;).

      • Danny

        I have to agree with blackslumber, I find Epica to be one of the least generic symphonic metal bands on the (admittedly oversaturated) scene. The combination of Nightwish style symphonics with more progressive songwriting and the edge of tech-death means I could never mistake one of their songs for another band, which is more than I can say for most symphonic-power these days. But to each their own
        :)

  • Isn’t that the evil witch lady serving the fire god from GOT?

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    wtf is that first paragraph… you should just say “in my opinion” and not try to impose what you think as “truth” on everybody else, also, when is gonna die the trend of bashing music because “the guitars are too low” or the classic “is not metal enough”, instead of just taking the music as it is? i remember when people complained of Rhapsody because “there is not enough guitars”, completely missing the point of what the band is, we all know the style, why ask for it to be different? that something doesnt fit someone taste doesnt make it bad, and now that i finished complaining, Epica has been making the same album with the same songs over and over for years now, i only heard the singles but they are the same song as always, they should take more risks

    • beurbs

      Music reviewers like to state things as objective absolutes instead of opinions.

  • sir_c

    These are the moments I miss Anneke van Giersbergen

    • BlackSlumber 13

      idiot

      • sir_c

        Why thank you for your generous qualification. Now let’s focus on the music shall we?

        • BlackSlumber 13

          I called youy idiot because Anneke was never a part of any EPICA music, nor did she contribute any song with them dumbass!

          • sir_c

            They are from my home country, so I know them pretty well. It’s only that whenever I hear some Dutch female fronted metal like Epica or Within Temptation for instance, that I long back for Anneke’s voice. I’ll take her music any time over aforementioned bands.
            So, like I said, no need to be rude.

  • Tofu muncher

    I saw them playing when Ms. Simons was seven months pregnant and she. Was. Beautiful ??

  • Tofu muncher

    I saw them play when Ms. Simons was seven months pregnant and she. Was. Beautiful ??

  • Sophocles

    As I approach the end of this marathon of an album, I wonder if there is a prize, at least a pat on the back. I love the music but this monster cries for editing, as AMG usually says.

    • Danny

      I know right? Phantom Agony and Consign to Oblivion were so tight, but they’ve really gone off the deep end in terms of length. The “long” songs like Divide and Conquer and the title track work cause they put the work into having enough ideas to justify the length, but why they decided that pop-metal singles like Universal Death Squad and Beyond the Matrix needed to be 6:30 as opposed to 4:30 is beyond me. Every record from Divine conspiracy through to this one would get an extra half to full point from me if they cut 10-20 minutes off them

      • Sophocles

        And the more I listen to it, the more it feels overstretched to the point of missing the feeling. I am not sure where this ship is going anymore….