Though the human centipede that is Nuclear Blast would have you believe The Solace System is “long-awaited,” I’m unsure who exactly is clamoring for more Epica so soon after The Holographic Principle. That untamed sprawl made such little impact on this physician that, despite play counts to the contrary, I assert I’ve never listened to it until now. 2017 finds Epica as they have ever been (and essentially as they were in 2016 because it’s been eleven fucking months): well-oiled and fun, but still prone to excess and struggling to engender their music with a sense of purpose. A thirty-minute time limit should rein in the former, can a lithe bodice and some deft editing take care of the rest?
Diabolus noted that Epica operates best at full blast, and “The Solace System” and “Fight Your Demons” gladly oblige, well-seated within Epica’s pantheon of expectations. “Demons” drives Solace toward its heaviness quotient, but it finds a power metal catchiness through synth accents and a bombastic chorus that sounds like a stone-faced Gloryhammer with a backing orchestra. The overarching pop structure sees hooks receive forced repetition, which means, as always with Epica,
[Insert Song Here] “Fight Your Demons” would have been stronger were it two minutes shorter. You can lead a band to the EP, but you can’t make them edit.
Solace’s entries lack none of the full-bodied thrust of their Principled counterparts, but their B-side nature shows. With only half an hour to fill, the absence of the deviant flair of a “Dancing in a Hurricane” or the glorious warmth of “Universal Death Squad” does not weigh too heavily. At its best, Solace might not break new ground but its material compares favorably to Epica’s recent output, bolstered by the tightness of the EP. To no one’s surprise, the work of Simone Simons continues to make Epica what they are. Her lyrics will always be wonky — “The gravy train keeps rolling, we will not rock the boat” — but she elevates acoustic throwback “Immortal Melancholy” and I doubt I would like “Wheel of Destiny” half as much without her considerable talents. However, the loud production (still) criminally infringes on her presence, overtaking her during pacier excursions.
“Architect of Light” and “Wheel of Destiny” stand out as the most fully-formed tracks of the six, though the traditional metal components own almost none of the worthwhile moments. When revealing the heavier side of Epica’s kaleidoscopic abilities, Isaac Delahaye’s solos survive as the most (sole?) impactful element. Their set of sub-standard backing growls never does much for me and regular but brief moments of odd pseudo-death metal weighs on the song’s quality. Overall, it’s hard to view The Solace System as anything but an extension of The Holographic Principle. Epica themselves put out two videos to that effect, effectively begrudging having to cut material from Principle and saying “Fuck it, we’ll release it next year.” Though I am not entirely sold on that conceit, the shortened format really improves the band’s palatability. Even if you aren’t among the rare breed of persons I referenced at the open, Solace will do ya just fine.