April 30th was the official European release date for Dutch Metal band Epica's sixth full length studio album 'The Quantum Enigma'. This gig at Tilburg's 2000 capacity O13 venue was an event to launch that and celebrate the release with many of their hardcore fans. The hall is of course sold out with people from as far afield as France, Belgium, Germany and the UK in attendance as well as fans from all over the Netherlands.
There is something about this band that inspires devotion in their fans - you just need to see how many have Epica related tattoos to realise that. Selling out tonight's show where they have advertised in advance that they will play the new album in its' entirety before most of their fans have heard it shows how keen their fans are.
The band are as good as their word and after the obligatory instrumental opening tape of album opener 'Originem' launch into the next five songs from 'The Quantum Engima' in sequence. This is a brave move as while they are justifiably proud of the album and the fan reaction has been great, that's an awful lot of new unfamiliar material to drop onto any audience, even a very loyal one.
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The staging looks impressive and as they always do on a big event show they've made sure that the lightshow is top notch and that there are flamethrowers and other pyrotechnics to make it all look the part. The sound is full and strong and allows the band to show how tight they are. Epica play very complex music at times but they never seem to miss a beat anywhere and are driven along in style by the amazing Arien @The Beast' van Weesenbeek, maybe the busiest rock or metal drummer since Keith Moon!
The power of the drums and Rob van der Loo's bass allows the guitars of Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye to flow around the music and added to the huge keyboard parts required for any symphonic Metal band supplied effortlessly (or so it seems) by Coen Janssen this makes for a full and sometimes in your face live sound.
There is much headbanging on the big stage and Mark Jansen adds his grunts and screams to the mix but always adding the colour and melody that takes their songs to a new level is frontwoman Simone Simons. Something of an icon in this genre she looks beautiful and prowls around the stage often throwing that flowing red mane of hair around but above all she sings that soaring mezzo soprano really well tonight. Sometimes the rigours of touring can leave her voice a little rough here and there but not tonight, she was in great form.
Despite their enthusiasm it was only the first track released from the new album 'The Essence Of Silence' which elicited any great reaction from the crowd so it was a relief when Ms Simons introduced fan favourite 'The Obsessive Devotion' which ushered in a short 'greatest hits' kind of set also featuring 'Blank Infinity', 'Unleashed' and 'Storm The Sorrow'. This had the crowd engaged again but then the second instrumental from 'The Quantum Enigma', 'The Fifth Guardian' was piped in as the band took a break and three Chinese dragons came on stage. I have no idea what this was about to be honest but they pranced around for a while then the band returned and launched into the remainder of the new album.
I really like 'The Quantum Enigma' and this section for me had the strongest songs with the energetic high of the huge hooklines in 'Chemical Insomnia' and the swinging rhythms and complexities of 'Natural Corruption' but again it was all new to most people in the audience so got a slightly muted response.
The evening took an interesting turn here as Epica inevitably went epic! The closing title track of the new album is a sequel to 'Kingdom Of Heaven' on 2009's 'Design Your Universe' album and the band decided to play them back to back, making a set closing section of twenty five minutes of music. It all worked for me, I think it showed a little bit of an overlooked progressive Metal style within the Epica sound and bringing on Textures' Daniel de Jongh to add some eastern flavoured live vocals added to the vibe.
The reception to all this new music was of course good enough to bring an inevitable encore and old favourite 'Cry To The Moon' let the crowd get their singing voices out and left everyone happy that they had had some old stuff to hear too.
I heard some fans talking afterwards about not hearing their favourite song and some being slightly disappointed with the set but for me Epica had just got away with playing a show over two hours long which was 60% new and unfamiliar material and kept the crowd with them. I think when the new material is better known their fans will clamour to hear many of the songs and so I think this launch show was a success. Check them out on the upcoming tour to see which songs make the cut.