Despite the annoying redundancy of the ‘female-fronted metal’ tag, it’s impossible to write about Dutch symphonic metallers Epica without mentioning frontwoman Simone Simons, whose voice is arguably one of the band’s big selling points. Simone has proved over time that she is more than just a pretty voice (and, yes, a pretty face – duh); in fact, the tracks that stand out most on this latest offering are the ones she penned herself, with sensitive and topical lyrical content.
The cinematic opening track is increasingly becoming a staple of any symphonic metal album, and this is no different. After ‘Karma’ comes ‘Monopoly on Truth’, a song with an almost frantic urgency and plaintive wails from Simone, against a backdrop of dark orchestral chaos and power metal aggression. ‘Internal Warfare’, a song dedicated to the victims of Anders Breivik, has the band showing their more progressive side through Ariën van Weesenbeek’s frenetic drumming and the dual guitar attack of Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye.
For a band in this genre, Epica are predictable in a good way – expect nothing less than epic symphonic bombast, with Latin choruses and Arabesque ornamentation – but with a sincerity that other bands are lacking. They have something to say, and it’s not about dragons or fairies. Admittedly, the musical style is sometimes slightly at odds with the lyrical content – there’s something about a choir singing about the financial crisis that jars just a little. But then again, maybe that’s the whole point. A trademark of Epica’s sound has always been contrasts: the light and the dark; the beauty and the beast. They continually take a subgenre that is associated with escapism and fantasy and turn it on its head, using it to tell us of harsh realities and deep philosophical musings instead.
Which is not to say that the album is designed to make you feel horribly guilty, or anything. The album as a whole stands up as an impressive and enjoyable symphonic metal effort, and Simone’s honey-sweet soprano voice is more versatile than ever. She more than holds her own without getting lost amidst the orchestral elements, and her vocals range from delicate and angelic, as on the enchanting ‘Delirium’, to near-screams of desperation, as on the excellent ‘Storm the Sorrow’.
In terms of pace, the album swings like a pendulum between the heavy and the heavenly, and is a solid mix of proggy power metal tracks, hauntingly beautiful ballads and lengthy epic opuses like the album closer, ‘Serenade of Self-Destruction’. Tracks such as ‘Karma’ and ‘Anima’, a piano instrumental, seem somewhat arbitrary, but they help to change things up. All in all, ‘Requiem for the Indifferent’ is ambitious and varied enough to hook anyone who likes epic metal and/or female voices, and sure to please anyone who’s a fan of the band already.