Epica - Design Your Universe
Nuclear Blast
Symphonic Gothic / Power Metal
13 songs (74:50)
Release year: 2009
Epica, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Kyle

Despite the large amounts of praise Epica gets from the Symphonic Metal community, to me they’ve always been a band that, while inviting on the surface thanks to the excellent compositions and Simone Simons’ wonderful voice, are at their core a rather ordinary and, to be honest, overrated band; The musical equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will. Endless, one - note chugga – chugga riffs and effective yet repetitive drum patters always made for a bittersweet listening experience when combined with the grand scale of the orchestrations, but thankfully the latter portions are so well composed that it’s easy to look past the monotony. Thankfully, Design Your Universe seems to have addressed the components that were weakest and improved on them, but the grandeur of the compositions have suffered a bit as a result.

Design Your Universe is a showcase of a much more solid and aggressive form of Epica than has been heard thus far. The trademark instrumental intro, Samadhi, is fairly standard by Epica terms (But still very good), and blends into the second track, Resign To Surrender. It’s very clear right from the start of this song that this is a much darker, more aggressive Epica being presented to us; when the drums and electric guitars kick in, it sounds like something that could have easily appeared on Dimmu Borgir’s Death Cult Armageddon album. After this short introductory to the track, the orchestra fades and the metal instruments become more prominent, with a main riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a Melodeath band, especially with Mark Jansen’s harsh vocals being present rather than the crystal clear soprano of Simone Simons. But not to worry, folks; this is still very much Epica, as is shown during the chorus. Here, the main composition from the intro is repeated, only this time with Simons singing the melody, before reverting back to the heavy verse. This is surely one of the best songs on Design Your Universe, but unfortunately it also makes the one unfortunate change entirely visible.

While this is probably the best Epica album to date, I miss the old, Power Metal oriented orchestrations. Though the new, darker symphonic direction is better fitting for the more aggressive riffing and vocals, it’s a bit off - putting for a big PM fan such as myself. But amongst the Gothic architecture of this Universe, there are several shining moments to be found, that are high in quality as well as quantity. Deconstruct features some excellent melodies in the intro and chorus, and the next track, Semblance of Liberty, is very much rooted in the traditional Power Metal style, with a main riff that vaguely reminds me of Edguy’s Rise Of The Morning Glory. Martyr Of The Free World and Burn To A Cinder are also highlights thanks to their Middle-Eastern vibe; The former has Simons sing in a soft, almost mystical style in the verse, and the latter sports what is probably the best chorus on the album. White Waters must also be mentioned, as it features the always great Tony Kakko doing guest vocals alongside Simone, and is by far the better of the two ballads on the album. Finally, with Kingdom Of Heaven and the title track, Epica shows yet again that they are at their best when performing lengthy, 9-plus minute tracks. Kingdom Of Heaven is more traditional, with fairly standard riffing and choirs (though still plenty epic), but the title track really stands out with more diverse segments and some of the best vocals and compositions on the album; it even revises the main melody from Samadhi and Resign To Surrender. I like to think of this as the "Theme" for Design Your Universe, and what a grand and memorable one it is!

Design Your Universe will surely attract a wider metal audience with its heavier, more mainstream direction, but will also certainly be held in high regard by Epica devotees that were looking for a more solid, consistent effort by one of the better bands of the Symphonic Goth Metal scene. Perhaps this isn’t as big on excellent melodies as the band’s previous albums, but regardless, Design Your Universe stands out as a sure sign that Epica is moving in a new direction; one that works extremely well for them and that makes me eager to hear what they have in store for us next.

Killing Songs :
Resign To Surrender, Martyr Of The Free World, Kingdom Of Heaven, Burn To A Cinder, Deconstruct, Semblance Of Liberty, White Waters, Design Your Universe
Kyle quoted 89 / 100
Other albums by Epica that we have reviewed:
Epica - The Quantum Enigma reviewed by Joel and quoted 93 / 100
Epica - Requiem for the Indifferent reviewed by Khelek and quoted 86 / 100
Epica - The Divine Conspiracy reviewed by Marty and quoted 85 / 100
Epica - Consign To Oblivion reviewed by Ian and quoted 90 / 100
Epica - We Will Take You With Us reviewed by Ben and quoted no quote
To see all 7 reviews click here
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