It is hard to believe that the long running Dutch band Epica released their debut opus "The Phantom Agony" only 6 years ago. Since then they have really progressed and evolved in a big way. You can hear the band grow in leaps-and-bounds from album to album, with each release being more ambitious than the last. With their newest outing "Design Your Universe" Epica have really - and I mean really - outdone themselves. In the world of symphonic, epic, power metal, this is about as good as it gets.
As is the case with most Epica releases, there is plenty of music to be found on "Design Your Universe" - 13-songs and over 74-minutes to be exact. The CD starts off with the very cinematic intro "Samadhi" before going into the riff heavy opening track "Resign To Surrender (A New Age Dawns Part IV)". The duo of Mark Jansen (harsh male vocals) and Simone Simons sound as good as they ever have - with Simone able to go from operatic to a lower register, she is really becoming one of the best singers in all of metal. This song also features a cool part with a choir. It is really a solid opening track that really sets things off on the right foot. "Unleashed" continues things in a heavy fashion. The riffs are heavy but this is a solid, melodic, mid-tempo tune that sees Simone taking on the vocals here. After two more solid tracks "Martyr Of The Free Word" (a great melodic track) and "Our Destiny", it is time for the the first truly epic number on the CD. "Kingdom of Heaven" clocks in at over 13-minutes long and it is a a definite highlight for me. Over the years the band has perfected the long, dramatic number and this might be their best . Other highlights include: "Burn To A Cinder", "Tides Of Time", the moving ballad "White Waters" (which features a duet with Simone and Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica) and the fantastic 9-minute title track "Design Your Universe". The CD was produced once again by longtime collaborator Sascha Paeth - I guess at this point it would be odd if the band worked with anyone else.
One thing you have to admire about Epica is that they rarely repeat themselves. Each CD has it's own feeling and vibe and they are not afraid to take on new horizons. Deciding which album is the best from any artist is a matter of opinion and a subjective thing, but right now, as of this moment I think this is the best work this band has done to date. "Design Your Universe" is definitely a release worth getting excited over. Quite possibly the best release of 2009.