Epica – The Alchemy Project Review

Epica could record an album of Karol G covers and no one would bat an eye. So the fact that the band is collaborating with musicians from Shining, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Soilwork, Aborted, Insomnium, Uriah Heep, Seventh Wonder, Myrkur, Powerwolf, and God Dethroned should surprise no one. That it makes it sound so effortlessly Epica-like, though — well, that’s something different.

One can only imagine just how much time Mark Jansen and Simone Simons have spent crafting the Epica sound. Though there were once symphonic metal bands as heavy as Epica, few, if any, became heavier with time. The Phantom Agony and Consign to Oblivion, for instance, were hardly lightweight affairs, but the leap from those two more gothic metal records to the much heftier and progressive The Divine Conspiracy was, to put it conservatively, quite remarkable. Though Epica has since normalized its brand of hefty and prog-like symphonic metal, the band is about as ambitious in sound as mainstream metal gets— which is why its writing and recording songs with guest musicians for every song on this EP probably seems less circus-like than it ought to, given the diversity of its collaborators.

No doubt, when announced, The Alchemy Project struck me as odd. Epica’s eighth full-length, Omega, felt like a perfect melding of the band’s earlier, more gothic-inspired albums and the bombast and richness of everything since. More to the point, there was an earnestness in and deliberateness of approach. By contrast, the idea of The Alchemy Project — a mash-up of Epica and thirteen other musicians — sounded like a right mess. Or a step backward, at least. My instinctive cynicism is not known for acting all that reasonably to the kind of PR theatrics announcing an EP like this requires.

For all its inherent aesthetic messiness, the charming and surprisingly substantive The Alchemy Project finds Epica absolutely nail the execution. In hindsight, believing that the band wouldn’t go full Epica on the mash-up concept was colossally foolish. Even so, the approach that it takes here isn’t so much a 50/50 split. Rather, it’s Epica taking certain signatures from other bands and working them quite naturally into its very specific brew of symphonic metal.

Clear winners among the EP’s seven songs are “Wake the World” (Uriah Heep and Seventh Wonder), “Sirens – Of Blood and Water” (Charlotte Wessels and Myrkur), “Human Devastation” (God Dethroned), and “The Miner” (Asim Searah, Insomnium, and Powerwolf). All but “Human Devastation” are more obviously orchestral than three other songs that aren’t the clear winners. But the more salient thread is that these songs tap into the guest musicians’ strengths in a way that feels closer to a natural extension of Epica’s grandiosity than a forced collaboration. The band’s deft touch on “Human Devastation” is particularly impressive given the absolute grind of the song’s first minute and a half. Seriously—it wouldn’t sound too out of place on Napalm Death’s last EP.

I won’t spoil the fun of listening to these songs with relatively fresh ears. Inarguably, the novelty excites. Chemistry amongst musicians of wildly different backgrounds is certainly part of the appeal. But it’s the songwriting that bears repeat listens. And with The Alchemy Project, Epica is as addictive as ever.

Posted by Chris C

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