Epica – ‘The Solace System’ EP Review

2016’s ‘the holographic principle’, proved to be Epica’s defining work to date, placing well in charts around the world and bringing the band’s grandiose sound to a whole new audience. A lengthy album, the final record did not include all of the pieces originally recorded as the band did not want to put out a double, hence the arrival of ‘The Solace System’ EP. Keeping the fan very much in mind, the band have decided to offer the EP in a variety of formats including digital, limited edition CD or vinyl and as part of a deluxe box set that includes the original ‘holographic principle’ album, its acoustic bonus disc and the new EP. Given that this latter set is priced at an extremely competitive £12.99 at time of writing, it’s clear that it is more important to the band to get their music into the hands of fans than turn a quick buck – a refreshing attitude. Moreover, the band have paid particular attention to the packaging, a rarity when it comes to EPs which are all too often knocked out in budget cases, and, whether you buy it as part of the box set or as a stand-alone, it comes housed in a handsome digi-pack with a full booklet and artwork in keeping with the mother album.

The EP itself, featuring six new tracks, is typical of the quality we’ve come to expect from Epica. The title track opens proceedings with the band in full orchestral mode, and it’s easy to see why the band didn’t want the tracks to simply dribble out as mere bonus cuts. Thrillingly bombastic, ‘the solace system’ sees Epica draw upon the soaring orchestrations of Hans Zimmer and the arcing metal of Arjen Lucassen (think Stream of Passion), to deliver a fantastic opening gambit that easily matches anything from ‘the holographic principle’ in quality and power. With a surging metal edge, the vast scope of ‘Fight your demons’ matches the mighty Therion in terms of imaginatively-staged, operatic metal. The split vocals (with Arien Van Weesenbeek providing the grunts) work perfectly here and the delivery is note perfect, the band now at a level of precision of which most musical outfits can only dream. A dream-like atmosphere hangs over the music-box opening of ‘architect of light’, which sees a brass section augment the simple motif that opens the track before the band announces its arrival like a pantomime villain, in a puff of smoke and surrounded in a haze of razor-sharp riffing. It’s just such flights of the fantastic that make Epica such a special band and ‘Architects of light’ just may be the EP’s highlight, although such is the quality that picking out just one track is a challenging task indeed.

Retaining the orchestration, but focusing on the band’s metallic side, ‘wheel of destiny’ is Epica at their heaviest, with deathly roars permeating the playful atmosphere of the verses and it’s easy to imagine this song igniting the band’s live show with its adrenalin rush guitars and punishing rhythms. A short, sweet track, ‘immortal melancholy’ is reminiscent of the acoustic bonus disc that accompanied ‘the holographic principle’. It’s a pretty track, but the band wisely keep it short, allowing Simone a chance to shine with minimal backing but not allowing the EP’s carefully built momentum to stall. After such a moment of calm, the band see the EP out with the huge ‘decoded poetry’, a symphonic storm that proves to be a thrillingly ambitious closer, all soaring strings and deftly wielded time changes.

If you missed out on last year’s astonishing ‘the holographic principle’, then the ultimate edition bundle is a no-brainer. If you bought the album, then the stand-alone release is no less essential, and in either case you’ll get a beautifully packaged, stunningly recorded EP that provides the perfect coda to the album. Soothingly savage, it captures Epica at the peak of their not-inconsiderable powers and it leaves the listener once again in awe of the band’s skyscraping ambition and technical prowess. 9

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