For 20 years, Epica have been flying the flag for bombastic, extravagant symphonic metal, with the visuals and ambition to match. Their new collaborative EP, The Alchemy Project – featuring the likes of Myrkur, Fleshgod Apocalypse and members of Soilwork and Kamelot – is possibly their most ambitious work to date.
We put your questions to singer Simone Simons on what it was like working with Uriah Heep, playing shows in Mayan ruins and that time she (almost) joined a black metal band.
Wikipedia says you joined a black metal band for a cup of coffee before you became a member of Epica. If true, what was that band like? How was your corpsepaint game?
Matt Mills, Twitter
“Wikipedia is wrong! I never joined a black metal band. I was just there during a rehearsal, but never actually sang in the band. I went there to have a look, so it’s a half-truth, I guess. They were in my hometown and my friend’s boyfriend was playing in that band, so that’s why we went, but I was way too shy to sing along. Epica was my true first band.”
How did the band initially meet?
Scott Thrower, Facebook
“I knew Mark [Jansen, guitars/vocals] because I was in a relationship with him back in the day. He started a new band [after leaving After Forever] pretty quickly, but because I was his girlfriend, at first I didn’t want to join. I helped them search for a singer. I thought I should do it by the book – finish high school and then go explore the world with a metal band. But when they asked me if I wanted to [sing for them], I thought, ‘OK, let’s just give it a go.’ And here we are, 20 years later!”
Was there ever an aesthetic pressure to fit into the more gothic side of symphonic metal?
Jazmin L’Amy, email
“Not really, I’ve always done my own thing. I’ve enjoyed the visual aspect of being in the band, getting ready for the show, designing the clothes and everything like that. I’ve been called the metal Barbie, but I don’t give a damn. It’s more like a compliment than people realise! The aesthetics are a big part of our shows, photoshoots and videoshoots that people don’t really think of, and it’s a lot of fun to do it.”
Consign To Oblivion is one of my alltime favourite records. Have you ever visited a Mayan ruin, and would you do a 20th-anniversary gig from one?
Jo Cristobal, email
“I think Mark did, I didn’t. Playing a show from one is probably going to be a little bit tricky with electricity and everything, so… ha ha! Maybe just an acoustic song or something like that! But Mark’s visited some ancient Mayan sites in Mexico – he was also the one who was interested in ancient Mayan culture and wrote lyrics about it.”
What topics would you like to explore in the future when writing new music
Arley Rosales, Facebook
“I don’t think too much about it. I just go with the spur of the moment: what’s happening in my life, what’s happening around the world… [2021’s] Omega was a very spiritual album, which was also a reflection of what was happening at that time. So I guess [our new music] is just going to be a continuation of that.”
Epica albums often have a central concept or overarching narrative, like [2007’s] The Divine Conspiracy. What’s the most innocuous conspiracy theory you think might actually be true?
Dan Hillier, Facebook
“I’ve no idea! I’ve been off the religion train for a long time and unfortunately only had unpleasant experiences. I’m in no way anti-religion, though. The Divine Conspiracy was more about extremities within religion – the dangerous parts where they really indoctrinate people and put really weird ideas in their head.
Religion can be a beautiful thing, but a lot of bloodshed has been in its name. With that album, we picked different extremities within different religions to highlight what’s been going on and what’s still going on. But yeah, it can be very dangerous, as we’ve seen lately.”
Hammer: is there one outside of religion you like?
“The church of the spaghetti monster… what’s that called?”
Hammer: The Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster.
“Yeah, I love spaghetti. So I guess I’m not allowed to enter that church. Maybe I’m the spaghetti monster! Ha ha ha!"
The Skeleton Key encapsulated all that defines Epica as EPIC! What was the idea behind the song?
Inn Ayyur, Twitter
“Skeleton Key was written by Rob [van der Loo, bass], and the working title of it was ‘Inception’. Rob is a huge movie soundtrack fan; I am too. He showed me the song during our writing sessions for Omega and the lyrics written by myself are basically that everybody holds the key or the answers to the questions that you have within yourself and that you can unlock different rooms and hallways within yourself. On the one hand, that can be a good thing, but it can also be bad because you also have the power to let your demons free.”
What songs from recent movie soundtracks would you play live?
Mark Sayce, email
“We’ve done that in the past with [2009 live album] The Classical Conspiracy and, funnily enough, today I was singing some Disney songs. I’ve done a cover of a Disney song from The Little Mermaid [Part Of Your World, released in 2021]. Maybe something else is gonna come up, you never know!”
Where did the idea to do The Alchemy Project come from?
Jac Holloway, Facebook
“The idea was from Isaac [Delahaye, guitar/backing vocals]. At the beginning of the pandemic, he had the idea of writing songs with our friends in the metal scene. We reached out to all our friends who’d be interested, and that’s literally how the ball started rolling. It’s cool when you have this idea and you don’t know if it’s gonna work, because this is a little bit outside of our comfort zone. I think a lot of people will be very surprised with some of the songs that are on this EP.”
How did you get Uriah Heep on the EP?
Elliot Grimmie, email
“Epica always like to add a couple of elements of surprise. That was also part of the idea behind this EP – that we could experiment! Rob has connections to a lot of musicians that are not necessarily in the symphonic metal scene, and Wake The World was one of the songs we started working on when we first had the idea, but didn’t really push the project through.
So that song was one of the first we started with. I rewrote it to fit the vocal lines, but had the idea of what Phil [Lanzon, Uriah Heep keyboardist/co-vocalist] wanted to say in the back of my mind. It’s a really cool addition having him there.”
What was your favourite bit about working on The Alchemy Project?
Paul Baptist, email
“I wrote a song with Charlotte [Wessels, ex-Delain vocalist] and I had a lot more input in the composition compared to what I normally do when writing for Epica. This time, I got to direct the song and it was really nice to work with Charlotte. She’s been putting out some great work recently since she started her Patreon and I really love her solo songs.
We started going through ideas that she’d accumulated and I picked the melodies that she had lying around for Sirens - Of Blood And Water. We worked on that for almost a year, but working together was great. I was in her studio, she was in my studio, so it was a really intense writing session for this song and I really love how it turned out.”
Who is on your bucket list to collaborate with?
Lisa Aliss, Facebook
“There are a lot of artists! I really like Aurora. She’s a Norwegian singer/ songwriter who writes beautiful songs and has a really beautiful voice – I think we could be a good match. I would also like to work with Rammstein one day – that’s on the bucket list.”
Could you ever see Epica doing an arena headline tour?
Emmy Willets, email
“Maybe. I went to see Iron Maiden with Within Temptation and it was amazing. I prefer doing smaller shows because the interaction with the audience is just different and it just feels more cosy and intimate than an arena. Who knows, though. Maybe someday!”
The Alchemy Project is out now via Atomic Fire. Epica play Download in June.