Epica - The Solace System album review

More octave-vaulting rock operatics from the mad-eyed lady of the Lowlands

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Dutch symphonic metallers Epica don’t stray too far outside their heavily fortified castle of baroque bombast on this quick-turnaround sequel to last year’s well-received The Holographic Principle album.

A six-track mini-album that manages to sound both compact and cinematically huge, A Solace System once again makes fertile use of the strong textural contrast between the sonorous mezzo-soprano of Simone Simons and the bestial growl of main songwriter Mark Jansen, who also plays the rapid-fire guitar solos that serve as bridges between stacked operatic choirs and blasts of pure speed-metal grind.

Most of these thrillingly uber-kitsch compositions roar along at breakneck speed, with stylistic gear shifts that occasionally grind awkwardly. That said, both the title track and Decoded Poetry are exhilarating hard-rock cousins of Carl Orff’s ultra-dramatic modern-classical faveCarmina Burana, while Simons also gets to showcase her range on the fragrant orchestral power ballad Immortal Melancholy, an unusually restrained and lovely detour into romantic introspection.