After a two-week delay due to a manufacturing error that led to the incorrect logo being printed on my T-shirt, my Limited Edition The Holographic Principle Deluxe Boxset Bundle that I ordered back in July (click here) finally arrived today!
The verdict? It is B-E-A-UTIFUL.
Look at it. Isn’t it wonderful? Just look at it. LOOK AT IT I TELL YOU.
Rather than doing a bog-standard album review, I have decided to do this in two parts. Part 1 is an unboxing and covers the physical contents, whilst Part 2 will cover the rather mammoth task of reviewing the album itself. So, here we go…
In addition to the beautifully designed cardboard box, which features the famous Epica ‘E’ in the middle of an Ouroboros (aka. “the snake devouring its tail” mentioned in ‘Universal Death Squad’), I also received a girlie-T. As previously mentioned, this T-shirt was originally printed with the men’s T-shirt logo. Whilst I did have the option to receive the bundle as-is with the wrong T-shirt, I opted to wait for the originally intended design. I’m so pleased that I did because I think this one is much more feminine and pretty.
There are a few cool knick-knacks inside the box. We have a lovely little Epica-logo pin (that I’m pretty sure is made from pewter, not silver like the website claims), an absolutely bloody enormous poster flag that probably needs an iron (I have no idea where to put this, it really is huge), and a neat little gadget called a holographic projector. I’ve given the latter a try by sticking it to my smartphone’s screen and navigating to www.epica.nl/hologram to watch the videos through it there. It’s impossible to film exactly what happens but it’s pretty much the coolest record gimmick I’ve seen since the spinning angel hologram on Jack White’s Lazaretto.
Finally, the record itself comes in two formats: CD and vinyl. The CDs are packaged in a beautiful earbook, which is essentially the album sleeve in hardback form:
One of my favourite pages of the earbook is the very last one which shows artwork from both The Quantum Enigma and The Holographic Principle combined into one monster piece of art. If The Quantum Enigma was about creating your own reality and understanding your place within the universe, The Holographic Principle is about questioning that reality and taking your thoughts higher than the universe we exist in. I feel like this artwork really highlights that conceptual link between album nos. 6 and 7 even though the music may be drastically different. That however is for me to deal with in Part 2 of this review, not now!
As for the vinyl part of this bundle, well, I shall let the gorgeousness that is this picture disc speak for itself:
All in all, this is undoubtedly the best special-edition record I have ever purchased and I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth, and that is before I’ve even popped the album on to listen to. Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.
Stay tuned for Part 2…
For more information about Epica and The Holographic Principle, please visit their website:
Side-Note: Edgar was a huge pain in the bum the whole time I was preparing for and writing this blog post. In addition to scratching and biting the earbook, he also ran off with the pin so that I thought I’d lost it.
This is why I can’t have nice things and, as a consequence, he has now been put in the bin.
Innuendo is the sixth studio album from Finnish symphonic power metal band, Amberian Dawn, and the second to feature their new vocalist; former pop singer, Capri. The band was formed in 2003 by guitarist and keyboardist Tuomas Sepälä and ex-bassist Tommi Kuri, the latter of whom very sadly passed away at the beginning of last year. Whilst classically trained and capable of singing operatically, Capri’s strong, powerful voice is incredibly retro-sounding that gives the group a distinctive edge in the symphonic metal genre. Comparisons to ABBA and the general sound of Eurovision are easy to make; Capri has portrayed Anni-Frid Lyngstad on stage and auditioned for the infamous song contest twice in the late 2000s.
The current Amberian Dawn line-up is as follows:
Païvi “Capri” Virkkunen: vocals
Tuomas Sepälä: guitar, keyboards
Emil “Empuu” Pohjalainen: guitars
Jukka Hoffren: bass
Joonas Pykälä-aho: drums
Whilst their previous album, Magic Forest, favoured a heavier symphonic metal sound with a decidedly gothic, fairytale theme, Innuendo is much rockier and more melodic. Lyrically it is less cohesive than Magic Forest, with a greater emphasis on storytelling and individual characters that vary wildly from pirates to witches to ball-hosting counts. Likewise the music jumps around from sea shanty to synth-heavy 80s and musical-theatre throwbacks. Truthfully, the heavy emphasis on melody over power and speed make this one of the more accessible metal albums I’ve listened to, but the flip side of that is that there are less layers to sort through, and thus Innuendo becomes very boring to listen to very quickly.
Fame And Gloria
The Court of Mirror Hall
Rise Of The Evil
Chamber Of Dreadful Dreams
Knock Knock Who’s There?
Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft
Your Time – My Time
The album’s pirate-themed opener, ‘Fame & Gloria’, is a significant departure from anything the group have tried before. The song tells the story of a group of pirate women called the Black Doves who take over a warship and rally to arms. With cries of ‘Hey ho!’ and ‘We’re drinking!’ there are some definite sea shanty lilts to the guitar work. It’s a fun, energetic opener that doesn’t exactly set the tone of the album, but gets you into the right lighthearted frame of mind.
Next up is ‘Ladyhawk’, a song with an ambiguously avian protagonist who wishes to ‘relearn how to fly’. This is probably the most 80s-sounding song on the record with its synth-keyboards, bubblegum backing vocals and major key chorus (my opinion could be ever-so slightly skewed by the fact the title resembles the 1985 film, Ladyhawke, which also features a woman who can turn into a bird). The breakdown is really fantastic with some technical guitar work hidden throughout, and the lyrics have a really positive, uplifting message. Definitely an album highlight.
The album’s title track, ‘Innuendo’ is another standout track. With its dramatic Arabic-sounding opening, super speedy drums, talk of ‘seven cycles’, ‘sand in the hourglass’, and the sun and moon design of the album cover, I find myself thinking of the original Babylonian Zodiac and the majestic desert sands of the Middle East. The title does not refer to the more well-known definition of ‘innuendo’ i.e. a sexual reference, but instead talks of life as being a nasty trick or a deliberate insult. This is one of my personal favourite songs on the record.
Things begin to fall down a bit with the next track, ‘The Court Of Mirror Hall’. This was the first song the band revealed from Innuendo in the form of a lyric video, and said lyrics conjure images of the Count of Monte Cristo showing off how rich and fabulous his house is whilst goading a woman to marry him (I couldn’t help but think of the Masquerade scene from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) as well). Beyond that, it’s a pretty forgettable track, and a prime example of what I said earlier about the music becoming very boring to listen to very quickly.
The follow-up, ‘Angelique’, is significantly more interesting. For a start, it’s a piano-led ballad with hints of the symphonic, fae-like sound of Magic Forest. Like ‘Ladyhawk’, the identity of the protagonist is ambiguous. Is she a shipwrecked Black Dove? A siren? Maybe even a mermaid? The softness of the piano really gives Capri’s vocals room to shine, and hints of her classical training are permitted come through to great effect. At times it does border a little on musical theatre, particularly when the piano changes to forte along with a general swell of symphonic sound, but this doesn’t detract from the overall strength of the song.
Like ‘The Court of Mirror Hall’, the next two tracks, ‘Rise Of The Evil’ and ‘Chamber of Dreadful Dreams’ are completely forgettable, despite being among the two heaviest and most power metal tracks on the record. Meanwhile,’Knock Knock Who’s There?’ is not so much forgettable as just plain horrible. Whilst arguably playful, the synth, twinkling sounds, melodic major key and child-like wonder in Capri’s vocal inflections – that made its closest musical counterpart ‘Ladyhawk’ so good – are just way, way too much here.
Things pick back up a bit with ‘Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft’. With a strong symphonic opening and a bouncy, sing-a-long melody, it tells the story of a witch hunt, only for the the point of view to switch from the mob to the witch. Despite being of a more upbeat tempo, ‘Symphony Nr 1’ has a lot in common with ‘Angelique’; the general sound of the song is very musical theatre-esque with a strong focus on the characterisation of the protagonist. The song’s closing bars also echo ‘Angelique’ very subtly, however whilst ‘Symphony Nr 1’ grabs your attention on first listen, its repetitive melody and simplistic lyrics don’t have any staying power.
Fortunately, given how erratic and bizarre the rest of the album sounds, things end on a high note with ‘Your Time – My Time’. With some fantastically fast guitar-work despite the generally mid-tempo speed, the song is tightly written with some wonderful, equivocal lyrics that echo the album’s title track ‘Innuendo’. The song is beautifully sung by Capri, the breakdown is ominous and sinister, and the fade-to-black gorgeous guitar solo is simply wonderful. This is easily the best track on the record, and my personal favourite.
Overall, Innuendo is a decidedly mediocre album that drifts a bit too much stylistically and lacks the cohesiveness that makes a truly great symphonic metal record. Though there are a couple of tracks here that I do like, I doubt very much I will still be listening to them in a year’s time.
King of Kings is the sixth studio album from German-Norweigan symphonic and folk metal band, Leaves’ Eyes. Formed in 2003, the group is fronted by former Theatre of Tragedy singer, Liv Kristine. Her gorgeous, soft melodic vocals are accompanied by the death-growls of her husband, Alexander Krull, whose band Atrocity form the remainder of the line-up:
Liv Kristine Espenæs Krull: clean vocals
Alexander Krull: keyboards, growls
Thorsten Bauer: guitar, bass
Pete Streit: guitar
Joris Nijenhuis: drums
The lyrical content of Leaves’ Eyes albums almost always revolve around Norse mythology and Viking history, and King of Kings is no different. This is a concept album about the life of Harald “Fairhair” Hårfagre, the first King of Norway, whose naval victory at the Battle of Harsfjord in 872 united Norway into one country. The end result is quite simply stunning.
King Of Kings
Halvden The Black
The Waking Eye
Feast Of The Year
Edge Of Steel (feat. Simone Simons of Epica)
Blazing Waters (feat. Lindy-Fay Hella of Wardruna)
Swords In Rock
The album opens with the introductory track ‘Sweven’, which is an old Norse word for “dream” or “vision”. With its gorgeous folk opening, fiddle, harpsichord-sound, steady drumbeat and Norweigan lyrics, the title seems completely perfect as we are transported back in time to Harald’s childhood. It runs seamlessly into the album’s title track, ‘King of Kings’, which quite frankly is the best symphonic metal song I have heard in a long, long time. Whilst ‘Sweven’ served as an introduction to this track, ‘King of Kings’ serves as an introduction to the album itself, introducing the concept and themes of what is to come. Continuing in the vein of its predecessor with dream-like chimes and percussion, it then storms through with stirring choirs in the form of the London Voices choir. The symphonic elements from the White Russian Symphony Orchestra positively soar alongside Liv’s pure, faultless vocals and Alex’s understated growls. The effect is absolutely outstanding.
Things turn up a notch for ‘Halvden The Black’,a song about Harald’s father (there is some debate as to where the ‘Black’ in his name comes from, whether it be his hair colour, the colour of his skin or the ice-covered river he drowned in). The opening bars and battle-chants remind me a little of the soundtrack to Skyrim(an RPG video-game by Bethesda, 2011). The choir and Alex’s growls are much more prominent here, conjuring dramatic images of death and destruction. The effect is very exciting, and bound to be a lot of fun to hear and play live… I have a ticket to their upcoming gig at the O2 Academy, Islington on 10 November, and I can’t wait!
The next track, ‘The Waking Eye’, starts out as though it is going to be a lovely ballad with Liv’s beautifully soft vocals but soon develops into something a little more mid-tempo. ‘The Waking Eye’ has a slightly Eurovision feel to it and although it’s not a personal album highlight, I think it is one of the more accessible songs Leaves’ Eyes have put out. It was the lead single from the album and it’s a good choice because the breakdown is surprisingly heavy, which acts as a good taster for the overall sound of King of Kings.
The fifth track ‘Feast of the Year’ is a short, pipe-ridden interlude that leads into the rousing, galloping riff of ‘Vengeance Venom’. This is a celebratory-sounding Viking feasting song that invites the listener to fill up their drinking horn and go dance around the mead hall. The lyrics however tell of a disagreement between Harald and his father over some stolen food and a Sami suspect, whom Harald saves and in turn earns the trust and aid of the Sami people. Despite cries of ‘vengeance, venom, pillage, plunder!’ this song has such an infectiously joyous feel to it, and is another personal album highlight.
‘Sacred Vow’ brings us back to a more symphonic, epic sound with a truly great sing-along chorus. The lyrical content deals with Harald’s proposal of marriage to Princess Gyda Eiriksdatter of Hordaland. She refused and demanded that he first become the sole ruler of Norway. In dedication to his cause, Harald gave a sacred vow to cut neither his beard nor hair until he had fulfilled Gyda’s wishes, hence how he came to be known as Harald “Fairhair”. In ‘Edge of Steel’ Harald makes good on his vow and goes to battle against all those who oppose him. Here I think is where the album falls down a little for me. I was really excited to see from the track-listing that Simone Simons was to provide a guest vocal on this song, however considering how soft and light Liv’s voice usually is compared to Simone’s powerful operatic soprano, it’s actually really very difficult to pick her out (hint: from what I can hear, she alternates with Liv during the verses and sings alongside her during the chorus). In fact, if I didn’t know Simone was there, I would never have known! This was a big disappointment for me, and overshadowed my perception of the track as a whole, but it been growing on me since.
Things slow right down during the truly beautiful ‘Haraldskvæði’, a song based on a poem of the same name which consists of a conversation between an unnamed Valkyrie (handmaids of Odin who conduct slain Norse warriors from the battlefields to Valhalla) and a valravn (a supernatural raven of the slain). It is a homage to the fallen warriors of battle, and the soft pipes in the background alongside the chants of the London Voices choir give it a distinctly Lord of the Rings feel (which makes sense as the London Voices choir also worked on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack).
The climax of the album and Harald’s life comes in the form of ‘Blazing Waters’, which features spiritual chanting from Lindy-Fay Hella of Nordic-folk band Wardruna before morphing into a heavy medieval-sounding track with some truly fantastic electric violin, crashing guitars and aggressive, haunting vocals. Every symphonic metal album has an ‘epic’ song on it that lasts a bit longer than the others, and this is King of Kings’ one, telling the story of the great Battle of Harsfjord. At this stage for me personally, it’s not the most memorable or standout of tracks, but that may simply be a matter of simply getting used to it and unpicking all the layers. It does have an absolutely gorgeous ending though with some more ambient vocals from Lindy-Fay. In fact whilst writing this review it has grown on me massively already.
The albums closer, ‘Swords In Rock’, is named for the monument of the same name (or Sverd I Fell in Norweigan) erected in 1983 as a monument to the Battle of Harsfjord, bringing us back to the modern-day and the present. With sword-slash sound effects, cheesy wolf howls and a galloping fiddle perhaps a little overly reminiscent of ‘Vengeance Venom’, this light-hearted fun track is on the face of it an odd way to end such an intense listening experience as King of Kings, but makes sense I suppose in the context of looking back through history.
I’ll be honest, I seem to have missed out listening to a load of Leaves’ Eyes albums between their third album and this one. In fact I’ve only ever heard two of their albums before – Lovelorn and Njord – and so I’ve always associated them with making soft, beautiful music to fall asleep to. This album is so much more epic and dramatic than I could ever have hoped for and I absolutely love it. I definitely need to check out some of their more recent releases.
Truly stunning, and one of my favourite albums of the year so far.