Epica with Insomnium, Alestorm and System Divide at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Wednesday (October 31), doors 7 pm, all ages. $27.50. RT, TM.
Dutch symphonic metallers Epica have always favoured grand, sweeping narratives. They've been inspired by everything from archetypal tales of romance to quantum physics. But for their latest album, Requiem For The Indifferent, they turned away from myth and academia and toward current affairs.
"There's no denying that we were inspired by the present on this album," says guitarist, vocalist and founding member Mark Jansen. Writing a politically minded album, though, "wasn't a conscious goal. I watch a lot of news and documentaries, and if there is something I feel inspired to write about, I will."
This isn't the first time current affairs have piqued the band's interest. Their debut album, 2003's The Phantom Agony, contains the song Facade Of Reality, about the September 11th attacks. It is the first time, however, that what's going on in the world has been dramatic enough to inspire an entire Epica record.
Jansen and vocalist/frontwoman Simone Simons drew inspiration from the global economic crisis, and the song Internal Warfare is dedicated to the memory of the 77 people who died when Anders Behring Breivik bombed government buildings in Oslo and opened fire at a camp on the island of Utøya.
In the hands of Epica, contemporary issues take on operatic gravity. The six-piece's style of metal draws heavily on classical instrumentation and symphonic elements and structures, all of which is further enhanced by Simons's mezzo-soprano vocals. Jansen cites Chopin as a major influence, and the band even put out a live album in 2009, The Classical Conspiracy, that features a 30-piece choir, a 40-piece orchestra and covers of compositions by Vivaldi, Verdi and Grieg.
"A lot of classical music is very heavy," says Jansen. "It's very big and bombastic. You listen to something like [Edvard Grieg's] Hall Of The Mountain King, which is a massive song, and it has very fast and aggressive parts."
But heaviness is at their core, evident in Epica's death-metal riffs, aggressive drumming and Jansen's harsh vocals, often performed in counterpoint to Simons's. Despite the weightiness of their subject matter and musical complexity, Jansen says the live shows are nothing but a good time.
"I just have one rule: when people are having fun, everything is okay. We find that the more energy we give to the crowd, the more we get back, and that interaction is what matters. If that exchange is there, a night can be truly magical."