Growly male vocals puts a major damper on this album
Now, this one is just plain frustrating! This ambitious entry into the increasingly crowded subgenre of female-fronted, semi-symphonic prog-thrash something-or-other pushes many of the right buttons--and not just the ones the record companies tell female-fronted metal bands to push, either. So who's to blame for this less-than-glowing review? Cookie Monster, that's who!
At least that's the way it sounds. Thankfully, Epica's principal voice on record is the superbly smooth-voiced mezzo-soprano (so sez the press release) of Simone Simons, and when she's at the helm, the band sounds its best for it. Rudely interrupting the splendid pageantry on many occasions, however, is a male voice that sounds suspiciously like that gruff-voiced, cookie-craving, blue-haired critter from Sesame Street. Actually, the liner notes say it's rhythm guitarist and songwriter Mark Jansen who's to blame for the aforementioned gurgling, though the indistinct and decidedly unmusical sound his voice produces could easily be mistaken for Cookie Monster or one of his countless vocal imitators in the death metal genre.
As you might have surmised, Jansen's tuneless growls drastically reduce my enjoyment of this otherwise well-conceived record. And it frustrates me as a reviewer, because the band members have obviously put a lot of work into The Divine Conspiracy, which combines typical female-voiced, goth-metal pomp and circumstance with elements of Dream Theater-inspired prog-metal and thrash. The execution is flawless, and the arrangements smart, particularly on "Fools of Damnation" (part of the multi-part "The Embrace that Smothers") and the album's first full song, "The Obsessive Devotion," which kicks in after a two-minute prologue called "Indigo."
Honestly, I hate to sound superficial, but for me, that one bothersome factor of the growly male vocals puts a major damper on this album, which might have received another star or more from me otherwise. I admire the band's musical ambition and thought-provoking, sometimes introspective lyrics, but for best results I would recommend that in the future Jansen heed the advice of the late Frank Zappa--Shut up and play yer guitar!
About this Writer: Vinaya Saksena // Vinaya is either a writer who dabbles in guitar playing, or a guitar player who dabbles in writing. A Maximum Metal staffer since 2004, he has also served as a reporter for several newspapers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Although his obsession with music is such that it does not allow time for much else by way of hobbies, he also enjoys traveling, trivia, photography, British comedy and the occasional A-Team re-run.
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