The Alchemy Project
Label: Atomic Fire
Out: November 11th, 2022
Playing time: 35:54

As an avid fan of the symphonic metal band Epica, I’ve been following them since I was a teenager, and with each new album, their efforts have only been improving and growing more ambitious. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic arose, that didn’t stop them from delivering to their fans in any way! From “Omega”, their 8th studio album; to “Omega Alive”, their first virtual concert; to uploading a slew of remastered music videos from their back catalog to YouTube, I’m more than happy to say that the past two years have been jam-packed with goodies, especially since 2022 marked the year of the band’s 20th anniversary.

The celebration really kicked into high gear during Epica’s 20th anniversary concert at 013 in Tilburg, the Netherlands, which was also the site of their very first live performance 20 years prior. In addition to the venue being sold out, the concert was also live-streamed so that everyone else could take in all the excitement. The band announced well into the show that they have been working on a “secret project”, and they unveiled a new song called “The Final Lullaby”, featuring Jørgen Munkeby from Shining. Over the next while, they posted teasers on their social media channels about who the guest musicians/bands might be (it was up to us fans to view their portraits and guess their names), and it wasn’t long before they broke the news about their new EP, “The Alchemy Project”, which was released on November 11.

“The Alchemy Project” was written in collaboration with a total of 13 guest musicians, and their perspectives brought many different musical influences and styles into the record, ranging from brutal death metal to jazzy saxophone melodies, and even a ballad with a trio of distinct female voices. Of course, I wasn’t expecting a cohesive album that would match the likes of “The Quantum Enigma” or “Omega”, but it’s still a blast to listen to, and most importantly, it’s something quite different from what most Epica fans have grown accustomed to. Being an EP, the record is quite short, at just under 36 minutes in duration, and contains seven tracks, all featuring different guest musicians/bands.

Track 1: The Great Tribulation (feat. Fleshgod Apocalypse) At first listen, “The Great Tribulation” may sound like one of Epica’s archetypical intro tracks, with a choir chanting in Latin, but listeners can also hear Veronica Bordacchini (from Fleshgod Apocalypse) in the background, providing an eerie backdrop to the first section of the song. Then the guitars come in, and together, Epica and Fleshgod Apocalypse take you through a whirlwind of symphonic death metal. The brutal death growls from both Mark Jansen and FA’s Francesco Paoli contrast wonderfully with Simone Simons’ angelic vocals. In addition, we’re also treated to a melodic chorus, a guitar solo, and even a keyboard solo from Coen Janssen. The best thing about this song, however, is how it came together. According to Epica’s website, Mark Jansen sent some basic ideas for two songs to Fleshgod Apocalypse, and rather than pick just one song, FA used all the ideas given to them and combined them into one song. The result is a track that sounds familiar to fans of either band, but is also refreshing and new at the same time, and it’s the perfect way to pave the road for the rest of the EP.

Track 2: Wake the World (feat. Phil Lanzon & Tommy Karevik) After the heaviness of “The Great Tribulation”, we’re treated to a lighter, mid-tempo track that is reminiscent of 1970’s hard rock. The keyboards that build the backbone of the song are courtesy of Phil Lanzon, keyboardist of Uriah Heep. The verses are soft and melodic, with Simons delivering the vocals in the first one, and Tommy Karevik of Kamelot contributing his own clean vocals to the track in the second. The chorus is very uplifting, with both singers’ voices harmonizing beautifully, almost as if they’ve been singing together forever. Phil Lanzon’s time in the spotlight comes in the form of a retro-sounding keyboard solo, followed by a wonderful guitar solo. The final chorus features a key change, additional vocals from the choir, and even some harsh vocals from Mark Jansen. All of this, combined with a message about the healing powers of music make the song an instant classic, and one that would sound amazing if performed live.

Track 3: The Final Lullaby (feat. Shining) Of course, this was the first track that lots of fans have heard from the EP, since it was performed live during Epica’s 20th anniversary concert. Despite its name, you probably don’t want to be playing this song to infants! The song is on the heavier side once again, opening with an exciting riff that will make you want to start headbanging immediately, and Simons starts by singing, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who would be the one to destroy us all?” She is quickly joined by Jørgen Munkeby from the Norwegian avant-garde band Shining, whose animated vocals blew me away when I heard them live in concert. Munkeby even shows off his abilities as a saxophonist in the form of a wonderful jazzy solo during the instrumental section. The chorus is one of Epica’s best, and the choral chanting adds an extra layer of oomph to an already catchy tune.

Track 4: Sirens – Of Blood and Water (feat. Charlotte Wessels & Myrkur) After rocking out to the previous three tracks, “Sirens – Of Blood and Water” provides a calm atmosphere for the next four minutes. It’s essentially the ballad of the album, but it’s not your ordinary love song. The lyrics are based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”, but with a twist. In the original story, the Little Mermaid’s sisters give her a dagger so that she can kill the prince and regain her tail. In this vocal-driven song, told from the siblings’ perspective, the Little Mermaid (Simone Simons in this case) does kill the prince with the dagger, and she reunites with her sisters (unlike the original story where she refuses and turns into foam). The sisters are portrayed by Charlotte Wessels, formerly the vocalist of Delain; and Myrkur, a Danish solo project led by vocalist Amalie Bruun. Wessels and Myrkur each sing a verse and a rendition of the chorus. Simons joins in during the bridge, and she belts out the final chorus while the other two women provide a different, subtle verse in the background. The instrumentation is fairly minimal, evoking a fairy-tale film score at times, and it leaves ample room for the three sirens to captivate you with their alluring voices before they pull you beneath the waves. In addition, Simone Simons, Charlotte Wessels, and Myrkur provide some soft, chanting vocals during the quietest parts of the song. “Sirens – Of Blood and Water” is my 2nd favorite track from the EP, and if anyone asks me how to write a stunning ballad, I would show them this song without a moment’s hesitation.

Track 5: Death is Not the End (feat. Bjorn “Speed” Strid & Frank Schiphorst) Right out of the gate, this song springs into the realm of melodic death metal, with a touch of metalcore throughout, particularly in the chunky guitar riffs. The verses are carried forth by Bjorn “Speed” Strid’s trademark screamed vocals, alternating with Mark Jansen’s vicious growls. The drumming is very intense during most of the song, with lots of double bass and blast beats, but it lets up somewhat during the chorus near the end. Simons and “Speed” share a wonderful vocal duet together before the song closes with a guitar solo from MaYaN’s Frank Schiphorst. I would say this song is heavier than “The Great Tribulation” and “The Final Lullaby”, but it’s NOTHING compared to the next track.

Track 6: Human Devastation (feat. God Dethroned & Sven de Caluwé) Are you ready for the heaviest and most brutal song that Epica have ever recorded? All I have to mention are the names “God Dethroned” and “Aborted”, and that alone should give listeners an idea of the madness that’s to come. For the entire duration of the song, the elements that make up Epica’s trademark sound are gone, replaced by a pure death metal assault with furious tempos, pummeling drums, frantic guitar riffs, and monstrous growls from Henri Sattler, Sven de Caluwé, and Mark Jansen. Imagine creating an Epica playlist and then you decide to slap a Cannibal Corpse track somewhere into it. That’s what “Human Devastation” is in a nutshell, and at just under three minutes in length it is the shortest track by far, but it’s like three minutes of being run over by a freight train. The song came as a total surprise to me during my first listen, and it instantly made its way to the top spot as my favorite track. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the EP at all, but as part of a collaborative project, it’s the perfect opportunity to add in a fun diversion. If you’re a fan of brutal death metal like I am, you’ll certainly enjoy this track.

Track 7: The Miner (feat. Asim Searah, Niilo Sevänen & Roel van Helden) Out of all seven tracks on this EP, I found “The Miner” to be the most traditional-sounding Epica track. It has a cinematic feel to it, as well as a slew of guest collaborations from Asim Searah (vocalist of Damnation Plan), Niilo Sevänen (bassist and harsh vocalist of Insomnium), and Roel Van Helden (drummer of Powerwolf). The song is good, and I especially liked how Sevänen injects his deep growls into the bridge, but I found it to be lackluster compared to the other six tracks.

All in all, “The Alchemy Project” is a fun little album to listen to, although I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point for people wanting to listen to Epica. This album is meant to be listened to by fans of Epica, as well as fans of any of the featured guest musicians. I personally think that Epica should do something like this again in the future, perhaps with Elize Ryd of Amaranthe, and even Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci of Dream Theater. It at least shows that there are no signs of Epica slowing down or resting on their laurels, always ready to transform symphonic metal into divine gold.

Simone Simons – Clean vocals
Mark Jansen – Harsh vocals, rhythm guitar
Issac Delahaye – Lead guitar
Rob van der Loo – Bass
Coen Janssen – Keyboards
Ariën van Weesenbeek – Drums, harsh vocals

Track list:

  1. The Great Tribulation (feat. Fleshgod Apocalypse)
  2. Wake the World (feat. Phil Lanzon & Tommy Karevik)
  3. The Final Lullaby (feat. Shining)
  4. Sirens – Of Blood and Water (feat. Charlotte Wessels & Myrkur)
  5. Death is Not the End (feat. Bjorn “Speed” Strid & Frank Schiphorst)
  6. Human Devastation (feat. Henri Sattler & Sven de Caluwé)
  7. The Miner (feat. Asim Searah, Niilo Sevänen & Roel van Helden
  • Album - 8.5/10
  • Cover Art - 9/10
  • Songwriting - 9/10


Disturbingly Good


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