(10 April 2013) The Phantom Agony marked the start of the now decade-long and world-wide career of the Dutch group Epica. The album was recorded at The Gate Studio in Wolfsburg, Germany, under the leadership of the renowned producer and engineer Sacha Paeth (a.o. Aina, After Forever, Rhapsody, Kamelot) and at its release it was critically acclaimed to be one of the most impressive Dutch epic metal debut albums ever.
The classically trained mezzo-soprano vocalist Simone Simons is a true revelation, confronting a complete choir and orchestra just as easily as she battles the shrouds clad grunts. But it is the incredible arrangements and production, this band of ex-After Forever guitarist Mark Jansen gives a unique place in Dutch rock history.
Ten years after its original release, The Phantom Agony (Transmission Records (Netherlands) TMD-071, 2013) is back remastered from the original digital recordings in two formats. The expanded edition double CD comes in the Transmission Records famous deluxe digipack. It has a whopping 15 bonus tracks, including 7 previously unreleased versions and one previously unreleased song. The 20-page full color booklet features unique photos nd memorabilia, plus liner notes by guitarist Mark Jansen.
In addition to the remastered tracks on the first CD, the expanded edition includes new orchestral versions of "Adyta," "Sensorium," "Cry for the Moon," "Feint," "Illusive Consensus," "Basic Instinct," "Run for a Fall," "The Phantom Agony" and non-album track "Veniality." Also listen for the piano version of " Feint" and the single version of "Cry for the Moon" and "Run for a Fall" on the second CD. It is a true collectors' edition.
The expanded edition is also available pressed on high quality 180 gram audiophile vinyl (Transmission Records (Netherlands) TM-071, 2013) and put in a 350 gram cardboard gatefold sleeve that includes all of the lyrics. Besides the remastered edition of the original album, this release contains six bonus tracks. The non album tracks "Veniality" plus its orchestral version and "Triumph of Defeat"; piano version of "Feint" and single versions "Cry For the Moon" and "Run For A Fall" are featured as the LP edition bonuses. The vinyl is for true audiophiles capturing Epica in their full analogue glory.
In addition to the remastered tracks on the first CD, the expanded edition includes new orchestral versions of "Adyta," "Sensorium," "Cry for the Moon," "Feint," "Illusive Consensus," "Basic Instinct," "Run for a Fall," "The Phantom Agony" and "Veniality." Also listen for the piano version of " Feint" and the single version of "Cry for the Moon" and "Run for a Fall" on the second CD.
The choir performs the brief Adyta ["The Neverending Embrace - Prelude] sung in latin. Simone takes
over the lead in the fast-paced rocker "Sensorium" accompanied by rich keyboard, vast guitar riffs and powerful
percussion. Jansen's occasional grunt reminds listeners despite the orchestral and choir passages that this is
after all a metal album.
Simone's wistful vocalise opens the epic track "Cry For The Moon" [The Embrace that Smothers
- Part IV] atop orchestral rich and cinematic arrangements. The lush harmonies of the choir join in the anthemic
chorus between Simone's powerful vocals in the verses. Metal-edged instrumentation increases as the tension
in the track develops further before Jansen's grunts take the lead atop heavy guitar riffs. The orchestral ballad
"Feint" follows. Sung brilliantly by Simone, the choir provides lovely backing harmonies while keyboards provide
a symphonic backdrop with guitars building tension as the track develops.
A theme that runs through the album is "The Embrace that Smothers" with Part IV being
"Cry For The Moon," Part V being "Façade of Reality" and Part VI being "Seif al Din." We were wondering what
happened to Parts I, II and III. That said, "Illusive Consensus" is a rapid-paced Nightwish-style track with
Simone's driving lead supported by dramatic alterations of arrangement and rich choir parts. Memorable not
only for the melody but the metal guitar (in spots Edenbridge-style) and percussion riffs, the orchestral
keyboards provide a perfect balance.
"Façade Of Reality" blends the rapid pace of metal-edged percussion with lush choirs and
orchestral keyboards in the choruses but gives Simone room to soar in the verses. Mark Jansen's occasional
grunt atop the identical arrangement contrasts significantly--that the two vocalists duel between beauty and
the beast makes for interesting listening to those new to the genre and brings back memoirs of early After
Forever to longtime fans. Spoken word interludes by Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister) dealing with the aftermath
of 9/11 contribute to the cinematic effect of the piece.
In "Run For A Fall" the band combine Nightwish-style ballad textures with cinematic keyboard
and string orchestration. Rich arrangements, thick guitar and choirs add to the tremendous sound of the piece.
In total contrast "Seif al Din" is a rapid paced, percussive metal-edged track. Simone's crystalline vocals soar
powerfully alongside Mark's beastly grunt while tempos shift between the cinematic texture of the orchestra
and unadulterated metal punctuation. Simone's brief spoken-word part further develops the theme and further
illustrates her range.
The album concludes with the epic-length and cinematic title track. One has to be drawn in
by the whispery spoken part that opens over orchestral instrumentation. The rich choir introduces the main
theme and supports Simone's soaring lead throughout. Our editorial staff especially enjoyed the blend of
Simone's mezzo-soprano lead and the choir's harmonies. Jansen's occasional grunting and rapidfire metal
percussion and heavy guitars adds texture to the
masterpiece. But it is the symphonic texture of the choir
and orchestra and vast dynamic excursions that contribute to the overall magnitude of the epic.