What is Epica?
Epica is a symphonic metal band from the Netherlands. They started making music together in 2002 and have released three full-length albums, one movie score, one dvd, one book and six singles so far. The current line-up consists of:
- Simone Simons - Mezzo Soprano
- Mark Jansen - Guitars, grunts & screams
- Ad Sluijter - Guitars
- Coen Janssen - Synths
- Yves Huts - Bassguitar
- AriŽn van Weesenbeek - Drums & Percussion
It all started 4 years ago, in the year 2001. Simone Simons once went to the chatroom of the band After Forever, when Mark Jansen was still a member. He told her that he was looking for a singer for a side project, and then Simone declared she could sing. So they made an appointment. First of all they fell in love, and the side project never really took place. That very same year Mark left After Forever because of some problems with his fellow bandmembers. He had a dark period afterwards, but Simone supported him and he went on.
He decided to start a new band, called Sahara Dust, with Helena Iren Michaelsen as a singer, himself and Ad Sluijter as a guitar player, Coen Janssen on the synths and Iwan Hendrikx on the drums. Although Helena was a talented singer and had a lot of experience the collaboration between them didn't seem to work out that well, so she and Iwan Hendrikx left the band and Yves Huts (on the bassguitar) replaced the latter. And despite the fact that she wasn't very experienced, Simone Simons was asked to help the guys out by singing on their demo (Cry For The Moon, 2002) and they decided to keep her as their singer. They also got a new drummer, Jeroen Simons.
At that time Simone had also been singing in a choir and at the band's first gig, December 2002, she had to perform with that choir too. It lead to some tense moments but she resolved to continue with the band. Now that the band was complete and the first gig was played they weren't too fond of the name Sahara Dust anymore. Therefore they changed their name into Epica, because they were all great fans of the band Kamelot, and especially their then latest album Epica, and because they liked the aspect of epic music in their own musical style. Besides that Goethe had written in one of his books that Epica was a little place in the universe where the answers to all questions could be found. Mark thought this would be great as a band's name because he is looking for the answers as well. In the beginning of 2003 the recordings for their first album "The Phantom Agony" started. One could say this was pretty soon after Simone's and Jeroens joining and for Simone it was actually the first time to be in a studio. Nonetheless, she did an amazing job, and they were guided very well by the producers.
That same year, 2003, the album was released, and although the band was pretty new and everyone was rather sceptical about it, thinking that it would sound quite the same as After Forever (Mark's previous band), the reactions and reviews on the album were marvellous. The album has been sold about 25000 times.
The amount of gigs they played grew, and the self-confidence of the band members and especially Simone's has grown a lot. She's become charmismatic and sweet personality on the stage, and you couldn't imagine her to be the shy girl she had been before. It's clear that it has been a wise decision to have Simone as the front woman of the band.
In October they released their first single, The Phantom Agony, for which they also had a video made. The song itself is great but Mark said that he wasn't really content with how the record company shortened it, because, like he says, "You don't write a 10 minute song to get rid of 7 minutes in the end". The band members also didn't like the way the video had turned out. The makers of the video had a rather biased image of a gothic video, and so the video turned out to be full of clichťs.
In January 2004 their second single Feint came out (accompanied by a video a well), followed by their third single Cry For The Moon in May.
Somewhere in the beginnen of 2004 Epica received an invitation from the Dutch television and radio personality Jan Douwe Kroeske who asked them to perform in his tv-programme "2 Meter Sessies". They glady accepted it, but they wanted more. They arranged a choir, a small orchestra and were determined to play acoustic versions of some songs. This all lead to the recordings of their DVD "We Will Take You With Us". They didn't only perform their own songs, but also a song from the musical "Cats", called "Memory", which had been sung by Simone before at her singing exams. In the summer of 2004 the recordings of their new album "Consign To Oblivion" started, because in the summer Simone wouldn't be most likely to get a cold. Some songs on this albums partially deal with a concept called "A New Age Dawns", which tells about the Mayan people, how much they already knew about the earth, the universe without having the techniques that we have nowadays, and how they literally have been "consigned to oblivion". This time Mark & Coen also had to write the scores and soundtracks for the Dutch movie Joyride. One of the songs can also be heard on the cd, it's called Trois Vierges. This song is a duet with Roy Khan, the singer of Kamelot. They had some sort of a deal, because Kamelot needed a female vocalists on their new album, and Epica wanted a male vocalist (they actually wrote the song for Roy Khan without knowing it). So Simone featured on the song "The Haunting (Somewhere In Time)" on the new Kamelot album "The Black Halo" and Khan decided to sing on Trois Vierges.
Finally, on April the 21st the album was officially released. The expectations were high but no one was disappointed. Everyone concluded that Simone's singing was much better and varied than it had been on their first album. This time she didn't only sing opera, but also used her pop voice. The lyrics were more mature, as well as the music. The new sound was more bombastic, orchestral and movie-like, which is a very good thing.
On May the 12th they released their first single of the new album, Solitary Ground. They made a special soundtrack versions, with a piano instead of the actual instruments it had before. Solitary Ground was an enormous success, it entered the Dutch Mega Top 100 charts at 46! They also released a video, and it has been played on the Dutch music station TMF.
The 15th of september 2005 another, entirely different album is released. As stated before, Mark & Coen had to write a score for the movie Joyride, but the makers of the movie decided to use a rather small amount of the songs they had actually written, so the CD with the soundtracks for the movie isn't released as an official Joyride CD, but as an Epica album. This album is called "The Score - An Epic Journey". This album contains 16 new, instrumental tracks and 4 remixes of songs from Consign to Oblivion (Quietus, Trois Vierges (Solo version) , Trois Vierges (instrumental) and the soundtrack version of Solitary Ground, which was also released as a single).
The CD received very good reviews, because it shows how versatile and gifted the members of Epica are. The Score is very different from all other CDs, because (except for Quietus) it features no guitars and drums.
A Month later, their second single from Consign To Oblivion was released, and it was called Quietus. This time, the video had been made by Mirko Cokko, and finally the band members can be satisfied about the final outcome of a video. Finally the typical "Dutch" appearance is gone.
May the fourth 2006, Epica did a very special show in the Paradiso venue in Amsterdam. This show has been recorded for a DVD and the same evening their Photo-Sound book called "The Road To Paradiso" was released. This book is telling the story of Epica so far.
The show itself featured a lot of special guests, like Jan-Chris de Koeijer from Gorefest, Roy Khan from Kamelot and a live violin and cello, and backing vocals from Amanda Sommerville and Linda van Summeren. The show featured a lot firework, and this is a great symbol for the skyrocketing career of Epica so far.
By the end of 2006 the band had started writing and pre-recording songs for third studio-album, which was to be released in 2007. The first song that was played live was "Never Enough". During the fall of 2006 the band went on tour through the US as a support act for Kamelot. Many gigs were sold out.
Sadly, there was some bad news when the band had returned to Holland. Jeroen Simons, the percussionist, had decided to leave Epica to be able to concentrate on another musical career. He was (and still is) admired and loved by many and he will be missed as a member of Epica.
2006 turned out to be a heavy year for Epica, as their old label Transmission Records was bankrupt and Epica suddenly was left without a record deal and without the rights to their previous albums. Besides that, the labels boss had sold the rights to the recordings of the Paradiso DVD to his wife, so that the Epica members were unable to get their hands on it. This juridical matter is still being handled with today.
Despite all those negative issues, the band wasn't taken aback. Quite the contrary, Epica decided to start the recordings of the next album on their own without the (financial) support of a record company. Nuclear Blast got a hold of this new material and offered them a place on their label straight away. Epica gladly accepted this offer, despite the fact that many other labels had been interested as well.
Besides recording The Divine Conspiracy, Simone also contributed to several other songs: Web of Lies by Ayreon, BlŁcher by Kamelot & Everytime It Rains by Primal Fear.
September 2007 is the month of the international release of The Divine Conspiracy. The album is described as heavy, refreshing, daring and original. The album contains more guitars than the previous albums, Mark's grunts have returned in full splendour and Simone's voice has matured. One great addition is the outstanding drumming by AriŽn van Weesenbeek, the beast on percussions, which enables the band to write faster and harder songs. The albums is a concept album and deals with the idea that God created many different religions and released those upon mankind to find out if men would be able to see that all religions are basically the same. "The Embrace That Smother" cycle is finished, containing a guest appearance After Forever's Sander Gommans on one of the songs.
Right after the release of the album the band left for their second USA tour, and during that tour the news was received that the new album had entered the charts in several countries: the Dutch Album Top 100 at number 9, the Top 100 Album charts in Germany at number 41, at number 29 in Switzerland, in the French Top 100 at number 35 and the Belgian charts at number 61.
After working with them as a session drummer for several months, and after a very successful tour, AriŽn van Weesenbeek finally agreed to join Epica as a full time member! With a complete line up Epica is now ready to conquer the world!