Founded by Danish musician Samuel Arkan and featuring a huge international lineup including members of Evergrey, Metallium, Triosphere, Sons of Seasons, Between the Silence, Symphony X and more, self-proclaimed “supernatural thriller” band Epysode first emerged in 2011 with Obsessions, a dark fantasy concept album woven from dense layers of symphonic/progressive rock and melodic power-metal in the European tradition. This year's semi-sequel Fantasmagoria continues in the same mode (with a new roster of artists, still numbering ten in all), but boasting more impressive production values and a fuller, more cinematic scope.
Far-flung concept albums and rock operas are common to progressive rock and metal, and European symphonic rock artists have turned out some memorable entries in the genre recently, including two Charlemagne albums featuring screen legend Christopher Lee (yes, that Christopher Lee), Avantasia's The Mystery of Time, Nightwish's Imaginaerum (which spawned a feature-length film, recently screened at Fantasia), and the excellent H.P. Lovecraft rock-opera adaptation Dreams in the Witch House which debuted last month.
Epysode Founder Samuel Arkan
With Fantasmagoria, Arkan and company distinguish themselves by focusing on the narrative aspects, employing the full complement of vocalists as a theatrical ensemble to move the story forward. This was achieved by bringing all of the artists to the same studio (the Noise Factory in Belgium) to record as a unit, instead of tracking their respective parts individually (a practice fairly common for multi-national music projects). The resulting vibe is both intimate and highly theatrical.
The stage is set with the creepy intro "File-41-80-2," which despite the sci-fi-ish title introduces a distinctive gothic-horror melodrama that is carried throughout the album, emphasized by a music-box motif and some shocking sound effects. The story begins full-force with the awesome power-metal anthem "The Arch," making excellent use of the full complement of vocalists, thick, crunchy riffs and soaring symphonic/choral elements, all while dealing out wicked hooks with solid single potential.
Impressive guitar acrobatics and soaring, '80s-style melodic vocals distinguish "Morning Rose," while the dark, menacing riffs of "Venom" and the blistering charge of "Raven’s Curse" support some of the scariest and most uplifting moments, respectively. Dark and brooding but equally intense lead vocals bring extra urgency to the speedy riffs and thundering rhythm lines of "The Black Parade” and "Living Fortress," the latter boasting a massive, densely-layered chorus.
Keyboardist/arranger Julian Spreutels is one of the greatest assets here, shining brightest in "The Arch," the solemn interlude "Garden of Exile" and the creepy spoken-word piece "The Inheritance” – which segues into the blistering high-tempo guitar and keyboard combo of "Now and Forever" to form the album's emotional climax. It's also one of many strong examples of intertwining vocal lines, which compliment the intense "T.H.O.R.N.S.," prog-metal opus "Forgotten Symphony" and the melancholy title track. The final cut "Unreal" gathers the full ensemble together once more, bringing the tale to its haunting conclusion.
If you're looking for more extreme horror-metal fare, Epysode may not be your cup of brew... but fans of elegant European gothic/symphonic rock will definitely want to seek out Fantasmagoria for its rich ghost-story atmosphere, darkly romantic melodies and cinematic production quality. It's an ideal late Autumn release, best enjoyed on a chilly, overcast day.