Taking their name from the excellent symphonic metal album by Kamelot, Epica are essentially the spawn of After Forever following Mark Jansen's departure from that other band. One of the most prominent symphonic metal bands, Epica are fully orchestral to the point that the symphony frequently overtakes the rock instruments, making for something of an acquired taste that might be a little too extreme for fans of the watered-down operatic pomp of bands such as Nightwish.
What I dislike most about this otherwise impressive band is how too big a deal is made of the fact that they have a female singer, as if that's never happened before. While Simone Simons has an impressive voice (if a little generic when singing soprano), it shouldn't be necessary to package the album with artwork of her cleavage shot, as if the quality of the music isn't enough to sell it without titillation.
The music itself is strong, if a little obviously in an embryonic stage at this point. At times it goes over the top with orchestral pomp, as in the opener 'Adyta' and the weird Star Wars thing going on with the 'Embrace That Smothers' trilogy, but the use of male and female choral vocals mixed with opera vocals, singing and death metal growls makes for the album's most interesting side, the melodies and rhythms themselves never being too distinctive at this point.
1. Adyta (The Neverending Embrace)
3. Cry for the Moon (The Embrace That Smothers - Part IV)
5. Illusive Consensus
6. Facade of Reality (The Embrace That Smothers - Part V)
7. Run for a Fall
8. Seif Al Din (The Embrace That Smothers - Part VI)
9. The Phantom Agony