When guitarist Mark Jansen left female-fronted 'gothic metal' band After Forever, he quickly assembled around him a group of musicians and Helena Michaelsen (formerly of Trail of Tears). At that time the band was called Sahara Dust, but things didn't work out. However, with some new musicians and lovely vocalist Simone Simons he then started Epica. This band recently released their debut, "The Phantom Agony".

Almost every aspect of Epica can be compared in some way to those of After Forever. The musicians play similar roles, the music is in the same vein, and Simone's voice is close to After Forever's Floor Jansen in style. The similarity is only logical, what with Mark having been the main musical ingredient in After Forever to begin with.

I was not surprised when the album started with the almost obligatory, predictable symphonic intro, followed by what might have been After Forever's new album. Which is, when push comes to shove, not a bad thing at all. Epica have delivered the goods, which is something that After Forever will have to keep up with. "Cry for the Moon" is a true classic, with good grunting and some really heavy passages that will get heads a-bobbing. "Seif al Din" is another classic, using Eastern scales. At the end of listening to the album, you cannot help conclude that it's an awesome album, however some things are a little too much like After Forever for my taste. "Illusive Consensus" sounds very much like an actual After Forever track, for starters. Furthermore, "Facade of Reality" features a (Tony Blair) spoken part that harkens back to AF's "Forlorn Hope" rather too much. To top it off, three songs bear subtitles indicating they are sequels to actual After Forever tracks ("The Embrace that Smothers" parts 4 to 6). Even the CD booklet layout is almost uncomfortably similar to that which we are used to from After Forever.

I am splitting hairs, though. So what if the album is visually and sonically like a new After Forever album? Mark Jansen is in the band and he co-wrote all the tracks. The way I see it: Where we used to have one good band, now we have two good bands. Fans will be the happier for it. Now I only hope that After Forever will succeed in continuing to deliver the goods on their forthcoming album.

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Written August 2003


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