Released: 2013, AFM Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Belgian prog/goth/dark/power metal ensemble Epysode return with more pomp and circumstance on a second album brimming with guest appearances, ambition and grandiosity, but weighed down with indulgence. After rounding up a gaggle of 10 musicians and singers for Epysode's 2011 debut Obsessions, mainman/guitarist Samuel Arkan swings for the fences with Fantasmagoria, corralling the likes of Evergrey's Tom S. Englund, Mayan's Henning Basse, Triosphere chanteuse Ida Haukland, Symphony X's Mike LePond and DGM's Simone Mularoni, among others, to contribute.
Pain Of Salvation drummer Léo Margarit and Ethernity keyboardist/programmer Julien Spreutels are the only holdovers from Obsessions. Yet in order to maintain something of a “band” feel for the album, Arkan had all the players and vocalists come and record their parts at the same studio, instead of, quite literally, mailing them in, which does pay off in Fantasmagoria's cohesive, if bombastic overall sound.
As this sort of music – self-described as “supernatural thriller metal,” yeesh! - goes, FANTASMAGORIA is surprisingly heavy, with the guitars and drums taking a prominent role. The album is full of assertive riffs, flashy but meaty solos and driving tempos that muscle their way to the fore even through the swirling keyboards and atmospherics of “Morning Rose,” “Now And Forever,” “The Black Parade” or the darn near punishing “T.H.O.R.N.S.”
When things slow down to accentuate the dramatics or anthemics, though, as on “Venom,” the layers tend to get slathered on too thick and it all becomes overwrought and overblown – and at over an hour long FANTASMAGORIA's already a bit bloated as it is. The vocal tradeoffs work fine amid the cascading crunch of “T.H.O.R.N.S.” But when set against an epic scale and more theatrical score, it ends up sounding like warmed over Trans-Siberian Orchestra (“Forgotten Symphony”), or, worse, Meatloaf (the title track featuring a Haukland/Englund duet). Thankfully, there's none of the operatic warbling that has become so intrusively fashionable these days.
When it's leaner and meaner, relatively speaking, FANTASMAGORIA is about as good as this stuff gets. But when it falls into the familiar traps it can be an eye-rolling exercise in excess.