Epysode – Fantasmagoria
One could argue that Ayreon is the Avantasia of progressive metal. A prog opera, so to speak. Well, Arjen Lucassen is not alone in the universe anymore. It seems the concept of gathering lots of guests around one very talented musician is not uncommon in the Lowlands. Belgium has its own personal Arjen Lucassen in the guise of Samuel Arkan, and his international concept story – prog endeavor Epysode.
Now my knowledge of Epysode’s first episo… installment, rather, Obsessions is limited, having only heard it once. Impressed though I was, the album sort of fell on the backburner (fellow music enthusiasts will indubitably know what that’s like). Successor Fantasmagoria should serve as a wakeup call, and boy, am I awake!
Arkan has one hell of an address book. Kelly Carpenter (Adagio, ex-Beyond Twilight, ex-Outworld) and Rick Altzi (Masterplan, At Vance) from Obsessions are out, but on Fantasmagoria Tom S. Englund (Evergrey), Henning Basse (ex-Sons Of Seasons, ex-Metalium), Ida Haukland (Triosphere) and Matt Marinelli (Borealis) are in. It’s enough to make Tobias Sammet blush.
Each get their moment to shine. Englund redeems years of crappy Evergrey records with “Fantasmagoria” alone, and does strong work throughout. So does Haukland, not just on the aforementioned ballad-slash-title track, but on “Raven’s Curse”, “Now And Forever”, and “Forgotten Symphony” as well. It’s enough to make me interested in Triosphere again.
You have to feel sorry for Sons Of Seasons. Losing a fantastic asset as Henning Basse will be tough to overcome. The man is a mixture of angst, strength and magic, all packed into the intoxicating “Venom” and to a lesser by-default extent, “Living Fortress”. Adding Marinelli to the mix is inspired, his powerful melancholy towering above Englund in “The Black Parade” and rendering “Garden Of Exile” more than just an interlude.
Naturally the guests are a major draw for Epysode. Yet without a puppet master, there would be no marionettes. Arkan knows how to write for these people and tell a story with all involved. Liner notes and lyrics will address the details, but Fantasmagoria feels like a whole and everyone has his or her role. Musically, we’re talking dark progressive metal with elements of power. Ballpark this somewhere near Beyond Twilight and Sons Of Seasons. It’s intense, it’s tough, it’s heartfelt. May take a few spins to sink in, but if you didn’t know that, you’re probably new to prog. In which case, welcome!
Epysode may hail from Belgium, where Dyscordia and The Difference are also putting prog on the local map, but its ambition spans nations. Englund and co are not cashing in a pay check – all flew out to record their bits in Arkan’s presence – as so often happens with session work, but they’re part of the band, the story, the structure. As Game Of Thrones-fans around the globe sigh every spring: “I can’t wait for the next episode!” Yet until then, the Fantasmagoria box set will do fine.
4.0 // 5