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My Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad: The Netherlands

3 August, 2012

[As last time, if you’ve arrived not quite knowing what I’m doing with my Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad, go here.]

After my last post, it’s time to come a bit closer to home, with the Netherlands. As of writing this, they’re at 14th position in the Olympics medal rankings, which is nothing to be sneezed at. These posts aren’t about sporting events though, so what am I going to pick instead?

As may be the case with a few of these posts, it’s going to be a band. With the Netherlands though, unlike some countries, I have no qualms about choosing one band in particular: Epica. When it comes to European metal bands overall, there are few I enjoy quite as much as Epica, after all.

So, the basics: Epica fall fairly firmly into the category of ‘symphonic metal’, meaning they incorporate not only guitar solos and thundering drums, but keyboards, orchestral arrangements and the divine vocals of Simone Simons. Female-vocalled symphonic metal isn’t a rarity, by any means, but ever since they first appeared on the scene in 2002, Epica have consistently been one of the strongest and most accomplished bands in the genre, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.

Take their newest album, ‘Requiem for the Indifferent’, which showcases everything from delicate ballads (‘Delirium’), to heavy guitar parts and powerful choirs (as in the very next song, ‘Internal Warfare’). Over it all soar Simons’ vocals, which have continued to grow in strength and versatility over the years, and lend a compelling edge to the frequently complex song structures.

Lyrically, Epica are interesting too. They’ve always seemed to me to take a more political and socially-aware slant in their work than many similar bands, covering topics as diverse as 9/11 and Deepwater Horizon. As they point out on their website about their latest album:

The album title refers to the end of an era. Mankind can no longer stick their head in the sand for the things that are happening around us: tensions between different religions and cultures, wars, natural disasters, a huge financial crisis. As we are all connected; the universe, the earth, nature, animals and human beings, this period in time will be the prelude to the end for those who still don’t want to, or simply won’t see it. A requiem for the indifferent but also a possibility for a new beginning with great new chances.

That certainly beats yet another power metal song about how great power metal is (they exist, believe me).

So, there’s the first musical offering in my Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad. Epica: ambitious, varied and never boring. (Remind you of a particular sporting event, by any chance…?!)

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