Never has a name suited a band so much. For those of you not familiar with this bombastic crew from the Netherlands, they have been variously described as `symphonic metal’, `gothic metal’ and various other sub-genres, none of which quite describe what they are about. The music played by this band is indeed epic (as their name suggests!), bombastic, often lengthy, dramatic, progressive in places, and often quite beautiful too.  If you are after short, stripped down songs – look elsewhere! `Requiem for the Indifferent’ is their fifth traditional studio album (not counting `The Score – An Epic Journey’ which was a soundtrack for a Dutch film called Joyride).

This brand new album combines all the familiar elements that fans of the band should recognise; orchestral sections, intricate, heavy riffing, atmospheric use of keyboards, long, complex song structures, vast swathes of bombast and melodrama. Simone Simons’ fantastic voice on this album is as flawless as the previous album; she coos, whispers, wails, wrings out every emotion possible, and shows off her incredible range and dynamism to full effect. Unlike so many other vocalists in metal bands, Simone doesn’t just belt out an operatic warble, she also has an effective and expressive `rock’ style of singing which suits Epica very well. Talking of vocals, Mark Jansen’s deathly growls are also quite strong on this album; on some of the earlier releases he has often sounded like he is struggling a little bit, but for the most part on `Requiem for the Indifferent’ his growls are deep, grim, and just the ticket.

As per usual, the musicianship on this latest opus is flawless, and fans of the band would expect nothing less. The addition of Isaac Delahaye an album ago, has also meant the inclusion of some totally blistering guitar solos, something I always wanted to hear in Epica’s music but was until fairly recently was disappointed by their absence.

One thing I admire in particular about this album is its lack of compromise; the band could easily have tried to write another `The Divine Conspiracy’, with more accessible, radio-friendly songs. Instead they have pushed the boundaries slightly further, with a satisfyingly heavy guitar sound, lengthy songs full of musical twists and turns, gentle piano breaks juxtaposed with crushing riffs, and even a few sections that sound like classic, pounding death metal (that might also have something to do with Delahaye who was previously in God Dethroned!).

This is all well and good, but I do have a bone to pick with `Requiem for the Indifferent’. The middle of the album, in my opinion, seems to lack the energy and creativity of the rest of the album. There seems to be a lull in the middle, where the songs motor along in second gear, not really hurrying to get anywhere.  There are still some great choruses, riffs and bombastic moments to be had here, but it just seems somehow less dazzling and daring than either end of this opus.

To my ears, this Epica album is less catchy and instantaneous than `The Divine Conspiracy’ and `Design Your Universe’, but slightly more experimental, and maybe even more grandiose. Mostly, it has all the elements that fans of Epica will love, but I am not sure if this will win many new fans of the band.

(7.5/10 Jon Butlin)