After two albums of generally finely crafted symphonic metal, Dutch ensemble Epica decided to indulge their orchestral kinks to the fullest with 2005's metal-free The Score: An Epic Journey, but they are back to their usual, genre-meshing stomping grounds with 2007's The Divine Conspiracy, which many fans will likely consider their proper third opus. Whatever the case may be, the album gets under way with the entirely symphonic "Indigo" prologue, before slamming into the metallic portion of the program with "The Obsessive Devotion." This, in typical Epica fashion, showcases not only the angelic soprano of Simone Simons, but also a manly baritone choir and ever more demonic death grunts from bandleader Mark Jansen -- all of them juggling lyrics in English and Latin! As with all of The Divine Conspiracy's -- and indeed Epica's -- best tracks (here including "Fools of Damnation" and "Sonata Terra"), the attraction ultimately hinges on exploring the sonic contrasts of light and dark; the punishing intensity of those elephantine guitar riffs and hyperactive drumming cast against the soaring, layered sweetness of the orchestrated strings and keyboards. Remove these contrasts and the fireworks they ignite, and largely uniform offerings like the ballads "Safeguard to Paradise" and "Chasing the Dragon" (overlong, featuring a brief black metal freak-out, and not about a great big lizard, believe it or not) simply leave one wanting more. Similarly, Epica still struggle to compete with hit-penning machines like Nightwish or Within Temptation when it comes to commercial singles with overpowering hooks (see the merely serviceable "Never Enough"). And just when you think Epica had escaped the shadow of the band that spawned them, After Forever, along comes the ambitious but uneven four-song suite titled "The Embrace That Smothers," which, actually originated in Jansen's former group (even though its first five installments appeared on Epica's debut). All that being said, give Epica credit for staying the course (winding as it may be) long enough to deliver the crowning achievement of their career thus far in The Divine Conspiracy's colossal, multi-faceted, 14-minute title track, which closes this LP. Now, if they can only maintain that stellar form for the duration of their next album, things could get really interesting.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia