Dutch symphonic metal giants Epica spent a chunk of 2019 celebrating the tenth anniversary of their fourth studio album, Design Your Universe. In addition to releasing the Gold Edition, the group toured through different parts of the globe to commemorate the record. Towards the end of last year, Epica finally announced bringing the celebration to North America, which also included Round 10 of 70000tons of Metal. For this occasion, I knew I couldn’t live this experience once and ended up making it to three performances. For now, I will focus on their concert on January 12 at Webster Hall in New York City. Epica exceeds your everyday show. Whether it’s their devoted fanbase, the group’s overall stage presence, the loving relationship the band share on stage, or their impeccable music, there’s never a dull moment seeing this group live. Personally, I lost count how many times I’ve seen them (which never feels enough) but, this time around was probably their best.
A year without seeing the group can feel like an eternity, which is hard to believe the last time I saw them was on September 29, 2017, at the now-closed Playstation Theater. Of course, this makes sense on why they decided to return to North America for a brief visit before their new record (hopefully) arrives later this year. This night was interesting as it was the first time I’ve been to Webster Hall before it was remodeled, which some things remain the same, and others such as the Marlin Room and the Studio no longer exists. It was the first time Epica returned to the venue since December 2, 2016, and the first time Starkill opened for the group in NYC since January 21, 2016, at Irving Plaza. And of course, I was there for all.
The line was wrapped around the street as many fans were already decked out in Epica shirts. There were also a few representing 70000tons of Metal wear as well as quite a few booked their flight circling this show. Right from the get-go fans of all ages were ecstatic to see the group’s infamous Design Your Universe set.
First up was Chicago metallers Starkill. I couldn’t believe this was my first time seeing them since they headlined Blackthorn 51 back in 2017, and so much has changed. This was an ultimate first seeing vocalist Sarah Lynn Collier since she joined the group, which has overall changed their live set and energy. It was a different experience and yet the same. Despite the unavoidable dark lighting, the New York City crowd welcomed the group with open arms. For an opener, the room was already packed as there were quite a few fans with raised cell phones ready to capture video. Overall, the group has excelled immensely, which can be heard in their latest album, Gravity, which includes a little help from Epica’s own Coen Janssen. Starkill played it smart and memorable with their setlist as they managed to mix a decent amount of material. However, they also made time to close their set with the same song they closed out the night they opened for Epica four years prior with “Before Hope Fades.” Songs include: “Detonate,” “Burn Your World,” “Not Alone,” “Until We Fall,” “Emerge,” “Ruin,” “Evil Inside,” “Cloudless,” and “Before Hope Fades.”
For those who’ve seen Epica’s Design Your Universe set, perhaps it’s safe to say they’ve managed to surprise their fans at every show. Just like any Epica concert, you never know what you’re going to get. Only two nights prior, the group was on an incredible windy stage for their exquisite Design Your Universe set. For those who attended both, would expect more of the same during their New York show. However, it was completely different. It wasn’t just the songs on their setlist, it was the way they executed the tracks as well. Therefore, Epica doesn’t put on the same show twice. Whether it was a shorter trek or the band stepped their rehearsals up a few notches, the band has excelled immensely with their live delivery. This speaks volumes because they always appear fantastic on stage. However, there were times in the past when vocalist Simone Simons’ voice would cut out, which was most likely due to NY being the last show of the tour, and her voice was shot. Regardless, Simone’s voice remained flawless. There were no hiccups, no mic slips, nothing. Performance-wise, the group utilized the stage as guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye along with bassist Rob van der Loo continued to move across the platform. As for Coen Janssen, he was all over the place. Janssen wasn’t glued to the back with his circulating keyboard, he moved upfront and later into the set found himself crowd surfing.
The night continued to move through the album Design Your Universe with “Resign to Surrender,” “Unleashed,” “Martyr of the Free Word,” “Our Destiny,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “In All Conscience,” “The Price of Freedom,” and “Burn to a Cinder.” However, cellphone lights were raised as tears continued to fall during the emotional performance of “Tides of Time.” At this point in the set, the group surprised the audience with two classic Epica tracks, “The Obsessive Devotion” taken from 2007’s The Divine Conspiracy and “Cry for the Moon” from their 2003 debut album The Phantom Agony. At this point, the entire venue wouldn’t stop interacting with the group. Whether it was moshing, jumping, singing, pointing, embracing their friends, everyone remained engaged. When Epica closed the night with “Design Your Universe,” the entire room echoed with fans chanting “EP-I-CA! EP-I-CA!! EP-I-CA.” For some, it brought tears seeing how many were embracing the same evening.
Once the cries settled, Isaac and Coen returned to the stage as they introduced the word of the night: “WOW.” This led to the rest of the group to return. Simone entered the stage, waving an American Flag as well as an Epica flag. Once the banners were placed near drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek, they went into “Sancta Terra.” At some point, Simone promised the fans they will be back shortly after they finish working on their new album. With The Holographic Principle being out for nearly four years, the group knew what to do next as the entire venue jumped up and down during “Beyond the Matrix.” Unfortunately, the magical evening, and for some, the three consecutive performances, had come to a close. Mark Jansen closed the set by conducting fans in the pit to embark on the wall of death as they ripped into their favorite closing track, “Consign to Oblivion.”
For those who have never seen Epica live, you should. It’s an experience where fans have been Obsessively Devoted to the group since their first listen. Design Your Universe is an extraordinary album for many fans, and hearing it live was quite the experience.
We are looking forward to seeing what their next set will look like with a brand new album.