Epic Song of the Week archive

Here are the write-ups I did for all the Epic Songs pre-2016. Some of them are short, and a bit embarrassing, honestly. But I’m saving them here, so that I may learn from my literary mistakes.

Back to the ESotW page.

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#10 – 18 Feb 2012: “Last Time” by Labrinth (Knife Party remix) »

Last Time” by Labrinth (Knife Party Remix)

A bit of a dramatic genre leap here. Knife Party are a side project of Pendulum founders Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen. Whereas Pendulum’s sound is a melodic blend of electronica, fast-paced drum ‘n’ bass beats and contemporary rock, this side project is something otherworldly and alien by comparison.

Knife Party straddles the line between incomprehensible, balls-to-the-wall noise, and epic-sounding party anthems, often alternating between the two at a near-confusing rate. The reason for the incorporation of such all-out noise into an otherwise completely Pendulum-esque sound is that they are close friends with infamous London-based producer Skrillex, who I think has had some sort of creative input on the project. However, there’s something more to Knife Party’s music than the belching Satanic bass and ridiculous brostep LFOs that Skrillex is known for. It feels more… cerebral. There’s a certain smartness and precision to their music that fans of electro-house and dubstep can’t help but listen to in awe. Akin to a fine diamond, the mix is tight as hell, the beats are dense and heavy but crystal-clear, and the effects are applied in careful moderation (or excess, if you like) to give it that refined sheen.

This remix of Labrinth’s “Last Time” by Knife Party is one such gem. Just listen to it. And then listen to a bunch more of their stuff.

#9 – 26 Nov 2011: “Schism” by Tool »

Schism” by Tool

I’m only familiar with a handful of Tool’s work, but I really like this particular song for its rampant progressiveness, for which it seems utterly infamous. According to its Wikipedia page, the song changes time signature no less than 47 times. In just under 7 minutes. I love the way I can’t keep my foot-pedalling in time with the song no matter how much I try and adapt to its rhythm. Seriously. That kind of thing means this song deserves multiple listens.

Even without the meter changes embedded into your skull, this song is easy to appreciate. The bass riff is seriously cool, the guitar work is bang-on time (a feat of excellence considering the song’s complexity) and nothing stands out as overly intrusive within the mix, especially the low-key vocals, which leave plenty of auditory room left for you to groove along to the music itself.

Incidentally, my brother knows this song best for it being utterly impossible for him to beat on Guitar Hero: World Tour. When he sees this it’ll definitely piss him off. 😛

#8 – 19 Nov 2011: “The Mob Rules” by Black Sabbath (Adrenaline Mob cover) »

The Mob Rules” by Black Sabbath (Adrenaline Mob cover)

Wow, I don’t know how I missed out on these guys for about 6 months.

Adrenaline Mob is a collaboration project between Russell Allen (vocalist for Symphony X), Mike Portnoy (ex-drummer of Dream Theater), Rich Ward, Paul DiLeo (both members of Fozzy) and Mike Orlando, a man who just seems to have come out of nowhere with batshit insane lead guitar-playing skills.

They formed a little while after Portnoy announced his departure from Dream Theater, and I’m pleased to see that he looks happy as a pig in crap behind a set of drums again. Adrenaline Mob’s sound is overall nothing like Symphony X or Dream Theater (it’s more akin to 90’s heavy/thrash metal), and it’s nice to see Allen and Portnoy taking on something slightly different.

This cover of the popular Black Sabbath song – which formerly had the late and great Ronnie James Dio on the vocals – is really cool. Give it a listen and tremble in the wake of the sheer power that this band displays.

#7 – 5 Nov 2011: “America” by The Nice »

America” by The Nice

Now something a little bit different – all the way from the 60s. The Nice were a progressive rock band – widely considered to be one of the first, if not the first of their kind – who blended elements of jazz and classical music into contemporary rock. They were a precursor to the more widely-known Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

The song itself is instrumental (save for a short spoken verse right at the end). The tune itself, a swung tune in C major, is quite uplifting and very catchy, but what seals it for me personally is the performance of Keith Emerson on the Hammond organ.

How many organists can you remember who planted throwing knives into the keys to sustain a high note while playing a obscenely fast solo? How many organists do you remember climbed over the organ and played from the opposite side?

It’s something that has to be seen to be believed.

#6 – 29 Oct 2011: “Octavarium” by Dream Theater »

Octavarium” by Dream Theater

I just…

This is…

There are no words.

I discovered this 24-minute epic by Dream Theater earlier this week and was immediately and utterly entranced by it. To expound its glory and majesty in mere text on an arguably uninteresting blog page would be to do it a grave injustice.

Just listen to it.

The YouTube description box (taken from the song’s Wikipedia article) tells you all you need to know.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and ponder if it’s actually worth me writing any more music. I can’t hope to compete with this in my wildest dreams.

#5 – 22 Oct 2011: “Mars” by Gustav Holst »

Mars” by Gustav Holst

What needs to be said? It’s Holst, guys.

One of the finest pieces to come from the excellent orchestral suite “The Planets”, this is one of the most intense, climactic, and dramatic pieces of music I’ve ever had the delight to enjoy. It is a piece full of power, wrath and destructive imagery, the pounding 5/4 rhythm continuing all the way through and only adding to its fearsomeness. It conjures up mental pictures of Star Wars-esque battle scenes in deep space, or gladiators squaring off in the Colosseum – fitting for a piece named after the Roman God of War.

Truly a work of genius, and only the first chronicle in the ever-popular seven-movement suite by Holst. What a shame he didn’t write one for the planet Pluto when it was discovered, four years before his death in 1934. I prefer this over “The Imperial March” any day.

#4 – 15 Oct 2011: “The Odyssey” by Symphony X »

The Odyssey” by Symphony X

The title track of Symphony X’s sixth studio album is every bit as epic as the poem by Homer from which it gets its name, and on which its lyrics are based.

It’s another long track, this time just over 24 minutes in length. It’s structured in movements and I’ll briefly review them here, individually.

Part I: Odysseus’ Theme/Overture: Michael Romeo is not just a genius with the axe, but also a damn fine composer. This three and-a-half-minute symphonic overture melds his stellar orchestration perfectly with the elements of a progressive metal band, with Jason Rullo’s drumming accompanying the strung stabs and timpani; and Michael Romeo’s guitar and Michael LePond’s bass counterpointing the orchestral melodies. (0:00-3:40)

Part II – Journey to Ithaca: Beginning with a mellow acoustic section and soulful vocals from Allen, this part tells of the traveller Odysseus’ departure from home, and gradual journey into the perilous sea, which is well-conveyed as the music progresses into heavier territory, growing more furious and segueing almost unnoticeably into the next section. (3:40-9:33)

Part III – The Eye: As we progress further into Odysseus’ quest, the music gets heavier and the lyrics darker. Here we have a typical Symphony X performance, with a catchy Romeo ostinato in Em, and Allen alternating between his trademark gruff style and harmonic high register for the excellent chorus-like segment in this part. (9:33-12:15)

Part IV – Circe (Daughter of the Sun): This part also has everything you could reasonably expect from Symphony X – soaring choral vocals from the mighty Allen, impossible time signatures, and a kickass solo from Romeo near the end. (12:15-15:02)

Part V – Sirens: My personal favorite part of the song. Romeo’s guitar work is stellar, as per usual, beginning with a crunchy, menacing riff playing tuplets. Allen stays within the higher register for this section, but the darker lyrics paint a bleak picture of a turn for the worst in Odysseus’ journey, as he is tied to the mast of his ship. (15:02-16:43)

Part VI – Scylla and Charybdis: The most diverse and evocative part of the song. It is broken up into two two-minute orchestral movements, the first being a hectic, John Williams-esque onslaught entitled “Gulf of Doom” (16:43-18:59), and segues gradually into the more cinematically serene but equally impressive “Drifting Home”. (18:59-20:07)

Part VII – The Fate of the Suitors/Champion of Ithaca: The song’s final four minutes make a fitting conclusion to this epic piece. With a central guitar melody that reminds me vaguely of “The Final Countdown”, and Allen returning to his soulful vocal style alongside awesome acoustic shredding courtesy of Romeo, this is definitely an excellent finale. It concludes with a reprise of Part II, leaving you feeling as though, much like Odysseus, you have been on an adventure of epic proportions and essentially come full circle. (20:07-24:07)

“The Odyssey”‘s length makes it hard to fully appreciate through one listen – especially with the trademark syncopation and odd time signatures that make Symphony X what they are – but it is still one helluva song nonetheless. The album itself is widely considered to be one of their best efforts, if not their very best. It is music and art.

Progressive metalheads like myself will appreciate this one a thousand percent.

#3 – 8 Oct 2011: “A Nightmare to Remember” by Dream Theater »

A Nightmare to Remember” by Dream Theater

I’ve always liked this band but I’ve never really sat down, headphones on, to appreciate their art. Earlier this week, I read how drummer Mike Portnoy left the band in 2010, and they set up a bunch of televised auditions to find a new one. After seeing them all performing some of their more complex songs live, and watching the awesome chemistry between them, even while jamming, I’m really starting to get attached to them. They take the “weird time signatures” approach of many progressive rock/metal bands to the nth level and beyond. And it works so well.

This particular song, “A Nightmare to Remember”, the opening track on their 2009 album Black Clouds and Silver Linings, clocks in at nearly 17 minutes in length, but it is so cleverly scored and structured that the time simply drifts by as you get lost in their instantly catchy riffs, storming solos and haunting lyrics. Vocalist James LaBrie’s rhythm and melody is perfectly imitable even through a first-time listen. This track is an otherworldly, emotive and highly rewarding experience. Simply fire up that video, pull up the lyrics, and don’t stop listening. It’s a brilliant, brilliant track and will get you hooked on Dream Theater in a few minutes – the remainder of the 17 minutes will simply come as a bonus.

#2 – 1 Oct 2011: “Hereafter” by DGM »

Hereafter” by DGM

Some slightly heavier stuff now, but again we look to the sweeping stream of prog metal talent flowing from Italy. DGM appear to take a leaf directly out of Symphony X’s book, by featuring progressive time signatures and manic guitar riffs overlaying a fearsome backdrop of hard-hitting bass and apocalyptic drums. This band features two members formerly from a similar act, “Empyrios”, and keyboard player Emanuele Casali puts on an absolutely steller performance right from the start, his otherworldly, unrelenting bombardment of screeching synthetic notes serving as an excellent counterpoint to the awesome lead guitar work of Simone Mularoni. On top of this firestorm, vocalist Mark Basile begins with a chilling, reverse-echoed whisper, then alternating between soaring skyward cry and emotive tremolo, his tone reflecting that of Russell Allen and Fabio Lione’s bastard lovechild.

After only hearing a couple of songs by this band, I can safely say that my interested has been piqued, but my thirst for more not yet quenched. So much the better, then, that they are the supporting act for Symphony X on their in-progress tour of Europe – with hope, I’ll be there at O2 Academy Islington to see them both in the flesh on October 26. 😀 Woohoo!

#1 – 24 Sep 2011: “Sea of Fate” by Rhapsody of Fire »

Sea of Fate” by Rhapsody of Fire

With any symphonic power metal band, insane guitar riffs, blazing solos and thunderous orchestral chords come standard-issue. Rhapsody of Fire pull this off to a T, but on top of that, blend a brilliant sense of rhythm into this song, using triplets to deceive the listener with a 12/8 time signature smokescreen, and then onslaughting them with the rapid-fire kick drum.

This is by no means their best song that I’ve listened to, and it’s not nearly as progressive as some of their other work, but this was the track that got me into them, and I maintain that it’s more than worthy of the accolade “epic”. After this, be sure to check out “Crystal Moonlight”, “The Frozen Tears of Angels” and “Raging Starfire”.

That’s right. “onslaught” is a verb now. 😛