When Mark Jansen left the metal band After Forever in early 2002 and then formed the symphonic metal group Sahara Dust (which he then rechristened Epica), he initially asked then-girlfriend Simone Simons to join him.
“He asked me if I wanted to join, but I was 17 years and still in high school and it was happening too fast for me,” Simons says via Skype from her home in Germany. “I was interested but I wanted to wait a little. Things didn’t work out with the first singer and he asked me again, but it felt like a once in a lifetime. I wanted to do it. It felt scary, and I didn’t know where it would lead to, but I’m glad that I took that leap of faith. I love metal music and rock music, especially the combination of the female vocals with the symphonic metal. I like the beauty-and-the-beast element. It was something that totally appealed to me.”
Some 13 years on, the band has become a major force on the international metal scene. It even successfully hosted its own metal festival last year. The group performs with Moonspell and Starkill at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 25, at the Agora.
Simons has described the band’s latest album, 2014’s The Quantum Enigma,
as the beginning of a new era.
“A lot of things were different for us,” she says. “I was pregnant and about to become a mother for the first time. We just had our ten-year anniversary show. We had a more intense writing session. We all live far from each other; we’re spread out over Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. We can’t hang out every weekend and write songs together. We all wrote songs individually. We got together in small groups. We wrote songs over a year and recordings went smoothly as well. We recorded at a different studio in the Netherlands with [producer] Joost van den Broek, the guy who made the songs kick ass even more. He gave them more balls.”
The album commences with “Originem,” a tune that features chanted vocals and has more in common with classical music than metal. But the group quickly plugs in the guitars for “Second Stone,” a song that allows Simons to really wail. “The Essence of Silence” marries falsetto vocals with low-pitched male growls, turning it into something like sounds like Meat Loaf on steroids. A common theme links the songs.
“If you put it roughly, it stands for the quest to find reality,” says Simone when asked about the album’s theme. “The quantum enigma revolves around this research that shows if you observe particles they change their shape. We can manipulate reality. That’s an interesting philosophical topic that goes through all the lyrics. Life and death has been a huge issue as well. The record is very scientific and psychologial and spiritual.”
The album also shows off Simons’ vocal range. Her voice sounds stronger than ever a remarkable feat given the fact that she had just been pregnant.
“I had just given birth,” she says. “Not sleeping is the worst for singers. I was super-motivated, and I loved the songs. I had my son with me in the studio so I was breast feeding and eating and then recording. I was really extremely tired, more tired than I’ve been my whole life. But in the beginning, when you have a child, you just do it, no matter how tired you are. You have this extra energy that you’ve saved up your whole life.”
Simons says the band has started to record its next studio album and has already recorded the drums and guitars.
“The record is taking shape,” she says. “But the American tour is still designed to promote The Quantum Enigma
. We won’t play any new songs. We take our time with the songwriting. We know that fans are reading the lyrics. We put a lot of time and effort into writing them. The fans know that and are interested in what the lyrics are about. For us, it’s a way to inspire people to do good and think outside the box. We want to inspire people to do good.”