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VERSUS: Century Child vs. The Divine Conspiracy
Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums, compare them to each other, and see which was the better record.
In this edition, we are going to the theatrical side of heavy metal, tackling two bands in the symphonic metal genre. With the grandiose sound of orchestras, operatic vocals and cinematic sounding choirs, and prominent keyboards, it is a genre that is almost metal in a grander, more sophisticated scale. Let's take our seats, and raise the curtain to start this matchup I'm calling "The Performance of A Lifetime in 2 Acts".
Act one, we have Nightwish, with their fourth album, 2002's Century Child. Their first album performing with an orchestra, the band's musical prowess is top notch on this record. With the addition of bassist and vocalist Marko Hietala, the band's performance is so grand, giving the album almost a broadway & theatrical feel to the album. Let's dive into this record and see what makes this one of Nightwish's best records.
Opening the album is "Bless The Child". With a very operatic feel with the choir and orchestra build, the band really utilize their first time recording with an orchestra. The thunderous kicks and toms hits from drummer Jukka Nevalainen hit so hard in the mix, matching the orchestra and choir build. Emppu Vuorinen's riff playing along with the choir, orchestra and drums create such a heavy and grandiose scale in the band's performance. Lead vocalist Tarja Turunen is performing at her peak. Her dynamic range of operatic highs is so impressive, making her one of the strongest vocalist in the genre. The following track "End of All Hope" continues that grandeur with an operatic opening with double bass and riff, behind the choir and Tarja's vocals. The chuggy riff and pounding double bass on the verse's riff section sound so good.
A standout track for me is "Dead To The World". The opening synth lead by Tuomas Holopainen sounds so good after the vocal intro, giving us that trademark symphonic metal synth sound. Bassist Marko Hietala makes his debut in a lead vocals section, which creates a nice contrast to Tarja's beautiful vocals. His performance at some points give it an 80's vocal style performance and delivery. The vocal play between Tarja and Hietala show the band's dynamic range and unique dual vocal delivery. "Ever Dream" opens with a beautiful, sobering piano piece with Tarja's gentle voice with building strings behind her. The orchestra is mixed so well on this track, adding to the main riff. Tarja's vocals aren't as operatic until about halfway through, but when the pace picks up, her harmonies and vocal range just shines throughout the rest of the track.
Another great track is "Slaying The Dreamer". Opening with a very gritty and dark guitar tone with pounding drums, almost giving the song a darker edge to the track. This is the track where the band shines with less orchestra and synths, leaning towards a more straightforward metal sound. The heaviest song on the album with the main riff dominating the song. With heavy, gravelly screaming vocals from Hietala, which in his performance reminds me of Devin Townsend, and works with the darker tone of the song. The dramatic build with the orchestra, choir and Hietala's vocals screams, end the song with a strong crescendo of an ending. Songs like "Ocean Soul" and "Feel For You" continue the band's great use of a live orchestra with strong bass, chugging guitars and Tarja performing her heart out on the record. The band covers "The Phantom of The Opera", doing an amazing job of the song, almost wishing the band would do a full version of the opera to see how well the band would do with it. The album closes with "Beauty of The Beast". The band takes the theatrics to a huge level with this song. The longest track on the album, but makes sense with so many progressive elements in the song. With time signature & key changes, dynamic vocals and layers upon layers of orchestra and choir match so well with elements of heavy metal. A strong closer to this album, as we head into intermission in this matchup.
Act two, we have Epica, with their third album, 2007's The Divine Conspiracy. A concept album about religion, the record introduced the band to a lot of fans in the symphonic and power metal genre. With more aggression in their sound compared to their opponents, the band gained a unique sound by infusing heavier sounding metal like death metal growls and more aggressive sounding double bass on this record.
Opening the album is the instrumental "Indigo (Prologue)". Beautiful string arrangements and droning bass, along with a low choir piece, adds a epic scale to the track. The album officially opens with "The Obsessive Devotion". Starting with pounding double bass with fast paced strings playing over a thrashy sounding riff. Vocalist Simone Simons' high vocals, along with the male choir and growl vocals of rhythm guitarist Mark Jansen, adds almost a death metal sound to the bands symphonic sound, almost in the vein of Fleshgod Apocalypse. The song builds with sweeping clean vocals from Simons and the choir with pounding drums and chugging riffage throughout the song. "Menace of Vanity" starts with synth leads by Coen Janssen into a chugging and heavy palm muted opening riff into intricate neoclassical highs. Growls start the song off heavy, accompanied by choir vocals and thunderous drum fills and double bass throughout. The album takes a reprieve from the growls and heaviness with "Chasing The Dragon". With a soft, acoustic opener and Simons vocals shining over the guitar and light strings section. A beautiful song that really shows off Simons beautiful, almost siren-like voice.
A standout track for me is "Never Enough", the song that actually introduced me to the band. Giving off a gothic metal like sound, similar to the popular Evanescence, Simons vocals shine so well throughout the song and the chorus, all while Jansen's growls randomly pop in the chorus. A more straightforward track, with lighter synth and orchestra elements, making the band being the main focus of the song. Followed by an instrumental piece in "La‘petach Chatat Rovetz (The Last Embrace)" with unique percussion and atmosphere. "Death of a Dream (The Embrace That Smothers, Part VII)" starts with such a heavy opening. With aggressive double bass and choir delivery, the song hits the ground running with the thrash sounding riff and double bass underneath it into dark and demonic growls. Showcasing the band's skill of infusing gothic and symphonic elements with flurries of death metal.
I love the song "Fools of Damnation (The Embrace That Smothers, Part IX)", the band nails the chugging and heavy drum fills along with a simplistic riff with atmospheric strings throughout the song and Simons' voice sounds so good on the track. "Beyond Belief" has a great feel and atmosphere with the song's opening. Vocals are on point, and the double bass matching the main riff into the choir just adds great accents to the track. The darker tone at the halfway mark is another great example of the band adding growl vocals done perfectly, transitioning into a great guitar solo near the end. "Safeguard To Paradise" is a beautiful piano and strings section, letting Simons' vocals showcase and deliver an emotional performance. The album's closing title track is a grand ending to the album. With thundering war drums and brass opening the song, the song almost delivers a call to arms feel. With so many layers and song arrangements, the song is complex and intricate in the instrumentation. Heavy sections of double ass, accenting with aggressive choir sections and a driving riff, this is an awesome closer to a strong release from Epica.
As the curtain closes, who took the spotlight between these two albums? For me, the winner is Nightwish with Century Child. Century Child is such a sonic journey of an album. Delivering with a real orchestra, amazing vocal performances by Hietala and Turunen, and delivers the theatrical and symphonic elements, this was a clear winner. Epica delivered a strong release in this matchup. I am a huge fan of symphonic death metal, and adding that element to make themselves stand out is a good choice. The band does it really well on this release. Both bands are very good at performing their take on symphonic metal, but also like to add their twists of classic metal songs. As bonus tracks on both releases, Nightwish covered Megadeth's "Symphony of Destruction" and Epica covered Fear Factory's "Replica", which in my opinion are both amazing covers and need to be checked out.
Nightwish would part ways with Tarja Turunen in 2004, who would then hire Anette Olzon as their new vocalist. The band would record two albums with Olzon, 2007's Dark Passion Play" and 2011's Imaginaerum, until she left the band in 2012. The band then hired Floor Jansen as their new vocalist and she has been with the band since. Her debut, 2015's Endless Forms Most Beautiful, was well received by fans. The band released their most recent record in 2020 with Human. :II: Nature.
Epica would also continue releasing music with their most recent record being 2021's Omega and released the E.P. in 2022 The Alchemy Project, featuring guest appearances by Fleshgod Apocalypse as well as Björn "Speed" Strid of Soilwork and legendary keyboardist Phil Lanzon of Uriah Heep.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this epic matchup? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.