EPICA: ‘We Still Take You With Us – The Early Years’ (Nuclear Blast) – a personal retrospectiveEPICA: ‘We Still Take You With Us – The Early Years’ (Nuclear Blast) – a personal retrospective

With the release of a lavish box set ‘We Still Take You With Us – The Early Years’, Dutch symphonic metal band Epica rightly commemorate their early triumphs.

The Epica story starts when guitarist Mark Jansen left After Forever after the release of their debut album ‘Prisoner Of Desire’ and its follow-up, the equally successful ‘Decipher’. “Mark and I were, for the first two albums, so focussed on After Forever,” the band’s other guitarist Sander Gommans told me in 2007. “But the first album is very balanced, where the second is much less so – there was Mark’s classical side and my metal side. We started the band together and it was really hard to decide which direction to go in. And we decided to go further in the metal direction, without Mark. I understand how difficult that was for Mark now; it sucks being kicked out of your own band, and I understand that much more now that I did then.

“It didn’t help that they also signed to Transmission Records [After Forever’s label at the time], and as we neared the end of our contract and Epica had a lot longer to go they started to spend a lot more on them and didn’t help us at all. But it is funny that two kids from a small village in Holland can end up in two successful bands. We met at high school, I guess we were about 15 years old, and started the band in 1995. We had the same goals, the same interests and the same professional attitude, even though we couldn’t play a note at the time!”


Mark Jansen, Epica, at The 13th Day - (c) John Tucker

Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining, and Mark quickly established a new band Sahara Dust, which then became Epica. But After Forever issued just three more albums without him and disbanded in 2009, two years after the release of ‘After Forever’ (which has recently been re-issued by Nuclear Blast, with bonus tracks). Mark’s new band, meanwhile, leapt from strength to strength and are now celebrating their twentieth anniversary with ‘We Still Take You With Us’, a multi-format set which, at its most opulent, contains the band’s first two albums (2003’s ‘The Phantom Agony’ and ‘Consign To Oblivion’ which followed two years later), ‘The Score’ (the soundtrack to the film ‘Joyride’, also released in 2005), the TV broadcast ‘We Will Take You With Us’, and – the jewel in the crown – the full set recorded at a triumphant gig at Amsterdam’s Paradiso on 4 May 2006, on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray.


Simone Simons, Epica, at The 13th Day - (c) John Tucker

If the band had a pivotal year, it was almost certainly 2005. Seemingly incessant touring had sharpened them, and whereas ‘The Phantom Agony’ – good though it is – didn’t sound too far removed from Mark’s previous band, with ‘Consign To Oblivion’ (released on 21 April) Epica, fronted by the largely unknown Simone Simons, began to forge their own identity: ‘Consign To Oblivion’ was a much more focused affair, and showcased not only their talent but their determination. The band had broken out of Europe, and amongst a number of high profile gigs that year they played The 13th Day festival in Birmingham on 24 July and Belgium’s Metal Female Voices Fest in October. “This is actually our second gig in the UK,” Simone told me just before The 13th Day. “The first time we played in Camden, in London [7 May 2004], and the audience was great. I didn’t know what to expect; I thought they might be a bit reserved, but they proved to be the opposite. I just hope there will be a lot of people at The Thirteenth Day so that we can have a great time together.”


Epica at The 13th Day - (c) John Tucker

There were indeed a lot of people there, and Epica stole the show.


Epica at Metal Female Voices Fest 2005 - (c) John Tucker

Their performance at Metal Female Voices Fest was also exemplary. Although they stuck with a consistent set throughout much of their summer touring, the band were unfazed by the scope of the gig and the number of great acts sharing the twin stages with them – including the up-and-coming Leaves’ Eyes, headliners Lacuna Coil, and After Forever.


Epica at Metal Female Voices Fest 2005 - (c) John Tucker

The Paradiso gig presented in this set from the following year is a real triumph, and a vindication of what Mark and his band had set out to achieve. From those early days Epica have grown immeasurably in both reputation and stature and with the release of their third album, ‘The Divine Conspiracy’, in August 2007 they moved into the top flight of metal bands, where they’ve resided ever since. Eight studio albums, countless live releases and collaborations and an undiminished appetite for playing live has turned them into one of the most successful and easily recognizable – both visually and audibly – symphonic metal acts. And it all started here.

Video clip - 'Sensorium', live at Paradiso, 2006: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD4eHNSl4yM

© John Tucker August 2022