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Epica
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The Black Halo

"Why did God make me feel there is more to be answered?"
Farewell
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The Epica saga is a series of albums by American progressive power metal band Kamelot, consisting of the two succeeding releases Epica and The Black Halo, released in 2003 and 2005 respectively. The story they tell is loosely based on Faust.

    Concept 

Spoilers Ahead

Epica

The story kicks off as a man named Ariel decides to leave his hometown and search for the answers to the profound questions of life, such as the purpose of his existence and how he can find eternal peace and happiness. The place he seeks to find – where all of his questions have been answered and he has found happiness – is called Epica.

But the quest turns out harder than expected. He quickly loses his way, indulging in opiates in hope to numb his will to question through intoxication, although that state never lasts long. He falls into depression, longing for the loved one he left behind, Helena. Just in this moment, Mephisto the archangel appears before him. He offers him a deal – he shall have everything he longs for, but in return, he has to give him his soul when he dies. To convince Ariel, he shows him his very own castle. After seeing all the things Mephisto has to offer, he accepts the deal, but with one restriction: Mephisto will only have his soul if he reaches one moment of pure peace and happiness in his life.

Later that night, he unexpectedly meets Helena again. They get together again, yet he lies to her since he doesn’t want her to know that he has made a deal with what appears to be the devil in disguise. Eventually, Ariel, still striving for the answers to his questions, decides to leave her again for a second journey. The night before the day he plans to leave, Helena thorws herself into the river nearby the town, killing herself. Ariel finds out about it the next morning and falls into deep depression. He considers throwing himself into the same river. Mephisto - who still hasn't managed to make Ariel happy and would lose his soul to God's mercy if he died - talks him out of it. Helena watches from the heavens and tries to call for Ariel and comfort him, but he doesn’t hear her in his grief and anger towards God.

The Black Halo

In an attempt to make Ariel forget the loss of Helena and therefore make him happy, Mephisto lures a lonely town girl named Margerite. He brings her to Ariel, who has since become a shell of his former self, ridden with regret. After spending the night with Margerite, Ariel realizes that his feelings haven't changed - he will only ever be able to love Helena, so he leaves Margarete. He leaves the town to continue his quest for answers, leaving her behind to never see her again. As he crosses the now frozen river in which Helena drowned herself, Helena once more tries to reach out for him, but he once more doesn’t notice her.

He lives as a hermit, wallowing in his pain and regret, often being close to a Freak Out. Then, on a moonlit night, he realizes that his deal with Mephisto was the root of all evil and that he can only make amends by confronting him (and his own demons at the same time). He sails back to Mephisto’s castle, where he chases the demon out, recognizing his own failings and that he must atone for them. After that, he once again ponders about life and existence and finally comes to a conclusion: The only times he felt happy were those when he was with Helena, so in a sense, she must have been his Epica. With this, he realizes that „love is the only truth“, making him hope that he one day will be reunited with Helena in heaven. The thought of it finally makes him truly happy.

This, however, makes Mephisto’s deal comes into play, because now that Ariel has been truly happy for one moment, his soul is his to take. As Mephisto tries to take Ariel’s soul, Helena appears from the heavens, now finally able to interact with Ariel due to his willingness to take responsibility for his actions. She saves his soul, burning Mephisto. Ariel still dies, but in his last moments realizes that now he will get to be together with Helena in the afterlife.

Note: Since this concept story is told mainly via song lyrics (contrary to bands like Rhapsody of Fire who explain their stories in their booklets), there are several things (mostly details) left open to interpretation. For example, it's unclear whether Ariel is killed by Mephsito after his epiphany, or if he dies of some other reason way later on, making "Memento Mori" a Distant Finale. Interpretations may differ from summary to summary, so the one above doesn’t claim to be the only one.

    Tracklist 
Epica
  1. "Prologue" (1:07)
  2. "Center of the Unvierse" (5:27)
  3. "Farewell" (3:43)
  4. "Interlude I (Opiate Soul)" (1:09)
  5. "The Edge of Paradise" (4:09)
  6. "Wander" (4:24)
  7. "Interlude II (Omen)" (0:40)
  8. "Descent of the Archangel" (4:35)
  9. "Interlude III (At the Banquet)" (0:30)
  10. "A Feast for the Vain" (3:57)
  11. "On the Coldest Winter Night" (4:09)
  12. "Lost & Damned" (4:58)
  13. "Helena's Theme" (1:51)
  14. "Interlude IV (Dawn)" (0:27)
  15. "The Mourning After (Carry On)" (4:59)
  16. "III Ways to Epica" (6:16)

The Black Halo

  1. "March of Mephisto" (5:28)
  2. "When the Lights Are Down" (3:41)
  3. "The Haunting (Somewhere In Time)" (5:40)
  4. "Soul Society" (4:17)
  5. "Interlude I (Dei Gratia)" (0:57)
  6. "Abandoned" (4:07)
  7. "This Pain" (3:59)
  8. "Moonlight" (5:10)
  9. "Interlude II (Un Assassino Molto Silenzioso)" (0:40)
  10. "The Black Halo" (3:43)
  11. "Nothing Ever Dies" (4:45)
  12. "Memento Mori" (8:54)
  13. "Interlude III (Mightnight - Twelve Tolls for a New Day)" (1:21)
  14. "Serenade" (4:32)

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The albums contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Album Title Drop: Averted in the case of Epica, since the word is never sung throughout both albums; there is an unusual title drop for The Black Halo though, even though it's not in the title song, but in "When the Lights Are Down": "I've come to soak my sorrow in halo black."
  • Album Intro Track: "Prologue" on Epica.
  • All Just a Dream: If you listen closely enough you can hear someone go to sleep at the beginning of "Prologue". He’s probably waking up when everything goes full cycle and the sounds of Prologue reappear in "Twelve Tolls For a New Day". Seems like he almost slumbered away the New Year’s Eve party.
  • All There in the Manual: Mostly averted. There are no lengthy accompanying texts to the albums. To understand the story, you have to rely on the song lyrics, leaving some gaps up to interpretation. There was, however, a page with small annotations to the Epica songs on their website during the time the album was released. The page doesn't exist anymore, but the annotations have been quoted in this review.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: Epica mostly implies a time period before the modern times. The Black Halo makes use of the siren sound though, which was invented in the 19th century.
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    • Justified in the All Just a Dream interpretation.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ariel dies but is forgiven and reunited with Helena in the afterlife.
  • Bookends: The sounds in "Prologue" and "Twelve Tolls for a New Day".
    • Also, if you count the Black Halo bonus track into it, "Prologue" and "Epilogue".
  • But Now I Must Go: "Farewell", "Lost and Damned", "The Haunting".
  • BSoD Song: "The Mourning After", when Ariel learns of Helena’s death.
  • Call-Back: A lot of them scattered over both albums.
    • Helena’s Theme, see leitmotif below.
    • The bridge of "III Ways to Epica" is a callback to the pre-chrous of "Farewell".
    • The orchestral part in the middle of "Moonlight" cites the bridge of "Center of the Universe".
    • "The Black Halo"’s verses are reminiscent of the verses of "III Ways to Epica", due to their 5/4 metre and the accompanying lyrics („I can take you higher“ to „You could take me higher“).
  • Classical Mythology: Even though the story is loosely based on Goethe’s Faust, Ariel’s name is based on a Greek mythological figure. Same goes for Helena, but there is a Helena in the second part of Faust, even though she plays a different role in there.
  • Concept Album
  • Contemptible Cover: Epica, in a way. It's a cheesy picture of a shirtless Ariel and some woman with Body Paint that is probably meant to represent Mephisto.
  • Crowd Song: "A Feast for the Vain" is an example of this due to the chorus.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Black Halo as a whole in comparison to the lighter Epica.
  • Dark Reprise: The bridge of "Abandoned" to "Helena's Theme".
  • Deal with the Devil: Ariel makes one with Mephisto.
  • Death Song: "Memento Mori" - a 9 minute one about Ariel's death and the struggle for his soul as Mephisto tries to take it.
  • Despair Event Horizon: "Abandoned" and "This Pain", showing Ariel at his lowest.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: The reason why Ariel starts his journey in the first place.
  • Distant Finale: "Memento Mori" can be interpreted as this, but it’s up to debate. It is possible that Mephisto shows up immediately and kills Ariel, but it’s also possible that Memento Mori takes place years after the rest of the story when Ariel dies of a natural cause with Mephisto claiming his soul just then.
  • Divinely Appearing Demons: Mephisto, especially in "Descent of the Archangel": "I thought you knew I'd come disguised / On angel wings in white"
  • Divine Intervention: As Mephisto comes to steal Ariel’s soul, Helena’s spirit comes to aid and saves it.
  • Downer Ending: Epica has one. Its sequel The Black Halo makes it a moderately happy one. Ironically, at the end of Epica, Ariel lives, while he dies at the end of The Black Halo.
  • Dramatic Wind: At the beginning and the end of "On the Coldest Winter's Night".
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: In "The Edge of Paradise": "Moonlight in visions, heaven sent / I see demon's eyes and wings unfurled".
  • Dream Within a Dream: In the All Just a Dream interpretation, there are several occurrences of this, including The Edge of Paradise and a mention in "The Mourning After (Carry On)". All of them show something that is really happening or about to happen. It's further hinted at by the quote by Edgar Allan Poe in Epica's booklet: "All that you see or seem, is but a dream within a dream."
  • Drugs Are Bad: The title song of The Black Halo can be interpreted as this in a figurative sense.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Ariel seems to believe this in Center of the Universe.
  • Epic Rocking: "III Ways to Epica" and "Memento Mori", the latter remaining the longest track Kamelot have ever released. note 
  • Epiphany Comeback: "Moonlight" and "The Black Halo" - "Moonlight" being the epiphany and "The Black Halo" the comeback following it. After leaving Mephisto and the town, Ariel understands that Mephisto is the one who made him do most of his wrongdoings and that he must face him and his own demons. After that, he returns to Mephisto’s castle and expels him from it.
  • Ethereal Choir: In the bridge of "Soul Society".
  • Fading into the Next Song: Nearly ALL of the 30 tracks. There are only two exceptions where tracks do not flow into each other: "III Ways to Epica" to "March of Mephisto", and "The Black Halo" to "Nothing Ever Dies". The former being because that's where the one album ends and the other one begins.
  • Face on the Cover: The Black Halo.
  • Female Angel, Male Demon: Helena and Mephisto in "Memento Mori".
  • Foreshadowing: Several instances:
    • In "Prologue", parts of "Farewell" and "III Ways to Epica" are audible.
    • Also, in "Die Gratia" the title of the song "Memento Mori" is mentioned, as well as in "March of Mephisto" (even if it isn’t in a literal way but translated: „Reminding the mortal of death“).
  • Genre-Busting: Both albums are considered as Power Metal on the progressive side of the genre in most cases, but there are countless influences from all kinds of genres to be heard on them, including folk, tango, classical and a bit of electronica.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: When Ariel wanders around in "This Pain" and "Moonlight", this seems to be on the verge of happening.
  • Grief Song: "The Mourning After".
  • Guttural Growler: Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir fame does this in his role as Mephisto’s demonic true self.
  • Heavy Mithril: Averted. You'd think that an concept album called Epica would tell an epic fantasy story in the traditional vein, but instead it's a loose adaptation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, dealing with a quest for the meaning of life.
  • The Hero's Journey: To a certain extent, this fits. There may not exactly be a helper or a mentor in the story, but there are several temptations ("A Feast for the Vain", "When the Lights Are Down"), there is an abyss of death ("Abandoned", "This Pain") and rebirth (Moonlight), and also an atonement ("The Black Halo"), even though the story doesn’t end with Ariel returning home, but with him dying and being united with Helena in the afterlife.
  • Hidden Track: There's a short one in the pregap of March of Mephisto.
  • Holy Burns Evil: In Memento Mori. It‘s illustrated with Mephisto’s long wailing scream after his dueling vocals with Helena.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Mephisto, especially in Descent of the Archangel: "What a couple, me and you / On journey through the night"
  • Humans Are Special: "We're the last in the line of the prey that walks the earth, good and evil combined."
  • "I Am" Song: Mephisto appears to Margarete via this in "March of Mephisto" ("I am the thorn in your side...")
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: Ariel has two of these:
    • In "A Feast For the Vain" he starts adopting a hedonistic world view.
    • In The Black Halo's title track he turns back and fights against Mephisto, leaving his past behind.
  • It's a Small World, After All: It's not clear how Helena was able to find Ariel after he sailed the world for what seems to be a pretty long time. Lampshaded in the verses of "On the Coldest Winter Night": "I am breathless, need I say / How could you find me here? / You of all have crossed my way / Unexpectedly, from where?"
    • Could be justified with either the All Just a Dream interpretation (after all, the next lyrics following the quoted lines is "I feel like I am dreaming") or with Mephisto playing a part in it.
  • "I Want" Song: Ariel expresses his wishes to answer all the questions in the world in "Farewell". In "Edge of Paradise" he starts to realize it’s not as easy as it first seemed.
  • I Will Wait for You: Ariel promises this to Helena in both "Nothing Ever Dies" and "Memento Mori".
  • Leaving You to Find Myself: First on "Farewell", then on "Lost and Damned." The latter drives Helena to commit suicide.
  • Leitmotif: "Helena’s Theme" can be heard on several occasions:
    • It first appears as a quiet instrumental in "Omen".
    • Then "Helena’s Theme", obviously, sung by Helena herself.
    • Someone humms the melody at the beginning of "III Ways to Epica".
    • The leitmotif has its last appearance in "Abandoned", this time once again sung by Helena (or, more specifically, her ghost).
  • Love Hurts: "Pure as the well of youth, until it breaks your heart."
  • Love Nostalgia Song: "Wander".
  • Lyrical Cold Open: Also "Wander".
  • The Meaning of Life: Ariel is searching for it. It seems to be love.
  • Million Mook March: "March of Mephisto".
  • Mood Whiplash: A few examples, the most striking being:
    • The bridge of "Soul Society" where a heavy part with a soling guitar bursts into an Ethereal Choir over piano.
    • When "Un Assassino Molto Silenzioso", a quiet chamber music piece, ends with only the singer whispering, The Black Halo kicks in with what's arguably the heaviest riff of both albums.
  • The Mourning After: Well, that's what the song is called.
  • New Year Has Come: The story ends with this, symbolizing how there is always a way to start anew – "What does the winter bring, if not yet another spring?"
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Descent of the Archangel", "III Ways to Epica", "March of Mephisto", "The Black Halo". "Helena's Theme" is an obvious case.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: In "Opiate Soul" and "The Edge of Paradise".
  • One-Word Title: The album name Epica. Also the song names "Farewell", "Wander", "Moonlight", "Abandoned", and "Serenade".
  • The Place: Epica is one, if only in Ariel’s hopes. In the end, Epica is everywhere Helena is.
  • Power Ballad: "Wander" and "Abandoned".
  • Power Metal
  • Progressive Metal
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Black Halo's title track. It’s also a "The Villain Sucks" Song and a "No More Holding Back" Speech, since Ariel is simultaneously denouncing Mephisto and proclaiming he no longer fears damnation.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In the end, Ariel sacrifices his life to make up for his sins and be Together in Death with Helena.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: "Dei Gratia", where Ariel prays to God in a church before leaving the town.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "This Pain" is almost this ("scratching on the surface of sanity").
  • Rock Opera
  • Seasonal Motif: A lot of it, winter symbolizing an existential crisis and summer the memory of a better time long gone.
    • "I recall one summer's night..." in "Wander".
    • "When september was long and winter unreal" in "Abandoned".
    • "When you close your eyes mementos of summer retrieves your mind" in "Memento Mori".
    • "What does the winter bring if not yet another spring?" in "Serenade".
  • "Setting Off" Song: "Farewell".
  • Simple Score of Sadness: Omen, which is a quiet, subdued version of "Helena's Theme".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Ariel starts off as an idealist, becomes more cynical after Helena's death. He eventually finds a reasonable middle in Nothing Ever Dies, acknowledging that nothing is certain, except for love. In the end, the story comes off as rather idealistic, offering an very encouraging message in Serenade.
  • Snow Means Death: As explained above.
  • Special Guest: Several:
    • Simone Simons as Margarete on The Haunting is the most well-known of the guests as of now (even though she wasn’t as well known when the album came out).
    • Other guest vocalists are Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir as Mephisto on "March of Mephisto" and "Memento Mori", and Mari Youngblood (wife of guitarist Thomas Youngblood) as Helena on "Center of the Universe", "Helena’s Theme", "III Ways to Epica", "Abandoned", and "Memento Mori".
    • There are also some guest instrumentalists that are established names in the Power Metal genre: Luca Turilli of Rhapsody of Fire performs the guitar solo on "Descent of the Archangel", and Jens Johansson of Stratovarius performs the keyboard solos on both "March of Mephisto" and "When the Lights Are Down" (the latter being a guitar/keyboard duel with Youngblood).
  • Spoken Word in Music: Both albums avoid any form of extended spoken word passages, but there are some single sentences being said in the background of several of the interludes, mainly on Epica (e.g. "At the Banquet" and "Dawn"). There's also one example on The Black Halo, namely the final interlude "Midnight: Twelve Tolls for a New Day".
  • Subdued Section: "The Mourning After (Carry On)" has one that mostly consists of multiple layers of Khan's vocals.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The story is told from the perspective of Ariel, but there are a few exceptions: "Helena’s Theme" is the only song from Helena’s perspective, while "March of Mephisto" is sung by Mephisto, both in Ariel’s absence.
    • It can be argued though that "Helena’s Theme" is a vision Ariel has in his sleep, since in "The Mourning After" he recalls seeing her „on the icy face“ in his dreams.
  • Symphonic Metal
  • Title Track: "The Black Halo" and, in a way, "III Ways to Epica".
  • Together in Death: Ariel and Helena at the end.
  • Uncommon Time: Quite a few for Power Metal genre, although other Kamelot albums have them as well:
    • "Farewell", "III Ways to Epica" and "The Black Halo" both use 5/4 in some places.
    • There are single 5/4 bars found in the second and third chorus of "March of Mephisto".
    • "Abandoned" starts in 7/4, then quickly changes to 4/4. The last few bars of the song change between 4/4 and 7/4.
    • The most uncommon time signature found on both albums is 11/8 in the bridge of "A Feast For the Vain".
  • Villainous Advice Song: In "III Ways to Epica", Mephisto advices Ariel to accept the painful nature of life („you would not feel sadness if you never tasted joy“) to keep him from commiting suicide so he still has a chance to get his soul.
  • Villain Song: "Descent of the Archangel" on Epica, "March of Mephisto" on The Black Halo.
  • Your Heart's Desire: Mephisto in "Descent of the Archangel" - "I can make your dreams come true."

"And I will await you until I close my eyes ..."
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