Epica

For all the attention Epica has gotten over the course of their careers are the most visible and consistent of the female fronted, symphonic metal bands, they are a mystery to me. I have somehow managed to go this long without sitting down and listening to a full Epica album, no matter how much praise has been heaped upon it. There's something about their stated mission, the blending of light and dark, soft and heavy, that feels to me like a band intentionally putting on handcuffs.

In the quickly multiplying and increasingly competitive world of folk metal, bands are given an early choice between two camps, each representing one of the possible idiomatic sounds of the genre. First, you could truly embrace the roots of the music you are channeling, incorporating an increased number of traditional or esoteric instruments and arrangement. The other path, equally valid in the halls of metal, is to bend more towards the melodic death metal trend, using the folk elements as garnish surrounding the main dish of metal being served.