Belgian Metalcore group Essence return with a new EP after taking a break from music for some time. Lead singer Michiel (and only Michiel, all band members are known only by their first names) has been battling a severe chronic illness on and off for the last decade. When faced with his mortality, Michiel had an epiphany regarding what is truly important in life. Their new EP ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is the product of his life changing journey.

First established in 2005, Essence had undergone several different variations in personnel before finding their stride with their current line-up. They are: Michiel on vocals, Steve on drums, Maarten as chief guitarist, Stein on rhythm guitar and Jelle on bass. Essence released their debut album ‘The Defining Elements’ to critical acclaim in 2012. In the ensuing flurry of articles about them, they were oft lauded as being the more thoughtful side of metalcore, in the same vein as Elitists and Architects. In the wake of Michiel’s fortunate recovery from a serious illness, incidentally the inspiration for the first track of the EP ‘Submerged’, Essence became all the more insular and contemplative.

Lyrically speaking, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ challenges the misconception that sex, religion, political leanings and ethnicity play any part in ones sense of morality and justice. Religion and the media, they insist, are responsible for the proliferation of the grossest misunderstandings of decency and integrity since time began. Moral outrage in the media and a backward sense of decency expounded by religions is worth nothing against the personal principles of the masses. This notion is melodically explored in ‘Prophecy’. The contrapuntal melody lines are almost fencing amidst a backdrop of cacophonous drums and thundering bass. There is a war occurring in this song.

The standout track of the EP is most definitely ‘The Climb’ this tale of perseverance and tenacity is noteworthy in its simplicity. While the other songs courted chaos and destruction, ‘The Climb’ is content with a more straightforward approach. Heavily distorted though it is, it still manages to display an elaborate and, at times, delicate melody. The music video for this single consists of the quintet purging all of their considerable anger under a bridge while the camera periodically cuts to a sullen girl who mournfully stares down the lens. The import or significance of this is unclear (as is typical in most music videos) but the pensive nature of the lyrics suggests a yearning to move to a softer approach. Given the personal and meditative nature of the EP in general, it might have been more effective if presented in a more laid back manner, the anger and pandemonium seems to be at odds with subject matter of the songs.

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Music Reviews Editor. Originally from Sligo, I have a Bachelors degree in Music and a MA in Modernity, Literature and Culture. I also have between eight and thirty shins. Do follow on Twitter to hear my daily picks of songs, old and new, there's a good lamb. sarah@puremzine.com