Music of epic proportions never fails to make an impression. A larger-than-life soundscape activates many feelings, from joy to fear, from happiness to sadness. Today marks the release of Keith Richie’s Epica. As implied by the title and cover artwork, it is an album of mighty and monumental music. But there is a sensibility here, too, a narrative about doubt and insecurity – and overcoming great obstacles. Like a well-written fantasy or sci-fi novel, the album takes hold of the listener and doesn’t let go before it is all over. Epica is, without a doubt, one of 2021’s most notable New Age music releases.
Keith Richie is a Texas-based composer living in a small town called Mesquite. His music ranges from Berlin-school to film score, ambient, and chill-out. His YouTube persona is the Maestoso, a fitting Italian term indicating parts of musical scores meant to sound large, triumphant, heroic, and victorious, such as the Olympic Fanfare and Theme by one of his idols, John Williams. He recently composed music for the short film Dead Love: A Fever Dream of Terror.
About Richie’s previous release, Ambient Highways, I wrote that: “Listening to the album feels like riding an ultramodern vehicle through a futuristic and colorful metropolis. It is a sublime and incredibly well-made release, perfect for dreaming, reading, or creative work. Fans of Vangelis and the Bladerunner soundtrack will feel right at home – although that sharp 1980s analog sound has been replaced by crisp 2020s studio brilliance.”
Given Epica‘s literary qualities, I will try my best not to give any spoilers in this review – but I make no promises. If this is a concern, listen to the album first and return to the review afterward.
The album opener is called Remote Isolation. Slowly but steadily, a melody takes shape. The female vocalization and whispering is Enigma-lile and creates a wonderful atmosphere, making it easy to envision being in a far-away land – or better, on another planet. I very much enjoy the rhythm and the sharp textures. When the bell synth comes on, the tableau is complete. A world of adventure awaits. Next out is Rebirth. It has a delightful ambient, Berlin-school sound. Tangerine Dream fans will feel right at home. Fractions of a melody are heard in the distance, while an alien wind is near and foreboding. It is a complex and rich landscape. It could have been twice as long, and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Dawn is one of the most delicate pieces on the album. The short ambient melody is being repeated like a mantra before strings join in. It is as if we can sense the day’s first light; The number of suns and planets on the alien sky is up to you to decide. There is no end to talk of, only a fade-out before we are introduced to some fascinating Tiny Creatures. Richie’s synth work is truly spectacular; notice how it seems to trigger the imagination. It is like opening a portal to another dimension. These creatures might be tiny, but they are wild, untamed, and probably lethal.
With Jade, the focus changes. It is a fast, gorgeous chill-out piece with a delightful atmosphere. Fans of Richie’s Ambient Highways will love this track. Then meditative Dusk is here. The cheerful melody in the foreground cannot hide the scary things lurking in the shadows. The textures here are world-class, no doubt about that. Then a Vangelis-like lead is heard, cutting through the strange air. It is breathtakingly beautiful.
The title track is a layer-upon-layer kind of melody. Mimi Page’s vocal sounds both human and alien, comforting and instructive, all at the same time. Suddenly incredibly sharp synth leads cut in, then war drums are heard. A battle is raging somewhere close; It is awe-inspiring and massive. It could have been the soundtrack to a Hollywood blockbuster movie. It is a key track on the album, the moment of truth when we get to see what our hero is made of. Bravo!
The victorious There Are Other Worlds Than These concludes the album. The title is a nod to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series and is also the name of Richie’s label. Again I’m amazed by his ability to compose music with a positive and upbeat melody, but right below that are layers upon layers of textures that contradict that lively atmosphere. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking for the replay button because there is so much to take in – even a scary-sounding monster!
In conclusion: Someone – perhaps Mark Twain – once said that “Richard Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” I believe that is true for Keith Richie’s Epica too. The music is incredible – but the storytelling itself is larger-than-life; it is multi-dimensional and rich. The fantasy/sci-fi theme makes it ideal for reading, dreaming, or creative work. I also believe that the overall atmosphere and build-up – its epic qualities – makes it very hard to stop. The listener needs to know how the journey ends. And unlike a book, it is much easier to relive its finest moments again and again – which comes in handy since the album is only 36 minutes long.
Epica is a magnificent release – brimming with creative, larger-than-life panoramas – not unlike what you see on the cover artwork. It is an exciting new chapter in Keith Richie’s music, which will bring him lots of new fans.
For more information and music samples, visit krichie.com.