Isaac Delahaye, the newest member of symphonic metal band Epica, showcases his talents through the group’s most ambitious effort to date, Design Your Universe. The 75-minute saga reveals a new side of the band: a driving heaviness, exploding through their signature blend of heartfelt ballads and infectious brutality. Prior to the band’s much-anticipated appearance at the Key Club in LA, I had the chance to speak with Delahaye on the band’s new direction, their charitable contributions, and what they have in store for 2011.

You joined the band during the songwriting process for Design Your Universe, which seems like an intimidating time to come in. Do you feel that you were able to contribute as much as you wanted to or was there a sense of restriction from being “the new guy”?

Not really restricted, but when I came in, the song structures were already written so I didn’t participate in the actual songwriting. But as far as guitar and guitar parts go, I really had the opportunity to kind of make them my own. Basically, the basic guitar structures were already written.

It took me like three months to go through all of the guitar parts and to actually rearrange them. In the end, it was intimidating for sure because you never really know if they’re going to like it. But then there’s also a reason that they asked me to join the band, and that’s because they already thought I would be good enough. So in the end, it worked out fine. I just sent my first file to the band and they were all happy, and we just went on with all the rest!

And how did the dynamic change for you, coming in from God Dethroned?

God Dethroned was basically all melody because it was a melodic death metal band, and all the melodies came from the guitars. And now, with Epica, there’s also melody in the guitar parts, of course, but there’s much more going on: choirs, vocals, both clean and grunting, and also the orchestration.

There are more things going on and in that way, it’s interesting as a guitar player. Sometimes you can be really technical and other times you can just play rhythm guitar and not worry about anything else because all the melody is coming from somewhere else. It’s actually more interesting for a guitar player.

Design Your Universe is somewhat of a departure from the band’s more recent work, in terms of its overall heaviness. As far as your involvement during the songwriting process, would you say that there was a conscious effort to move the sound in a new direction, or was it more so a natural progression within the band?

Well, it was natural in a way. Both me and Ariën came from God Dethroned, so we were more heavier influences. In that way, it’s kind of natural, but I think it was also the thing that the band wanted, or Mark wanted, as the band leader, for our sound.

You have all these bands like Evanescence, Nightwish, Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil—those are all female-fronted, symphonic bands. They’re all kind of more commercial than the things we are doing, so we wanted to go in the other direction, more heavy. And it worked in the end, I think we grabbed that spot that was open. There are not many bands that are female-fronted and heavy like Epica is.

At this point, you’ve had the chance to play the material all over the world. How are the fans reacting to the new songs, or I guess, the new sound?

Well, we play more new songs now, so it’s obvious that they have to react. (LAUGHS)

From what I’ve heard, most people really like the direction we went. They also like the guitar solos; that was something that never really happened before. And yeah, I think overall, if you have the set list like it is nowadays, it’s very varied. We have “Tides of Time,” which is a ballad, and we can play “Kingdom of Heaven,” and there’s lots of stuff going on, not only in one song, but also in the whole set list. There’s everything. There are ballads and really heavy stuff that we play. It’s cool. It’s really challenging.

And I know that you’ve already begun working on Design’s follow-up. Do you think your contributions will be greater this time around?

Yes, probably. Right now, everyone is kind of writing on their own, individually. We have another tour coming up early next year, and probably, after that, we’re going to start doing the pre-production with the whole band.

But I’m just writing some licks and songs here and there, and everyone is doing that, so we’ll see how it works out in the end.

Well I know you touched on this before, but being in a female-fronted band undoubtedly brings irrelevant comparisons from the press and uninformed fans alike. Do you feel that the attention to Simone has helped or hurt the band at all?

It helps, it helps.

Do you think it attracts an audience that’s more so focusing on that, as opposed to the music?

Not being an original member and knowing the band for years, I had also checked the other bands that are out there. And for me personally, not because I’m in the band now, but Epica was always the band that was not the same as all the rest. Maybe also because of the grunts and that stuff. But it’s difficult to answer, especially if you’re in the band.

Yves, our bass player once said that if Simone would’ve been an ugly troll then maybe we wouldn’t have been so successful, so I guess maybe he’s right. (LAUGHS)

The band recently released the This is the Time EP, with all profits going to the World Wildlife Fund. How did the relationship with WWF come about, and what made you choose this specific organization to contribute to?

Well, Mark already did something. He did something with cycling I think…

He did a marathon, right?

Yeah, something like that, and he gave money from that.

But it was a song actually that I was recording, I was doing some acoustic songs in the studio and had that song already for years. Mark thought it was a cool song and said, “Let’s just record it and see what we can do with it.” We didn’t use it for the album because we didn’t really spend time to produce it or whatever, but then afterwards he said, “Why don’t we just use it for WWF and do something with that?” I thought it was a cool idea. It’s the least we can do before it’s too late. It’s something that you can’t really ignore nowadays.

But then we also get the critics that say “Yeah, you’re a touring band, and there’s lots of waste there”—you know, just filling up a tour bus on its own. So we’re not saints I guess, but we just try to make a little difference.

Well early next year, you’ll be embarking on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. Do you know any details about that? Will the boat be docking for performances, or are bands actually playing while it’s moving?

Well, actually, I don’t know (LAUGHS)

Tour Manager: Basically, it goes out to sea for five days, and bands will be playing all day and all night. It’s a moving festival.

It leaves Miami and bands start to play, and then it docks in Cozumel. There’s going to be an off-day and stuff like that. It’s an interesting thing.

Other than that, I know you just announced some dates in the UK. Aside from those, how’s the rest of 2011 beginning to take shape for you guys?

So, we have the 70,000 Tons of Metal, and Latin America for two weeks—Columbia, Mexico, Ecuador. Then UK, and some single shows. Then we have MaYan, the other project of Mark, so it’s going to be busy. And then summer festivals. So that’s basically it. We just keep on going, and in between, if we have time, we write music. (LAUGHS)

We just hope for the best, that we can come up with a good album, and then everything will start all over again. (LAUGHS)

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