Though best known for his work as the guitarist and harsh vocalist of Epica, Mark Jansen also leads a Death Metal group of European superstars known as MaYaN. With a cast including second harsh vocalist George Oosthoek of Orphanage, guitarist Merel Bechtold of Delain and Purest of Pain, vocalist Marcela Bovio, formerly of Stream of Passion and Elfonia, Epica’s own drummer Arien van Weesenbeek and many more, the band are also only bolstered further by recording with none other than the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra thanks to an IndieGoGo campaign! To say it’s a winning combination is an understatement, as MaYaN and the orchestra have put together a truly cinematic album in ‘Dhyana’ that is a worthy follow-up to the orchestra’s contributions to the likes of Star Wars and Hannibal.

Given the cinematic bent, the opening to The Rhythm of Freedom is naturally suspenseful, and indeed reminiscent of Danny Elfman. The heaviness kicks in with pounding drums and heavy, Death Metal riffs courtesy of Bechtold, Frank Schiphorst of Symmetry, Arjan Rijnen of ReVamp, and VUUR and My Propane’s Jord Otto. The choir continue to add to the drama as the Metal and symphonic elements blend, with plenty of harsh vocals from frontman Jansen. Alongside Jansen is clean vocalist Adam Denlinger, offering a magnificent counterpoint that is well suited to the grandeur of the symphonic elements. The almost overwhelming intensity of the track is sealed by “the Beast” van Weesenbeek, who shows off his chops with incredibly rapid and powerful drums.

Tornado of Thoughts (I Don’t Think, Therefore I Am) opens with dramatic guitars and almost Middle Eastern symphonic elements reminiscent of classic mummy movies. As with a few tracks from ‘Dhyana,’ there is a noticeable similarly to same of Epica’s heaviest tracks. Far from comforting, Denlinger’s clean vocals seem mocking, offset against the powerful urgency of Laura Macri. This leads into a dark and somewhat discordant section backed by a deep male choir. The guitarists together create an almost domineering sound that is only pierced by ex-After Forever keyboardist Jack Driessen to bring slightly more melodic moments.

Tim Burton-esque visions are raised through the distinctly melancholic keys, string arrangements and operatic vocals opening Saints Don’t Die. The symphonic elements particularly come to the fore in this track, along with the pathos of Denlinger’s vocals in an atmosphere of despair. This track also includes some of the more Progressive moments of the album in the guitars and keys.

Surprisingly, the title track Dhyana is soft and slightly haunting, filled with classical vocals and gorgeous harmonies from Macri and Bovio, along with beautiful cello backing. A real showcase of the two female vocalists’ incredible talent. This is followed by a return to heaviness in Rebirth from Despair, with blast beats and monstrous vocals. Nevertheless, Bovio proves exultant in this track as she lifts the music to new heights of passion even as Jansen rains destruction alongside the tumultuous orchestra.

Ominous strings and a return to the grandeur of the choir are the purview of The Power Process, along with a heavy, bass-driven beat showcasing bassist Roel Kaller. Bovio provides mournful, even funereal vocals before diving into a massive finish. The energy really kicks up however with The Illusory Self, with its dark focus on bass-heavy riffs and drums, and orchestral pieces the equal of any of Epica’s more frenetic tracks. Bovio and the orchestra trade off with Jansen and the heaviness, with Bovio’s vocals gradually becoming more desperate as the intensity of the track increases. Introducing the Progressive elements once more, there are even some odd, Dream Theater-like time signatures and trilling guitars.

Satori allows the listener a moment to catch their breath with introspective piano and sombre synths before the dark, crunchy guitars return with Maya (The Veil of Delusion). Weesenbeek sets a demanding pace for the harsh vocalists to keep up with, and the interplay between growls, screams, male clean and female operatic vocals is divine. This song in particular seems to take some cues from Dimmu Borgir, particularly in Denlinger’s vocals reminiscent of ICS Vortex.

The amazing sonic density carries on in The Flaming Rage of God, with sinister moments that could have come from the more operatic moments of Cradle of Filth. The climax comes however with Set me Free, filled with horns and crushing blast beats. Denlinger’s vocals pick up a hint of Thomas Vikstrom in their aggressive edge, and the track overall pulls together all the elements that have contributed to the greatness of the album, with some terrifying final vocals from Jansen.

Given the breadth of amazing musicians involved, ‘Dhyana’ couldn’t have failed to be a masterpiece, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. A true symphonic Death Metal classic for the ages.