Album Title: Omega
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 26 February 2021
My history with Epica dates back to 2007 and the release of their third full-length album, ‘The Divine Conspiracy’. I was writing for Powerplay Magazine at the time and Epica were one of three bands to feature as part of a triple-header listening session at the Nuclear Blast headquarters in Germany. I was lucky enough to get the assignment, so I was able to hear Epica’s first album for their new label in front of Mark Jansen and Simone Simons along with selected press from all over Europe.
I was impressed with what I heard on disc as well as in conversation with the musicians afterwards, and duly became a fan of the Dutch band. I found their brand of bombastic symphonic metal to be rather stirring, as it was both properly heavy yet melodic, catchy yet dramatic, with male growled vocals placed alongside the powerful, rich tones of Simone Simons.
However, over the next few years after the release of ‘Design Your Universe’ in 2009, I became more and more disinterested with Epica. Try as I might, and I certainly did try, I couldn’t muster enough interest in any of the following three albums, 2012’s ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’, ‘The Quantum Enigma’ (2014) and ‘The Holographic Principle’ releases in 2016. I just felt that there was too much going on, with not enough in the way of memorable song writing. Style over substance some might say. With a break of five years, though, and a strong feeling that I didn’t want to shelve the band, I have spent some time with album number eight, ‘Omega’. And what do you know? I really like it and I can begin to remember all of those reasons why, some 14 years ago, I first became enamoured with Epica.
In an effort to be consistent with other reviews, I will say that over 70 minutes, ‘Omega’ is a little on the long side and could have been trimmed ever so slightly. This is made doubly true when you take a listen to the music itself. ‘Omega’, like the albums before it, is no shrinking violet, no ‘less is more’ motto being used. The music is multi-layered, complex in its construction, varied, dramatic, and full of competing styles of music, everything from death metal to classical, from folk to melodic metal. It makes for an intense listening experience which, at well over the hour in length, may well put some potential listeners off.
That being said, it feels mealy-mouthed to criticise Epica for delivering too much music, especially given how good the material actually is. Mark Jansen has gone on record to say that for all the bombast, the aim with this record was to tailor the music more to the live setting, should we ever get back to the halcyon days of gig-going. It means that this time round, there was a concerted effort to create more high energy, catchy material that would go down a storm in front of a packed venue. And, on balance, I’d say that Epica succeeded. I say this because, for all the drama and complexity, there were plenty of moments during my first listen, where I immediately took a liking to a melody, a chorus, a bridge, or a vocal line, instantly firing a desire within me to press play again. Based on my reaction to other releases in their back catalogue, this is definitely not something to be sniffed at.
Not really expecting much at the outset, I was taken by surprise by the first full track, ‘Abyss Of Time – Countdown To Singularity’. After the ubiquitous rousing cinematic instrumental intro piece, ‘Abyss…’ kicks in, continuing the intro melody via a really cool riff. The growls of Mark Jansen are properly savage, the perfect foil to Simone’s angelic voice. It’s an upbeat, memorable opening salvo, complete with full-on choirs and symphonics courtesy of Coen Janssen, an extreme metal segment where Isaac Delahaye and Jansen deliver a heavy, groovy riff, whilst drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek and bassist Rob van der Loo lay down a muscular rhythmic backbone. Such is the catchiness and sense of passion that permeates through the song, it forced me to sit up, take notice, and listen attentively to the remainder of the album.
‘The Skeleton Key’ drops the pace in favour of mid-tempo power, laced with a slightly darker tone. I’m certain that Simone Simons has never sounded quite this good, coming alive in the quieter, more Gothic-sounding verses thanks to her expressive delivery. Again, I’m impressed by the heaviness and the richness of the composition, as well as the clever use of accentuated light and shade to really enhance the drama of the song.
The Middle Eastern flavour of ‘Seal Of Solomon’ is a welcome ingredient, as is the liberal use of Jansen’s deep growls. I ask this rhetorically, but how can someone so nice and always so warm and smiley sound so malevolent? The chorus, complete with bold choir, is a soaring, catchy affair which gets under the skin quickly, and effectively.
There’s so much going on within ‘Omega’ that I could easily justify a track-by-track run-down. But, with twelve individual tracks to tackle, the review might take until next week to write. Instead, I’ll pick out a few more of my personal highlights.
The Middle Eastern influences again loom large throughout ‘Code Of Life’, which comes complete with a guest appearance from Myrath’s Zaher Zorgati within the mystical and atmospheric intro. It’s a brilliant song, full of variation as well as a heavier reliance on choirs than ever, both in the verses and the anthemic chorus that’s simply glorious, capped by another spellbinding performance from Simone Simons.
I have to mention the thirteen minute epic ‘Kingdom Of Heaven Part 3 – The Antidiluvian Universe’, which apparently completes a trio of songs that began on 2009’s ‘Design Your Universe’ and continued within 2014’s ‘The Quantum Enigma’. Whilst I can’t currently comment on the first two parts (something I will remedy as soon as possible), I can happily sing the praises of this concluding part. Given it’s length it’ll come as no surprise to learn that it’s the most varied and all-encompassing track on the record. Beginning quietly, deftly, with delicate instrumentation, it builds via a cinematic, symphonic section, to release into a full-on symphonic metal affair, with fast-paced drumming, and brisk riffing. From there, we’re treated to some heavy, chugging riffs, a simply gorgeous chorus, plenty of instrumental sections that are engaging and interesting rather than gratuitous or unnecessary padding, and lots of extreme metal embellishments, including some wonderfully snarling and venomous vocals from Mark Jansen.
‘Rivers’ is a beautiful ballad within which Simone shines, whilst ‘Synergize – Manic Manifest’ is arguably the heaviest track on ‘Omega’, complete with the most striking lead guitar solo of the entire album. And then, special mention has to go to ‘Twilight Reverie – The Hypnagogic State’ which has remained one of my favourites courtesy to the beguiling melodies found at varying points within it. They piqued my interest on the first spin and have only become more magical over time.
I have to admit it, Epica have well and truly pulled me back into the fold. I wasn’t expecting to like ‘Omega’ this much if I’m honest, but here I am with plenty of egg on my face. Perhaps the five-year hiatus has done the band and I some good? Maybe. I actually think it as simple as this though: Epica have delivered the album that has managed to find the near-perfect blend of extreme metal, symphonic majesty, and melody. As such, whilst the songs may be multi-layered and full of over-the-top pomposity, they remain completely listenable, enjoyable, and as addictive as a rush of adrenaline. Simply put, ‘Omega’ is almost certainly the best symphonic metal album that I have heard in a long time.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: