It’s been some time since I’ve been this in love with an Epica album. The seminal band has been at it for a long time, and they’ve produced many exceptional albums. Their newest is called “Omega”, and I find myself strangely attracted to it. The album released through Nuclear Blast on February 26th.
I started listening to the Dutch symphonic metal masters with the release of “Design Your Universe” in 2009. I remember seeing them live (with Insomnium opening, which was cool) and I gobbled up all of their older albums, coming away satisfied with all of them. I was even reminded recently of their live concert event “Retrospect” in 2013, for which I purchased a ticket. With the release of 2012’s “Requiem for the Indifferent”, though, I had already started to lose my interest. While I did love that album (I remember the album being accidentally released with the instrumental version of the final track instead of the studio version), it didn’t stick with me for as long. Soon, “The Quantum Enigma” (which some fans say is their best) in 2014 and “The Holographic Principle” in 2016 released, and I wasn’t feeling great about the band any more. I was missing something, I guess. This probably had more to do with me than with them, I assure you. Anyways, it’s been almost ten years since I’ve had an Epica experience that I felt was memorable to some degree.
The band may or may not have felt that same way. It feels like, after having over a decade of near constant activity, the band withdrew for a bit. The new album is the first one in five years, the biggest break they’ve ever taken, so far as I can tell. Could this have been for the reasons I’ve mentioned? I have no idea. Currently, the band consists of Simone Simons on vocals, Mark Jansen on guitars and growls, Isaac Delahaye on guitars, Coen Janssen on keys, Rob van der Loo on bass, and Ariën van Weesenbeek on drums.
Epica has always stood out from the symphonic crowd. Hell, they damn near invented the genre as we see it today, along with Nightwish and others. They play a version of the genre with death metal in its veins, technical prowess lighting the progressive fires, and an opera-influence that thoroughly soaks everything with class and artistry. Unlike some other bands in the genre, they could remove all of their symphonic elements—sweeping keys and monumental orchestrations—and still be a rock solid metal band that I would still love. At their beating heart, they are a metal band, and a skilled one at that. And, yet, I’m glad that they do no such thing; Epica has such a way with gorgeous melodies and the contrast between heavy darkness and blinding melodic light is an important one for them.
So, what is it about “Omega” that has grabbed me this time? Well, for one, I’ve started getting into the symphonic metal scene again, especially with the recent Delain album. Yet, there is something about this record that feels more complete, more carefully crafted, and more sensationalistic than any of their albums since “Design Your Universe”. Not only does it have beautiful chaos in its driving metallic engine, but you will also hear multiple songs with stark Middle Eastern influence (even including Zaher Zorgati of Myrath!), and those really add a dose of delicious diversity. Furthermore, I love how complex most of the song structures are, as this just might be their most “progressive” record yet.
But there is something else that I noticed. Simone, of course, has a giant voice, and she sounds great here, too. Songs like “Rivers”, the powerful ballad with a heart-achingly addictive chorus, and “The Skeleton Key”, a slightly haunting take on their sound, both contain huge performances from her. Mark’s growls, too, may sound more sincere and deeper than ever. But what really stands out for me are the choir vocals that you will find on almost every track of this album. So far as I can tell, there are two choirs present here: Kamerkoor PA’dam directed by Maria van Nieukerken; and a children’s choir called Zangschool BrabantTalent, directed by Gert Oude Sogtoen. Both of these choirs perform with such riveting splendor and such melodic control that I was absolutely floored by what they brought to the record.
These choirs are vital. Some songs, like one of my favorite tracks “Seal of Solomon”, display these choirs taking on the role of the primary hook, which stunned me. I was honestly so impressed that a band as big as Epica would give some of the biggest moments of the music away to others, and I think that says much about the life-giving nature, self-confidence, and unity that this album preaches. The album explores biblical themes in new metaphysical, cosmic light, as well as in an inner and personal setting, and this is enhanced and even perfected with these choirs adding such a sense of sacredness, ritual, and ancient mystery.
This is an epic(a) album, no matter how you look at it. It features a runtime of an hour and ten minutes, and sports 12 tracks. It would be impossible to discuss them all, though, as they really do deserve special mention, each and every one. From the winding spectacle of “Abyss of Time” to the addictive Middle Eastern themes of “Seal of Solomon” and “Code of Life”, the album just doesn’t let up. Songs like “Freedom – The Wolves Within”, with such a brutally subtle riff, “Rivers” with its balladic brilliance, and the closer “Omega” with its tantalizing bombast are all simply exemplary. The entire album plays out that way. I don’t tire of any of the tracks, and the 70 minutes pass much more quickly than you may expect.
Of course, for any real Epica fan, the track that would be of primary interest is “Kingdom of Heaven, Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe” (antediluvian means “pre-Flood”). The first part of this saga began on “Design Your Universe”, and its brutality is still one of my favorite Epica moments. The second part appeared on “The Quantum Enigma”, and, while I did enjoy it, I honestly don’t remember much about it. Now Part 3 has arrived, and it is almost on part with the original. This song is subversively melodic, mysterious in its lyrical content, and the orchestrations that arise in the middle are fantastic, not to mention the surprise synth solo in the second half. This song has many layers, and all of them are presented in exquisite fashion.
Long story short, “Omega” will be remembered as one of Epica’s greatest records. I love everything about it, every song and every illustrious melody. The band really outdid themselves, not just in terms of presentation or style, but in the nuts and bolts of the composition itself. This is one of those records that might attract new fans, not just to the band, but to the entire genre.
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