LOUDER REVIEWS: 'Omega' - Epica
Epica had managed almost two decades of remarkably consistent output and cemented their deserved reputation as titans of the symphonic metal genre. After their last LP 'The Holographic Principle' in 2016 and a couple of subsequent EP releases the following year, however, the Dutch six piece decided to take a step back from their release schedule in 2018 once they had reached the auspicious milestone of their 1000th live show.
However, it was always unlikely that a band of this stature would remain absent for long (especially when 2020 came along with the taking away of touring and collaboration opportunities); so as 2021 dawns, we finally get to see the result of the band’s renewed collaborative efforts with their eighth studio record 'Omega'. The album’s title, along with accompanying artwork, suggested to fans already that the band’s mini-hiatus has not served to make them retreat from the grandly ambitious sounds and themes which epitomise their previous work.
Sure enough, the orchestral overtones of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra greet the listen immediately upon the opening track intro 'Alpha Anteludium', which continues into the album’s first single 'Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity'. There are many elements to this song that dedicated Epica fans will immediately recognise and appreciate, such as the charging rhythmic pace, the memorable keyboard riff provided by founding member Coen Janssen, and the tight interchange of vocals between the soaring highs of lead signer Simone Simons and brutal growls of guitarist Mark Jansen. These characteristics set Epica apart from many of their contemporaries and when well delivered, such as they undoubtedly are here, provide a much more urgent and intense take on the symphonic metal genre.
The other side to Epica’s diverse repertoire of musical themes is found on the following track 'The Skeleton Key', which is a much slower affair, with Simons’ vocals at the fore and a much greater emphasis on the symphonic sounds (although despite this, they still find time for a great guitar solo from Isaac Delahaye as well as the introduction of a children’s choir which is a first for them).
At this point, any who assume that Epica are simply retreading old ground here are proven wrong on 'Seal of Solomon', which both combines the approaches of the previous two tracks and add some disparate Eastern influences, as well as a more operatic vocal style for Simons to accompany Jansen’s gutturals. So far, 'Omega' has consisted of an admirable showcase of what Epica can do without the band delving too far into the more complex and neoclassical sounds that they are so revered for.
The next track 'Gaia' proves to be no exception, and indeed is one of the most fast-paced tracks on the entire record, where the listener is hurtled through an uplifting soundscape of choppy riffs and powerful drumming from Ariën van Weesenbeek. 'Code of Life' continues on the theme of combining Epica’s orchestral elements with a wider range of influences to create some very memorable hooks which are likely to stick on your head for a little while afterwards. Next comes another (and in my view the album’s best) single, 'Freedom – The Wolves Within', which has an anthemic chorus which is guaranteed to go down a storm when the band are finally given a chance to perform the song live.
It is only on track 8 that we are treated to something that has been a staple of past Epica records, which is a track that can be accurately described as a true epic. 'Kingdom of Heaven, Part III: The Antediluvian Universe' clocks in at over 13 minutes and concludes a saga which began on 2009’s 'Design Your Universe'. This is the type of track that long-time fans will adore, as it encompasses every element that makes listening to Epica such a rich and rewarding experience. There are deep strings sections, multiple layers of guitars and keys, switching dynamics and well-measured vocals – it is impossible to listen to a track like this and fail to understand where the band got their name from. The band continues to keep up the variation in the following track 'Rivers', where all of the swirling elements of the previous track taking a backseat to the much simpler ballad led by Janssen’s piano and another phenomenal vocal performance by Simons.
The remaining three tracks on the album take the overall running time to 70 minutes but should not be overlooked, even by casual listeners. 'Synergize – Manic Manifest' ups the pace after the last two tracks, but also weaves between interesting and disparate sections, while 'Twilight Reverie – The Hypnagogic State' is probably the heaviest track on the record, where Jansen’s growls return accompanied by a thundering bass performance from Rob van der Loo. The album draws to a close with the title track, which nicely rounds everything off by bringing all the elements together and harking back to some of the melodies heard previously in the record.
The main feeling going away from 'Omega' is how great it is to hear that Epica are back to doing what they do best – combining brutal heavy metal with glorious symphonic bombast. This may not be quite up to the same standard as some of their best records, but it nevertheless still stands up as a very good piece of work. Not only this, but due to the extent to which the band eschews its grander and lengthier tracks for more straightforward 5-minute catchy pieces, I would argue that if you’re looking for a route to get into Epica’s music, 'Omega' serves as their most accessible entry to date. Furthermore, it is a timely reminder that this band and the symphonic metal genre as a whole still has plenty left to offer after all this time.
Epica's tour with Apocalyptica and WHEEL has been postponed until 2022 - dates are below and tickets are available here:
»The Epic Apocalypse Tour 2022«
w/ APOCALYPTICA, WHEEL
06.01.2022 DE Leipzig - Haus Auensee
07.01.2022 DE Berlin - Columbiahalle
08.01.2022 PL Gdansk - B90
09.01.2022 PL Warsaw - Progresja
11.01.2022 AT Vienna - Gasometer
12.01.2022 CZ Brno - Hala vodova
13.01.2022 HU Budapest - Barba Negra
15.01.2022 DE Munich - Tonhalle
16.01.2022 I Milan - Fabrique
17.01.2022 CH Lausanne - Metropole
18.01.2022 CH Zurich - Komplex
20.01.2022 DE Wiesbaden - Schlachthof
21.01.2022 DE Ludwigsburg - MHP Arena
22.01.2022 LUX Luxembourg - Den Atelier
23.01.2022 DE Hannover - Capitol
25.02.2022 FIN Helsinki - IceHall
27.02.2022 NO Oslo - Sentrum
28.02.2022 SE Stockholm - Berns
02.03.2022 DK Copenhagen - Amager Bio
03.03.2022 DE Hamburg - Docks
04.03.2022 NL Amsterdam - AFAS Live
05.03.2022 DE Cologne - Carlswerk Victoria
07.03.2022 BE Brussel - Ancienne Belgique
08.03.2022 UK Nottingham - Rock City
09.03.2022 UK Glasgow - O2 Academy
10.03.2022 UK Manchester - Academy
12.03.2022 UK Bristol - O2 Academy
13.03.2022 UK London - Roundhouse
14.03.2022 F Paris - Zenith
15.03.2022 F Toulouse - Bikini
17.03.2022 ES Barcelona - Razzmatazz 1
18.03.2022 ES Murcia - Gamma
19.03.2022 ES Madrid - La Riviera
20.03.2022 P Lisbon - Coliseum