It’s been a tough year already for fans of symphonic metal. As if Marko leaving Nightwish wasn’t bad enough, they also had to contend with the splintering of Delain, which really pulled the rug out from everyone’s feet. Thankfully Epica are on hand with their majestical eighth studio album ‘Omega’; an ambitious 70-minute Herculean effort from a world where words such as “pandemic” and “lockdown” don’t feature at all.
With gargantuan production and mixing from Joost van den Broek, ‘Omega’ is a full-on assault on the senses. The sound is warm and cinematic (and, of course, bombastic), as well as being fully immersive. At times it’s almost as if Simone Simons is sitting alongside the listener while she delivers one jaw-dropping vocal after another or in the case of ‘Twilight Reverie – The Hypnagogic State’: whispering in one’s ear.
With the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra onboard, as well as a children’s choir, the arrangements are as lavish as you would expect, and in times where acts are dialing things back, it’s a thrill to hear a band really going for it and giving their fanbase real value for money. With its sweeping arrangements, and choral swells, the Celtic-tinged instrumental opener ‘Alpha – Anteludium’ gets the album off to a fine start and the brakes are off as soon as the track seeps into ‘Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity’. Guitarist and founding member Mark Jansen is on hand with his guttural grunts which meld seamlessly with the stunning vocals from Simone Simons, and after a brief spoken-word segment around the three-minute mark, there is a crushing breakdown that totally slams. An incredible way to kick off the album, and finally after a pummelling opening eight minutes, there is a pause for breath.
‘The Skeleton Key’ is the first chance to take the foot from the accelerator, although the heavier tone and slower, crunching feel means that there is no let-up in intensity. With the introduction of the children’s choir and some meaty down-tuned riffage, the end result is one of the standout tracks on the album. The Eastern-tinged ‘Seal of Solomon’ is a prime example of multiple moving parts combining together to bring that sense of epic-ness to the party: the adult choir, the huge arrangements, the sheer metallic qualities of the drums, Simons’ siren-like vocals, the towering guitar-work – all working perfectly alongside each other to create five perfect minutes. The Eastern vibes are ramped up on ‘Code of Life’ which sounds like it will totally slay when gigs return and it’s easy to imagine this one featuring in the live set for some time to come, Ariën van Weesenbeek puts in an almighty shift behind the kit on this one: give that man a raise.
‘Kingdom of Heaven prt 3 – The Antediluvian Universe’ is the huge talking point on ‘Omega’. A thirteen-minute composition made up of six individual suites; beginning with a short Carl Orff-inspired intro which soon explodes to life with the nailed-on drum work from van Weesenbeek as well as a swing to Simons’ vocals. The track takes so many different twists and turns that at times it becomes dizzying. Keyboardist Coen Janssen grabs his moment to shine with both hands; piano interludes, spacey synths – it has them all. Mark Jansen and fellow guitarist Isaac Delahaye are clearly having a blast as they erupt with lashings of fiery riffage. Bassist Rob van der Loo gets in on the act with some mightily impressive bass licks, and his work with van Weesenbeek in the engine room is crucial. You could be forgiven for thinking that this might be the conclusion to the album, but there are still twenty-plus minutes to go! Perhaps sensing that audiences might need a chance to recover, Epica chooses to slow proceedings down with the “ballad” ‘Rivers’, a powerful few minutes that features an astonishing vocal performance from Simons. Normal service is resumed though with the fast-slow-fast approach on ‘Synergize – Manic Manifest’ where yet again Ariën van Weesenbeek impresses with his drum work.
Ending on the cinematic (IMAX-sized – natch) ‘Omega – Sovereign of the Sun Spheres’, this is pretty much the perfect album. It’s almost as if Epica knew that the genre was looking to them for reassurance: something that the band has delivered in abundance.
Available now through Nuclear Blast.
Photo credit – Tim Tronkoe