REVIEW: EPICA – “Omega”
After nearly twenty years being the benchmark in symphonic metal, in 2018 Epica decided that it was time for a well-deserved break. Closing out their Holographic Cycle tour with their career milestone 1000th show, it isn’t hard to see why they hit burnout. But restless thumb-twiddling soon set in during their downtime, and Epica quickly found themselves back in the studio writing their eighth album, ‘Omega’. A dramatic, cinematic, and monolithic offering that delivers, even if it doesn’t stray too far from its musical roots.
Epica cut no corners when producing their trademark orchestral splendor, and ‘Omega’ is no exception. The presence of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is immediately noticeable on the album intro, “Alpha Anteludium” as well as the first song “Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity,” which sets off at a galloping orchestral pace, like a charge of avenging angels. Vocal dynamics between Simone Simons and Mark Jansen conjure an enchanting angel and hellish demon engaged in a battle of call and response, even if the brief monologue in the bridge breaks the spell and some of the magic seeps away.
Many songs share a similar, some might say identical approach. Flourishing from beginning to its near six-minute finish the ultimate symphonic battle cry, “Freedom – The Wolves Within” takes no prisoners. A musical confrontation bursting with energy that will bring venues to their knees when live shows and touring resumes. “The Skeleton Key”, with its eerie opening, suddenly comes to life like a sonic live wire. With Mark Jansen leading the aggressive charge with his growls and relentless guitar riffs, ‘The Skeleton Key’ makes for one of the heaviest numbers on ‘Omega’. A feat echoed on ‘Seal of Solomon’, this time gave an oriental twist, with instrumentation adding a notable diversity that gives it a unique sense of identity.
Several of the cinematic and operatic elements on “Omega” are found across the band’s back catalog with little to distinguish them. However, a song that is a force all its own, and a true album standout, is “Rivers.” Lead by keyboard player Coen Janssen, this piece is one of their most heartbreakingly beautiful works. Simone Simons’s haunting vocals elevate this humble song to a power ballad by the end, making it the album’s grand statement. Wonderfully supported by an unnamed children’s choir, all elements work in harmony to boost the wealth of emotion contained within this tight and simply structured song, even as it fades into its final moments.
Over their last seven records, Epica have grown in scope. From their sound to their fanbase, as well as their ongoing vision as a unit, Epica have established their own unique brand of symphonic metal. Indeed, certain elements are easier to admire than adore. Musically, familiar symphonic metal trademarks run rampant with no great effort to reinvent them or bring them to new and interesting places. Yet lyrically there’s richness as themes surrounding empathy, self-empowerment, and anxiety are sensitively explored. If there is more consolidation than reinvention here, Epica still achieve moments of brilliance on ‘Omega,’ sounding like a band who have had their fire rekindled.