So, is Epica the last Symphonic Metal outfit standing? Apart from the newly coined Surma, perhaps. Nightwish has gone all wobbly on us with Marko Hietala now firmly away from the band.1) And now, this February 2021, Delain imploded and reverted into a solo project again. For all the good that this will do them.2) And what about Within Temptation? Well, let’s not go there.
So, with much trepidation we had our eyes turned towards Omega, Epica‘s newest album. Yet, the first thing that we see is this 70-minute runtime. Yet another specter of some abject bloatware on this particular metal horizon. This seems to be a new sport these days, and definitely a dangerous one for the inherently bombastic Symphonic Metal genre. Because – as always – the rule of ‘less is more’ truly applies. Failing that, bands will try to kill the cat more than once in one album.
So, after the dime-a-dozen, cheese dripping, butterfly-in-the-jungle, and very forgettable intro thing peters out, Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity3) hints at true delights for our earphones. Suddenly we find ourselves in an Epica piece that offers more traction, and some rubber left off from takeoff.
And once Simone Simons‘ angelic voice rings out, Omega just presented its first surprise. Simons now sings like no-one is listening. A new straightforward tonality very similar to her unplugged offerings and far away from the more playful former times. And often, she truly shines when belting out her vocals in a style we hardly heard since the early times of Within Temptation. Whenever she’s not trying to play Delain-in-hiding, that is.
And it appears that the folks at Epica are well aware that they’re playing with fire. The band packed so much overheated bombast into their new record, it risks morphing into a gruesome soup of metallic fondue. So, it looks like countermeasures were in order. And that is an exploitation of the age-old beauty and the beast contest. True, this is nothing new, but I have, quite literally, never seen this applied at that scale.
So, lo and behold, Omega quite often likes to present its dark side. Suddenly, the sweetish cinematics disappear and Mark Jansen surges forward with those down-in-the-pit growls. He must have practiced them lately, we never enjoyed that level of dark menace on record here. And they go way beyond the fare the symph nerds usually throw at us.4)
The RMR crew also truly enjoyed those crisp solos that suddenly emerge from the ubiquitous mainstream chugging. And let’s not forget those downturned Extreme Metal riffs that suddenly chime in once the growling starts (in Abyss of Time for example). This is yet another juicy facet that really rendered the aforementioned undue length of the record quite bearable.
Omega also contains those pockets of excellence like The Skeleton Key or the slightly oriental flavors of the Seal of Solomon. Not to forget, the more slower-paced pieces like the excellent Code of Life and the hypnotic Rivers. All of those tracks truly serve as a lesson to Epica‘s brethren in the genre. The way the band merges the non-metal and often criminally cinematic bombast with a lot of synth-laden metal power is a true tour-de-force. A feat attempted by many but mastered by few. And yes, take heed Nightwish, I am looking straight at you.
Now, we bemoaned the bloated use of choirs on the band’s former albums about a gazillion times. And sure enough, Omega truly improved on that as well. To a level of mastery that we only found with bands like Scardust lately.
There’s really not much to find fault with on this record. True, the band never quite left their comfort zone. Yet, the pretty pristine production, together with that upgraded performance of both vocalists, really makes up for that. In a way, they found the right mix between cheese, oily bombast, and their usual musical prowess. Boy, we’ll even forgive them this insane length of the piece. Because they somehow contradicted the old law of ‘less is more‘. Only this one time, the exception confirming the rule, like.
So finally, if you picked Omega up to find new sparky ideas to further the holy cause of Symphonic Metal, you’re looking at the wrong album. If anything, the band added a few insane layers of bombast to an already cheese-infected former offering. However, the new record is an artful addition. A careful mix of Symphonic Metal and stronger Extreme Metal undercurrents that – finally – did not end up in Power Metal’s honeytrap.
In other words, they gave in to the temptation for ever moar epics without killing the colorful beast at the same time. They’re not called Epica for no reason and they won’t change their spots anytime soon. And they indeed seem to be the last major Symphonic Metal band still firmly standing, at least for now.
So, sit back and enjoy!
|1.||Yeah, they have a knack to lose them if they don’t fire them outright. -Ed.|
|2.||The man with the plan said that all is great and dandy. We’re – not so sure. -Ed.|
|3.||We’re still in awe about Simon’s dangerously pointed outfit in the clip.|
|4.||Well, most cannot growl anyway. Just sayin’. -Ed.|