Review || Epica - "Omega"

So, the time has come. Epica release their eighth studio album, titled "Omega", on February 26th 2021 and out of all the LP's and EP's that come out on the same day, this was by far the one I anticipated the most. Being an avid Epica fan, I had a hard time accepting the five-year gap between "The Holographic Principle" and "Omega" (yes, the two EP's were definitely a comfort but still only a fix) so when the first studio vlogs dropped, I was hooked. What I heard made me more and more excited about the end result and, honestly, I kept waiting for the next episode to come out. When I received my promo copy, I was on cloud nine; after almost three weeks of listening to the album almost exclusively, I feel that "Omega" did indeed meet my expectations. But let's break it down -and this going to be a long one, you've been warned.

If you read my album reviews, you know I don't trust singles as they can be very misleading so, when "Abyss Of Time" dropped, I tried hard to treat it as another "simple" song and to not let my enthusiasm for album #8 overwhelm me; I wanted to retain any "objectivity" (and all those journalistic traits for that matter) I had left but I failed miserably. "Abyss Of Time" is the best opening song I've heard in years. You see, Epica has a habit of introducing a banger first song after the cinematic intro, perform it first during the tour cycle of the album, and then the song is buried in oblivion. Okay, I'm being dramatic here but you get my point, we don't get to hear those beautiful songs again in the setlist. And don't get me wrong, all those songs are great but "Abyss..." is genuinely the first "first" song that moved me since the "Design Your Universe" album. Especially when paired with the intro, "Alpha - Anteludium", where the theme of the song is prominent, and weaves a beautiful connection in the sounds.

"The Skeleton Key" follows, with a haunting energy; whether it be the piano, the choral arrangements or Simone Simons' breathy tone, combined with the thrilling rhythm section building the landscape, the listener is immersed in a riveting feeling. Two songs in and we are already realizing the main theme of the album explores the duality of light and darkness/good and evil, more facets of which will start developing as we progress in the tracklisting. Doing some research on certain ideas that went into its creation, it became more and more evident how everything is connected. Simply put, "Omega" refers to the Omega Point theory (that was going to be the album title at first) which pertains that the universe will eventually stop expanding and matter will collapse into a dimentionless single point. This idea of deterministic evolution strangely enough has two otherwise irrelevant branches. One is rooted on theology, where the Omega point manifests as God Himself, the ultimate ending (perceived as the "Alpha and Omega", the beginning and the end according to the Book of Revelations) and attempting an unlikely unison between science and religion.
The other has a technological background and maintains that singularity will be a possibility once a form of artificial intelligence, the "superintelligence", overcomes human intelligence and mankind will be no longer needed. The lyrical theme of the album relates to these theories (starting with the transition from the intro "Alpha" to the ending of "Omega") and partly serve as cautionary tales; whether we talk about the physical destruction of nature, altering genome -and the natural biology- or the uncertainty of the future, the reality we are presented with, distant or not, is existentially morose to say the least. 

At "The Seal Of Solomon", a favorite Epica feature returns; the eastern-inspired melodies (or, as my friend likes to call this reccuring element, "habibi moments") which are structurally inherent in the band's songwriting. They may not appear that often but when they do, they are exquisite and, for this track specifically, we see the choir taking a lead in the "clean" singing which I love. Despite the binding traits of the groovy riffs and bass and catchy melodies I can't shake the feeling they are a little... filler-y. I'm not saying the song is bad in any way but I can't help but feel that it's not adding important musical data despite being so high in the tracklisting. 

"Gaia" follows and it's yet another very groovy song although leaning more on the commercial side. The patterns it follows are very interesting and a contrast I really seem to enjoy is that of the symphonic element dressing Simone's performance but gradually disappearing once Mark Jansen enters with his grunts. On "Code Of Life", one of my very favorites on "Omega", the eastern element is once more present (props to Zaher Zorgati of Myrath for working his magic in the intro) but contrary to "Seal...", it is integrated in the composition without dominating it. I want take a moment to talk about the mixing and mastering of the album, which is incredible. Everything is on point and audible, from the basslines (which I adore) to the notes of the strings to what the choir sings on the second layer. A well-rounded production can really elevate an album.

Then comes the second single, "Freedom - The Wolves Within". The first few times I listened to it, it felt like the stereotypical "buffer" song; you know, the one we find either between two equally ferocious powers or two striking opposites. Upon revisiting it within the context of the album, I realized the song was hiding a lot more potential than I initially thought; "Storm The Sorrow"-like potential to be exact. The third installment of "Kingdom of Heaven" (dubbed "The Antediluvian Universe") is next and it's honestly a song we didn't know we needed until the intro starts, with the pummeling drumwork and the soaring orchestration. Much like the first two parts, the patterns that make up the song are many, intricate and often times following different rhythms; they each fall into the other, creating a new dimension, until they all subtract to the initial theme. It's complex, it's bombastic, the riffage is fierce, in other words it's one of the best songs Epica has ever written.

The third single "Rivers" is the power-ballad of the album. By the third time I listened to it, I was hooked to the simplicity of the composition and the powerful vocal melodies. I truly believe that it's the most emotive song we've seen so far and Simone's performance on the unhurried build-up is controlled and spectacular. We are now reaching the end and I regret to admit that "Synergize - Manic Manifest" is a song that I skip about 90% of the time... While it gives me "Internal Warfare" vibes, and Simone's outro is phenomenal, the rest of the song has failed to grow in me. Conversely, "Twilight Revery - The Hypnagogic State" is an absolute favorite with its upbeat tempo and contagious melodies juxtaposing its unsettling lyrical theme.
"Omega - The Sovereign Of The Sun Spheres" is the final track which pretty much encapsulates the epic rollercoaster journey we have just finished. In its 7-minute glory, it's a stereotypical Epica song boasting solid heavy metal guitarwork, well-crafted orchestrations that enrobe the composition, memorable vocal hooks and an immaculate build-up in the end. An absolute banger to make everyone headbang even on the verses. 

And now, what y'all are here for; the vocal commentary. A Youtube channel host (I forget who they are, sorry!) calls Simone "the master of mixed voice" and they are absolutely correct; as showcased in the last three albums but further established on "Omega", Simone has embraced different voice placements and has created a somewhat idiosyncratic way of singing which she has made her own. The more seasoned she becomes, the more confident this sound becomes in turn, slipping away from 
just head voice or just overdrive. A thing that I noticed this time, however, is that Simone's vocals feel somewhat safe, not very challenging. The dynamic of her classical voice is truly beautiful and more voluminous as it matures, so I would have loved to hear a little more of it. I'm not talking her going into fully classical mode, I just wish that she'd drop a few more classical cookies here and there. 

Overall, "Omega" is a trademark Epica album; grand, complex but not obnoxious. Epica are veterans who have reached a level of creative maturity where they know who they are, what they want to do with their music and how they want to achieve it, but without flexing their abilities. As many have stated before me, "Omega" serves indeed as a much needed bridge between the old and newer material of the band, creating a sort of mission statement. It is hands down one of my favorite Epica albums and very likely album of the year.


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