Epica – Omega Review

This is a surreal moment for me. The first review I ever read on this site was Diabolus in Muzaka‘s hit piece on Epica‘s The Holographic Principle, an album which I thought was super fun if overlong and oddly organized. I’ve been a die-hard fan of this band for over a decade now, having introduced myself to them with The Divine Conspiracy back in high school. With each successive release thereafter, save for the miscalculation that was Requiem for the IndifferentEpica refined and perfected their sound to the point that they are now unmistakable for any other symphonic metal band. I must admire their dedication to evolving their established sound continuously and resolutely, but what I respect more is that each of their releases is distinct from the others. And now I’m here, somehow, writing a review for Omega, the Dutch sextet’s eighth opus. It’s a small world after all!

Epica is nothing if not consistent. Since day one, their modus operandi includes bombastic orchestrations coupled with exuberant choirs, beauty-and-the-beast lead vocals, lyrics emotionally invested in myriad societal realms, and a distinct power-prog metal personality that no other band successfully emulates. Through their lifetime as a band, Epica continuously strived for excellence in songwriting, and in that endeavor often crafted catchy songs that lodge themselves in my brain in spite of their lush grandiosity. Omega is no different.

Unfortunately, this means the usual flaws rear their ugly heads as well, plus a new one that I really hate: children’s choirs. Never in the history of me have I hated any musical element as consistently and vehemently as choirs populated with pre-pubescent performers. The innocence of a child’s voice magnified by multitudes never fails to sully whatever metal song in which they feature, and nothing about their utilization on Omega changes that, save for one example (more on that later). Then you have Mark Jansen’s growls, which have always always always been some of my least favorite in metal. He sounds strained, unrefined and raw in all the worst ways, and he retches out some of the most grating screams of his career here. Please, for the love of Jørn, leave the growls for one of the other four dudes in your band.

Thankfully, that’s largely the end of my main criticisms with Omega. From a songwriting perspective, this record ranks among their strongest work, falling somewhere in between The Quantum Enigma and Design Your Universe. What’s most impressive about Omega, I think, is that despite only being five minutes shorter than their normal hour and fifteen, I have experienced no trouble whatsoever sitting through its entirety. In fact, I find myself spinning it back to front in binges. Credit goes to the overarching flow and pacing of the record, which constitutes a significant improvement over The Holographic Principle, for which those attributes were its downfall. Furthermore, spreading out the album’s major highlights—opener “Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity,” “Seal of Solomon,” “Freedom – The Wolves Within,” the immense ballad “Rivers,” and “Twilight Reverie – The Hypnagogic State”—across the entire runtime allows a natural ebb and flow to bleed through the material, doing wonders for an album of this length.

Special commendations go to lead siren Simone Simons, who shines bright and true on Omega. Nowhere is her prowess as a vocalist more evident than on the absolutely lovely “Rivers,” which happens to feature the one and only children’s choir to ever enhance a song (barely). I can always depend on Epica to deliver a big, sappy ballad or a rip-roaring, half-ballad monster every time they release new material—”Once Upon a Nightmare” and “Chasing the Dragon” being the crown jewels, respectively—and “Rivers” does not disappoint in that regard. I also want to encourage the band’s axe-slingers to write more riffs like the barnstormer that drops in the bridge of the opener proper. I don’t expect crushing riffs from a band like this but I would love to hear an Epica album that leans hard on genuine death metal riffing styles, towards which “Abyss of Time” hints.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied with Omega. It sports the same problems that all of their records have, and I find it baffling that no work seems to go into rectifying those issues. Yet, the whole is remarkably enjoyable, consistently high-quality and deceivingly easy to digest. It’s easy to overlook its flaws and simply enjoy the experience, and the privilege of simply enjoying the experience eight albums in is more than enough to earn my recommendation.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: V0 mp3
LabelNuclear Blast
Websites: epica.nl | facebook.com/epica
Releases Worldwide: February 26th, 2021

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