It should come as a surprise to no-one that Omega (Nuclear Blast), the eighth full-length studio release from Dutch symphonic metal act Epica, is another concept-driven album. Formed in 2002, the band are widely known for their ambitious ideas and themes, covering everything from the Mayan civilization to religion, nature, quantum physics and the possibility that the universe is actually digitally created hologram. You know, simple stuff.
The theme behind this latest release is that of humanity constantly competing with each other, ultimately drifting farther apart rather than flourishing through unity. The title itself comes from the Omega Point theory which suggests that everything in the universe is spiralling toward one single point of divine unification.
After the keyboards and Celtic orchestrations of intro ‘Alpha – Anteludium’ build to a dramatic close, first “proper” track ‘Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity’ takes over, the harsh vocals of founder member Mark Jansen immediately involved in a duel with the soaring tones of Simone Simons. ‘The Skeleton Key’ trades grinding riffs and guttural vocals with uplifting melodies and choral backing, the song employing a children’s choir to wonderful effect. The slow, methodical stomp and Middle Eastern feel of ‘Seal of Solomon’ and the faster-paced ‘Gaia’ owe no small debt of gratitude to Therion while the swirling drama of ‘Code of Life’ could have been written by Orphaned Land.
Simons is dominant on the masterful ‘Freedom – The Wolves Within’ but the thirteen-minute ‘Kingdom of Heaven, Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe’ is the album’s real centrepiece. Combining surging orchestration with flourishes of Anette Olzon era Nightwish, the song ebbs and flows with strident synths and a brief excursion into death metal territory, at one point even featuring a riff sounding suspiciously like Slayer. ‘Rivers’ is an intoxicating hybrid of Within Temptation and Nightwish, while the darkly sinister ‘Synergize – Manic Manifest’ dances and convulses with tumultuous glee. The uptempo ‘Twilight Reverie – The Hypnagogic State’ is one of the more straightforward tracks on the record, the album-closing with the muscular ‘Omega – Sovereign of the Sun Spheres’.
Featuring guest appearances from Vicky Psarakis (The Agonist) and Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Omega finds Epica in scintillating form. Isaac Delahaye and Mark Jansen (returning to guitar duty after sitting out six-string work on their previous album) churn out the riffs while the rhythm section of drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek and bassist Rob van der Loo combine effortlessly with the keyboards of Coen Janssen. As ever, Simons does not disappoint, even for a moment. From delicate fragility to commanding dynamism, the flame-haired singer puts in a singular performance, the choirs and perfectly executed orchestrations all (rather appropriately considering the record’s theme) working in unison to help create one of the band’s very best releases to date.
9 / 10