EPICA - OMEGA
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
DUTCH SYMPHONIC METALLERS GO TO THE NTH DEGREE
True to their name, Epica are not subtle. For twenty years they have haughtily manned the battlements of symphonic operatic metal defending the faith against the invidious dragons of modern trends. Though an easy target for derision, the sub-genre has enjoyed growing popularity over the last decade or so with Epica at the vanguard along with scene comrades like Nightwish and Within Temptation. Omega is the eighth time for Epica to ride into the tempest armed with mezzo-soprano operatic singing, harsh death metal vocals, and halls of orchestral backing. Never ones to shy away from a florid song title, the single Abyss of Time: Countdown to Singularity is full of gallant, galloping heroism. The well-tested Beauty and the Beast interplay of Simone Simons' celestial voice with Mark Jensen's harsh metal vocals are deployed once more over triumphal hooklines, multi-layers of orchestral textures and choral chants. So far, so unapologetically flamboyant.
Epica are, undoubtedly, adepts at creating atmospheres that are ostentatiously plush and vividly fantastical. Another single, The Skeleton Key, is a sumptuous gothic opera of haunted mirrors and masque-like theatre. Boasting an overblown irresistible bursting chorus, fairy tale piano tinkering and even a children's choir, it takes a great deal of neck to even attempt this, let alone pull it off with such aplomb. The instrumental elements are all woven together adroitly creating a huge cathedral-sized sound rather than a clumsy mish-mash.
Surprisingly, too, Epica can do heavy - and when the ethereal storytelling collapses into nightmares some downtuned sections grind out a few truly gutsy slabs of metallic headbanging where Jensen's convincing death growl has freedom to let rip. The Eastern-flavoured pomp of Seal of Solomon and Gaia shows off Simon's sheer vocal range, dexterity and an air of self-confidence.
The opulent romanticism and picturesque melodies do manage generally to fall short of being too over-elaborate, something the band have lapsed into in the past. Instead they pull many things together well and, although there is no such thing as being over-dressed at the panto, the arrangements are cleverly weaved on standout songs like Freedom: The Wolves Within while a welcome reprieve from the hurtling forays into battle comes with Rivers, a piano led reflective, pseudo-ballad that comes in at the right time in proceedings.
Omega is packed to the very high-up rafters with rumbustious dynamics, histrionic melodrama, and huge atmospherics gripping enough to transport you from a post-industrial deprived council estate to running amok in Helms Deep. It is also, unquestionably, saturated in cliché in almost every way whether it be lyrically, style, imagery, the lot - although granted this is almost a given in the genre. Yet with demonstrable past experience of honing layers of choir and orchestral accompaniment, multiples harmonies, light and dark, Epica have a well-developed sound where they have mastered the control over sprawling sounds. The scale of the pomp and sheer uncaring audacity is matched with a well-honed command over complex arrangements that do not lose focus.