This review could start and end with a single word: Epic. Though at this point, legendary would be more appropriate. Epica needs no introduction, as they have been a staple act in the world of symphonic metal. As a matter of fact, they are, of course, one of the top symphonic metal acts of all time.
The Dutch combo managed to build a strong international following due to their ability to combine various metal influences with dark, gothic-inspired aesthetics, and even a touch of progressive and some folk (on this album) for good measure.
The group created a masterpiece as their debut album: The Phantom Agony. Released in 2003, this record became an instant hit, establishing the band’s diverse sound, and more importantly, the groups’ ability to uphold their vision on a stage. It was clear from the start that Epica wasn’t just a studio affair: the band was a stage machine, and their live shows are just as incredible as their recordings.
The group established an incredible discography, where each album felt like an opportunity for the band to add something new to their already kaleidoscopic musical library. 2020 has been somewhat of a doomed year for live music, but thankfully, this hasn’t stop Epica’s creative behemoth, as the group slowly but surely set out to dive deep into a new studio album.
After several delays, the band finally announced an official release date for what would become their eighth studio album: Omega. The new record is going to be released on February 26th, and the audience had the opportunity to get an early taste with two singles: “Abyss of Time – Countdown To Singularity” as well as “Freedom – The Wolves Within.” More so than ever, the contrast between light and darkness is powerful on this album, which shows the band’s willingness to take their music even further.
“Abyss of Time” kicks off with a classic sound, perhaps one of the most “traditionally Epica” cuts on this record. However, “Freedom” has some even higher stakes, with an epic introduction and a fantastic guitar riff that’s catchy and direct, adding a bit of a hard rock flair to the mix – The verses are truly interesting because the drums are fatter and less clicky than would you would expect from most metal records.
It’s common for a band like Epica to have the drums very bright and bite-y in order to leave more space for the guitars. However, the song (and the rest of the album) showcases a fat, dry snare, darker cymbals and a kick that’s more subby and thumpy than what can be heard on older releases. I love the switch to a bigger drum sound, and the best part is – it doesn’t come at the cost of other instruments in the mix, as the guitar and bass parts are just as raw and edgy.
The balance of the vocal parts is impressive, and the harmonies are just incredible, with layers upon layers to unfold with every release. The song “Rivers” is also another great highlight. The track kicks off with a gentle, dark and melancholic piano introduction. The drum part is but a faint heartbeat, while the vocals are ornate with some beautiful reverb tones. Even the counter-melodies and harmonies have a whispered, intimate quality to it, making the song more mellow and dynamic.
As with most things Epica, even this song has a huge dynamic range, and it morphs into a massive build-up, with walls of guitars I wouldn’t hesitate to equate to ambitious stadium rock acts such as Queen or Supertramp (with the darkness turned up to the max).
This album has an outstanding balance between atmospheric moments and all-out scorchers, such as “Gaia,” a song that’s upbeat and fast-paced, retaining an energetic feel but never skimping in terms of melodic content. The magic of Epica’s music is that even at its most aggressive, the band still retains a keen ear for melody. On this record, it’s not about alternating epic near folk-metal ballads with harder songs.
There is a right balance of everything pretty much on every single track. This formula makes for a fresh and unpredictable listening experience because each song is like a journey in its own right, exploring different moods, textures, and ideas in terms of melody and narrative.
Another great track worth mentioning is definitely “The Skeleton Key,” which is perhaps one of the album’s darker songs and one of the most distinctive cuts on this release. When the song is about to break out, you would expect the tempo to double, as it happens on some of the other tracks on this release. Instead, the tempo opens up with a dark and heavy half-time intro, leading into a nice verse where Simone has the opportunity to shine.
The choruses here are truly uplifting, and I love how the band keeps playing with relaxing and tightening the time signature throughout the whole track. And boy, do you want to talk about that bass sound? Grinding, heavy, solid. This is the kind of low-end growl that’s needed to carry a release of this magnitude, kind of like Atlas trying to hold the weight of the whole world onto his shoulders!
Mythologic references seem quite fitting for a band like Epica, and this album is truly one of the highlights in their discography. It’s clear to hear that the group must have been particularly motivated to record some of their best material to date, pushing their boundaries and even break some of the usual tropes that are so common in epic metal production. As a result, the sound of this record is more personal and incredibly detailed.
The guitars are big, round and creamy. The drums are thick and natural-sounding, the vocals are silky and bright, or when they need to be, dark and cavernous. There is a huge balance of different ideas and textures on this release, and the first thing I did when I ran through the album was to go back to the first track and hit play again!
With that said, This album features the band’s best material to date (which is really saying something) and will go down as one of the greatest symphonic metal albums ever produced.