From stage ready musical to filthy death metal

Something about symphonic metal intrigues me. It carries all the best bombast of all forms of music when executed well, and everything there is to dislike about music when it is pushed too far in any one direction.

Last year saw one of the heavy weights of the genre (Nightwish) arguably push the bombastic musical and storytelling elements beyond good taste for all but the heartiest fans, a bridge Epica often sail very close to without actually hitting. So with the extra time on their hands to go back into the studio and rework elements of this album, have they finally hit the bridge too far?

After the expected epic cinematic opener, the band waste no time as Abyss of Time-Countdown to Singularity comes blasting out with growler/guitarist Mark Jensen the first voice to come into contact with the speakers before the operatic tones of Simone Simons’ angelic voice does its best to counteract the darkness of the track as it flicks wildly from stage ready musical to filthy death metal quicker than a stubbed toe aches.

Throughout the album this balance is finely achieved, just before one version of the band gets too much, they shift the musical dynamic into the direct opposite direction. One of the most melodic and majestic changes occurs in Gaia, beginning with the operatic bombast and settling into a rock groove before the band throws a power metal solo in for good measure and sinking into the cavernous depths of Jensen’s growls with Simons beckoning the listener back to the light. It’s easy to visualise this playing across the mind’s soundstage. Such is the scope and musical vison on show that Kingdom of Heaven Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe is huge enough to have its own intermission, but never feels as if it has gone on too long, showing off the prog side that the band like to show off in very small bites.

Epica have this kind of ability to invoke a solid imagination through their music while others may have missed the mark in at attempted to shoot the moon. But big marks also have to go to the production. Generally, this form of music calls for the drummer and bassist to take a back seat and keep a solid beat for the choir and symphony to fill the air with noise. On Omega they have been allowed to breathe, the snare snaps with every solid hit and the bass rumbles solidly beneath it all, even being the most audible instrument more than once, but never quite taking a lead instrumental role.

This change in production as well as the sheer bombast reached at the same moment it gets contained makes for some great listening and shows why Epica are considered one of the top players in the symphonic metal world. Omega shows more than anything what is possible when like-minded musicians have more spare time than originally planned to assemble their record.

1. Alpha – Anteludium
2. Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity
3. The Skeleton Key
4. Seal of Solomon
5. Gaia
6. Code of Life
7. Freedom – The Wolves Within
8. Kingdom of Heaven, Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe
9. Rivers
10. Synergize – Manic Manifest
11. Twilight Reverie – The Hypnagogic State
12. Omega – Sovereign of the Sun Spheres