12.06.2021 Epica: Omega Alive

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Dutch symphonic metal act EPICA will always hold a special place in my heart. During their 2007 show at Metal Female Voices Fest at Wieze, Belgium, I realized I wanted to become a photographer. Then, in 2017, when I set up Tuonela Magazine, EPICA‘s show was also the first one that this magazine covered. Additionally, their recent studio effort,Omega,” provided some light in the year that is 2021, with days shrouded in the darkness of the pandemic, thus it came to no surprise that I tuned in to watch their virtual show “Omega Alive” on June 12, 2021. Now, let’s dive deeper into the universal streaming event…

While the Belgian Red Devils were set off to play their first match of the European Championship in St. Petersburg, a different set of Belgian devils opened up the streaming experience set in a catholic church with the view on a baroque altar. OFF THE CROSS is a Belgian quartet who have set out to be an essential part of the Belgian metal scene. While the world is still in the process of discovering this gem of a band, it was not a complete surprise that EPICA had chosen them for the audience to enjoy before their show. After all, not only is the band part of their “Epic Apocalypse” tour with APOCALYPTICA and Finnish progressive metal act WHEEL, their latest album, “Enjoy It While It Lasts,” had some arrangements written by EPICA keyboardist Coen Janssen. Finally, guitarist Jens De Vos was responsible for directing the virtual event.

Even though the quartet only played a short set, visually, the show was a spectacle. The church provided a fairly magical setting and the stream often inserted footage from the ancient building. Additionally, the lighting really fit the band’s latest album’s aesthetics. It was the first time for me as well to experience OFF THE CROSS “live” and if we can expect a show like this on their upcoming tour, they’ll surely win over a lot of fans across the stages of Europe. At least count me in for a second round! While many Belgians decided to divide their time between two screens (one showcasing football, one for OFF THE CROSS), I’m quite sure the heavy metal act was such an undeniable presence, that they lost track of the score, and knew that at least one Belgian team had the performance of a lifetime!

Now, let me start off by saying that these virtual events have here and there been a hit or miss. Many bands have been experimenting with how to make their streaming concert as unique as possible, quite a few have passed already, and there were perhaps only a handful of events that really stood out (BEHEMOTH, anyone?) So what about EPICA‘s stream? Well, if you are not a fan of streaming events and you somehow missed “Omega Alive” because you don’t enjoy them anymore as much as in the terrible year that was 2020, shame on you! “Omega Alive” truly was a magical event and to me, representing an EPICA show as it should be, but would probably be logistically impossible to arrange except for a one-off basis. The show was divided into different acts, each looking visually different from the other. The stage adapted to some degree with each set, and the band also went through several costume changes.

The first act started off with a beautiful atmospheric intro and immersed us instantly into a different universe where a little girl woke up in a bed, while roots were growing around her. Then a title screen in purple followed, with the first chapter of the event, “Overtura,” which bled in beautifully with Simone Simon‘s face glowing in a purple light (maybe I am somewhat of a film nerd, but transitions like this just add something entirely different to the production as a whole). The band started playing the lead single, “Abyss of Time,” off their latest album, “Omega.” That this was not a normal stream was instantly visible, as everything was meticulously thought out. Behind the stage, there was another stage where dancers added to the atmosphere of the performance and, of course, the band didn’t hold back on the pyros.

Alongside the dancers, the event also showcased acrobatics. During the next track, “Skeleton Key,” there was a gymnast doing an incredible performance in a wheel, moving from left to right on a separate stage, while the band was playing the song flawlessly. Another surprise element was the fact that, instead of a backing track, towards the end, a children’s choir was shown and they started singing their parts. Next track “Unchain Utopia” was a very explosive piece with lots of fire. For starters, Simone came on stage with fire pois, as well as some dancers who once again did a spectacular show in the background.

Part two started with an insert that went back to the little girl, who was now standing in a maze that was probably formed by the trees growing around her bed. She passed Simone, who was holding an apple, after which the next part, “Magnituda” was announced. The second part also came with a costume change for Simone and a change in the atmosphere. The band had done their best bundling songs that somehow fit stylistically together as well. Starting off the second part with “Obsessive Devotion” (one of my all-time favorite parts), the band balanced out the setlist between new and old material. Even more impressive, they apparently also decided to be a part of the many stunts, as, during the song, Simone stood on the edge of the stage and plunged into the deep. The second part was rounded off by “In All Conscience” and “Victims of Contingency.” During “In All Conscience” a vintage microphone was lowered from the ceiling, caught by Simone, and the addition of white lighting gave the song somewhat of an old, nostalgic look. I am obliged to say that whoever the lighting technician of this event was, their work on this show was truly top-notch!

While the maze returned, we were shown Simone on a throne where she rightfully belongs, while the little girl stepped into the light of “Elysia,” the fourth part. Maybe someday in the future, EPICA will dedicate a show to their “Kingdom of Heaven”-series; unfortunately, for this event, we had to be satisfied with only two of the “Kingdom of Heaven” mastodons: “Kingdom of Heaven – Part V – A New Age Dawns” and the latest “Kingdom of Heaven – Part III – The Antediluvian Universe.” The latter’s live debut was probably the most exciting part of the stream for me, as it’s been something I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Now we can only hope for the live version as the world opens up again. An incredible moment during this song was when Coen started playing the magical piano solo on a burning piano. As the song ended and Simone sang “May Thy Kingdom Come,” a gong ended the song and lingered on, which brings me to another selling point of this show: in some streams, there have been cases of awkward silence in between tracks without an audience present, but by dividing the experience into different chapters and really working on transitions that linger on, EPICA showed how it’s supposed to be done.

The most beautiful part of the stream, however, perhaps was the fourth part, “Gravita.” The word is derived from the Latin gravitas, which means seriousness, and somehow also represented the chapter in the best way. The set started off with an incredible version of “Rivers,” the ballad of their latest album. Now, if you have been following this website for any time, you may know I am not the biggest fan of ballads, and usually during shows or streaming events, for me, it means time for a break. However, this was incredibly mesmerizing. The song started off with a choir in a circle, cloaked in black, with white spotlights surrounding them. Incredibly minimal, but incredibly powerful. Simone came on stage, stood in front of them, and started singing the song. From beginning to end, this rendition was perfect in every way and probably a unicum for the band, as I don’t see the choir touring along with EPICA in the future (although, you never know). A case is to be made about the dress Simone was wearing that added something very unique to the setting, in stark contrast with the choir. After that, Isaac and Coen started the intro for “Once Upon a Nightmare” in a virtuous, serene manner, with minimal piano and guitars… simply beautiful.

The last part, “Alpha Omega,” started off with the catchy “Freedom – The Wolves Within.” This track showcased the EPICA we see during live shows, without too many gimmicks, just having fun on stage. There was an occasional dancer in the background, who coincidentally were also wearing white EPICA shirts and, funnily enough, started headbanging heavily as part of their choreography during the heavy riffing section of the track.

Then, it was time for one of the most powerful moments of this show, “Cry for the Moon.” Suddenly we were shown older images of EPICA festival shows while playing “Cry for the Moon,” which somehow almost felt also like a tribute to the missing audience of the night and truly made me feel nostalgic about the days when we were all standing together as one in the crowd, looking out for each other. During the last notes, Simone started talking in the rhythm of the song and addressed the virtual crowd, explaining that “Cry for the Moon” is their alpha (the first song they ever released, which was now 20 years ago) and that without their fans they would have never released their latest album, “Omega.” The band rounded off the show with “Beyond the Matrix” and the grand finale, “Omega – Sovereign of the Sun Spheres.”

EPICA is one of the bands who waited out the situation before they decided to do a streaming event, however, they have really set the bar high with their “Omega Alive.” Let me start off with the only slight negative setback of the event, which was that there was no way to re-watch OFF THE CROSS‘ show, as the streaming link just shows EPICA‘s show in full. Other than that, everything in this production was great, from the little details in the visuals, ranging from more abstract, artistic shots, to well-balanced band footage. There was no focus on one specific member as is sometimes the case in many streams; instead, everyone got a healthy amount of screen time. EPICA‘s shows have always been a delight to attend for any photographer due to the amazing lighting, yet this light show outdid what they are already known for. The acrobatics and dancers in the background were part of the magical atmosphere, sometimes stealing the show, but never overpowered the band. Everything, from beginning to end, was there to bring the best versions of these songs to the stage, and even though EPICA may not be able to do these shows on the road, their music truly deserved a show like this! All I have left to say is congratulations to EPICA and the entire crew behind them.

Written by Laureline Tilkin
Photos are stills taken from “Omega Alive”

Setlist

  1. Abyss of Time – Countdown to Singularity
  2. The Skeleton Key
  3. Unchain Utopia
  4. The Obsessive Devotion
  5. In All Conscience
  6. Victims of Contingency
  7. Kingdom of Heaven ~ Part V – A New Age Dawns
  8. Kingdom of Heaven ~ Part III – The Antediluvian Universe
  9. Rivers
  10. Once Upon a Nightmare
  11. Freedom – The Wolves Within
  12. Cry for the Moon
  13. Beyond the Matrix
  14. Omega – Sovereign of the Sun Spheres