Dutch symphonic metal powerhouse Epica has a new album in the start blocks. ‘Omega’ is the title of their newest offer and Markus’ Heavy Music Blog had a chance to talk to Mark Jansen (guitar/growls) about the new album, the impact of the pandemic, the beauty of vlogs and the Omega Point Theory.
Markus’ Heavy Music Blog: Mark, before having a deeper look into ‘Omega’, I want to go back around 12 months. When you guys came back from the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise you stopped in New York and played a show at Webster Hall. I was lucky that I could visit this show and I can remember it was really a good vibe and a really enthusiastic audience. I think what nobody really thought at the time was that it was the last Epica show for quite a while due to the upcoming pandemic. I guess you haven’t played live after Webster Hall in New York?
Mark Jansen: Yeah, I played with my other band (MaYan) a couple of shows but with Epica, yes that must have been the last one before it was over for pretty much all of the bands. So, we’re all in the same boat.
MHMB: Connected to that, how is it for you as a musician in the band to not have instant face-to-face feedback from fans over 12 months, seeing no reactions from an audience as usual during live shows?
Mark: It’s different of course but I personally adapt pretty fast to a new situation. Now, this is the way it is, and we have to make the best out of it, not only for me personally but also for the band. Still there comes a lot of feedback online. It’s the direct feedback that you’re missing, like doing a live show and hearing the crowd cheering and seeing the faces. That’s something that will be missed for a long time until it hopefully will be possible again. You never know how these things will develop from here. I’m optimistic and sooner later I guess it will be possible again. But yeah, that’s for bands the best: live shows. That is why we’re doing this. Of course, it’s nice to write songs and release an album but the live shows are what brings things literally alive and that’s really why we’re doing this. I’m also happy we at least can release the album because the people, now in this time, they are in need of new music. I got many messages from people. They say “we’re having a hard time and this music we cannot wait for it. Hopefully it will make us happy and lift us a little bit through this period”, and that’s what I hope for too. I’m really happy that it gets released now and not much later than now.
“I’m also happy we at least can release the album because the people, now in this time, they are in need of new music.”
MHMB: Maybe it was a little bit of a lucky situation for you guys that you toured in 2019 and I think the plan was anyhow for 2020 to focus on the album. Where there plans for touring in 2020 which you had to postpone?
Mark: We definitely would have been on tour. We had quite some tours planned but they were all postponed. Initially the album was set for release in September 2019 and then we would have had for 2020 a full schedule of touring. Then the album was postponed till February due to the pandemic. Some people had some hopes that we would be able to tour right after. I was already a little bit skeptical about that. I didn’t see that would be happening, but some had these hopes, but yeah, we had to postpone all the plans. For me, it was not a big hit because I was already expecting it anyway. Hopefully 2021 will be a better year even though I have no expectation at this point whatsoever, so I cannot be disappointed. Whenever it’s possible again, I will be more than happy, but I keep the options open so to say.
MHMB: You were already quite far in the in the process of working on the new album when the lockdown came. You guys have finished the recording with the choir with the orchestra which I think would have been really a problem afterwards. How was recording in general under these really unusual circumstances?
Mark: The writing process end on the first month of the recording process like it always happens but then when the when the lock down started to take place than we I couldn’t go to the studio anymore and neither Simone, so we have to find solutions for that. Luckily, I had my new home studio just installed so that couldn’t have come at a better moment. Simone, she found a studio in the near where she lives, close to Stuttgart, and she was able to record there. They had to find, with the producer, some kind of way to work because they had to try some microphones that would work with the acoustic of that studio. Once they had everything set up and once it was rolling, then everything went pretty smooth.
MHMB: If I listen to ‘Omega’, I think it’s the most mature Epica album. I think it feels a little bit like the album combines a lot of Epica. If you would have to put the album in the context of all the stuff you guys released, how do you look on ‘Omega’?
Mark: I see it like an album that is the balance between all the albums we did before and that adds some refreshing elements to it. We reviewed the whole catalog and we tried to take the strong points of all the albums and combine them into ‘Omega’. Sound wise we notice that ‘The Holographic Principle’ was at times a bit full and it’s hard for the ears to process when you want to listen to the album from beginning till the end. Therefor we create more space in the mix for that. For that reason, it’s easier to listen to the whole album at one go and also to hear more details of the instruments.
MHMB: Which brings me to the next question. There’s a lot of things going on an Epica album. There is the music, the choirs, the orchestra and so on and then of course the songs in itself. How do you find the balance so that you can also reproduce the things later on stage? I think it’s sometimes a thin line how far can you go or not.
Mark: When we record, we are choir-wise and orchestra wise not thinking about the live shows because we want to make the songs as good as possible. The best Epica shows are the once we can do with a live orchestra. When we can’t, we always have these choir parts on a backing track which works as well. For a band like Epica, it’s impossible to always have the choir and orchestra with us on tour. That is simply impossible but with the backing tracks it works well.
MHMB: Lyrically you have connected the album, at least if I understood it correctly, to the omega point theory. It says that everything starts with the Alpha and then things evolve and get together at Omega which is basically the final conclusion of everything that happened so far. Can we say that the ‘Omega’-album is reflecting that when it comes to Epica? We briefly touched upon it that a lot of Epica comes together on this album. Is that just a coincident or is it that you even had such a link in mind?
Mark: There is a connection between all of that. All the music comes together in ‘Omega’, our whole career comes together on ‘Omega’. It’s not something that we initially thought of, but it’s very well connected in a way. Maybe unconsciously we did it like this. The lyrical theme is about the omega point, like as humanity and the universe as a whole swirling towards one point of unification.
MHMB: Then there is the centerpiece ‘Kingdom of Heaven pt. 3’. With 13 minutes there is a lot to digest and I think you can always discover new things when listening to the song. Can you tell us a little bit more specifically about that song and how do you approach? I don’t think it started with “hey I want we want to write a 13-minute song” and connect it to that, there is this almost eerie connection to grandmothers what I understood. What’s all that about?
Mark: Let’s try to make it as short as possible since I could talk about it for hours. I started with the intro and with some kind of the first part of the song. Then I was stuck with the song. I had no inspiration to continue. So, I uploaded the song to our Epica server where everybody can work on ideas. Isaac sent me a message and he said, “I heard this this song idea, can I try a few things?” and I say “Yeah sure go ahead. I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do, so give it a try”. He came up with the chorus and the first part of the mid part. Then I found new inspiration, so I continued on that and then sent it back to him. It went back and forth a couple of times until we had like the whole song. During that process both of our grandmothers, they passed away within like three or four days. It was really very sad for us but at the same time we felt like we dedicate this song to both of our grandparents so that we at least honor them with our biggest and largest song. We dedicated the biggest song to them. It felt also like a circle being full. That being said, then we work with the whole band on all the details. All the tracks went through a lot of layers of work, a lot of processing and into details. Then we started recording demos of all the songs. We recorded the whole album already with everything, also all the orchestra parts but then with samples before we actually recorded the album for real. So, with this song it was of course the most work because it’s the longest song.
“During that process both of our grandmothers, they passed away within like three or four days. It was really very sad for us but at the same time we felt like we dedicate this song to both of our grandparents so that we at least honor them with our biggest and largest song.”
MHMB: You mentioned that you guys were all together in the studio and what gave a very good idea of the ways of working in the studio are the vlogs. Sometimes you see these studio reports or whatever, but such an amount of vlog episodes, that is rather unusual. Whose idea was it to go for these vlogs?
Mark: That was an idea from our weekly Skype session with the band that we always have. I don’t actually remember who presented the idea the first time. At a certain point we have had contact with the guy that we often work with for vlogs and he was also up for doing it. At the point when we started making vlogs for the album and the video recordings, we didn’t know how many interesting vlogs that there would be distilled from. It was more than we thought.
MHMB: I think fans appreciated to be connected to what you guys are doing. Everybody is sitting at home these days and the vlogs have been an alternative to all the Netflix series.
Mark: Yeah. Many fans thanked us for these vlogs because they really had a good time with them. That’s also why we made them, to connect people with the new album and that everybody feels like being part of the process before the album actually comes out.
MHMB: You guys invited with Zaher (Myrath) and Vicky two guests for ‘Omega’. I think both fit perfect and what impressed me Zaher. He gets this Oriental vibe even more into this song. Did you have a plan like to involve him from the beginning or was it more like that you had this song and wanted to add some extra ingredient to spice it up even more?
Mark: The second. We had the song basically finished and then Koen said how if we ask Zaher to maybe get even more Oriental touch to it. We said, go for it. He is the main songwriter of the song and the main songwriter always has the final say in this. It turned out really great. We even had even a bit more material he sang but we kept it to the basic because we kept the strongest part of it. With Vicki the same. We had the song finished. Usually, we have to our drummer Arjen doing spoken word parts or our sound engineer Paul but this time we thought it’s better to have a female voice, a strong female voice. We thought right away about Vicki who has exactly this voice that we were looking
MHMB: You’re released the album and I think fans will be really happy with it but of course you can’t go immediately on tour. Dates had to be rescheduled to early 2022. Is there any thought about doing a streaming show like more and more bands do it these days?
Mark: Yeah, definitely. That’s one of the ideas that we want to explore because it takes a while before we can do some shows. A streaming show would be an option to have at least something before we actually can do some real shows again. For me it’s the most complicated thing because I cannot take a car and drive to the other guy. I would have to take a plane and I think that I would have to do like a PCR test before and maybe even do some quarantine. We have to really see how that all develops and what is needed.
MHMB: Mark, thanks. Is it there anything more you would like to mention? Anything more that you want to share?
Mark: I want to wish everybody good health in these times and I also want to add that people who know somebody who’s suffering during this time, be there for each other because we need each other. Hopefully our music can contribute a little bit to make people feel happy.
Photos by Tim Tronckoe