While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to concerts, it hasn’t stopped artists from working on new music. Dutch symphonic metal giants Epica did everything they could to face these challenges head-on as their new album, Omega, was pushed back to February 26, 2021 via Nuclear Blast (pre-order here). The follow-up to 2016’s Holographic Principle is well worth the wait as the group’s overall eighth full-length effort is arguably their most mature record to date. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Mark Jansen to discuss the album and the prevalent challenges they faced finishing a record during these uncertain times.
What are some things you’ve learned about making Omega during a pandemic?
We were almost done working on the album when the pandemic hit, so it was basically just recording the vocals of Simone and me. That was the only thing that we had to do. So actually, everything was pretty normal until the very end, and I recorded my vocals at home in my home studio, and Simone recorded hers in a studio close to her hometown in Stuttgart.
I remember you guys were planning to release this record earlier, so I figured the pandemic pushed back the release date.
Regarding the release date, it was pushed back, but the main reason for that was that we had a tour coming up right after the original release date, and then our management thought if we put it later that we could still do the tour right after. But then, everything with the COVID situation was still the same. Now with a new release date, we still cannot tour right after. But my opinion was to release it as soon as we can, anyway because in this COVID situation, you never know how long it’s going to take. People really are in need of music anyway. Regardless of any touring possibilities or not, it’s still good to release the album now.
Omega is a great way to start the year. It gives us some sort of good things happening.I think it’s a fantastic record and probably one of your most mature records to date. It sounds more of a follow-up to Quantum Enigma than Holographic Principle.
Yeah, because I have a strong connection with the Quantum Enigma album, and even though I also like The Holographic Principle, my taste goes more towards The Quantum Enigma. We tried to continue that line a bit more instead of The Holographic Principle line. Sound-wise, because I think The Holographic Principle is very intense for the ears to listen to the album from the beginning to the end. And with Omega, we made sure that the mix is very well balanced, and if you want to listen to the album from the beginning to the end, that it’s not too much, so there’s not a soft, a wall of sound so to say.
There’s definitely a diversity, the ballad “Rivers” has a great calmness compared to the rest of the songs. What have you done differently writing this record, aside from the pandemic, but in the writing process, compared to your prior efforts? Because there is something a little more magical about Omega.
I’m really happy to hear that, because I had that feeling myself too, but you never know if people are going to get it the same way. What we did differently was that we worked on our songs like we always do in the beginning. But then in a much earlier stage, we came together and we did rent a house where we stayed for five days and worked from morning until evening on each other’s tracks together. Sometimes Coen [Janssen] and I would sit together, and then in the meantime, our producer would sit with Simone and work on some other song. So there was a continuous thing going on, and sometimes there were three different groups working on three different songs at the same time. It was literally from morning until evening, all the time working on each other’s tracks, and I surely believe that this made the big difference. This lifted all the songs up to the next level. So whatever we thought could be done better, we just tried to change it, all for the benefit of the songs and for the album. You only can do it like this if everybody puts their egos aside, and just goes for the best possible result, and everybody did. I think that’s the major thing that you can hear about this album, that everybody had just one goal, and it was to make the songs as good as possible.
So, teamwork and a lack of ego is what made Omega. That’s awesome.
I read you guys flew to Poland to shoot a video for “Abyss of Time.” What was that experience like during these crazy COVID days?
Yeah, I must say that some of the guys were a little bit skeptical about flying in these times. But luckily, everything went well, and yeah, it’s not possible to realize videos without having this little risk of getting, picking up the COVID somewhere. Luckily we are in a healthy age, and we took a small risk. We did all the precautions we could take. So we took the small risk to at least be able to record some really good videos. And yeah, what can I say? I’m really happy with the result of the videos, so I’m happy that we went there. But it’s also strange at the same time when this pandemic is going on, and that you never know what’s going to happen. For example, sometimes things develop fast, and then you are locked in a country and you cannot get out. That happened already recently to a lot of people who were in the UK, and they had to go back for Christmas, but they were locked in the UK. So, these things can always happen. In these crazy times you never know if things suddenly develop fast in the wrong direction and that you are locked in another country. That was my biggest concern. Luckily, it didn’t happen. It was also in the summer, and fortunately, the virus is less present during the summer. People spend more time outside, and it’s more difficult for the virus to spread. But yeah, nobody knows in which direction it will go, and this new mutation from the UK that apparently is a bit tricky. So, sometimes you can almost get depressed, but all the time you have hope that things will get better. When things go bad, we all have to deal with it and be patient, and sooner or later, this hell will be over.
Hopefully. Just a year ago, you guys were performing on 70000tons, and then you went to New York, and now, here we are. It’s insane.
Yeah, it’s insane, indeed.
The Holographic Principle had more of a constant science fiction and virtual reality theme. I was wondering what the theme for Omega is? Can you describe some of the songs, like “Code of Life,” and “Skeleton Key?”
Yeah, these are two songs that were written lyrically by Simone. So, I don’t really know the exact details of what she meant by these songs. But the main theme of the album is dealing with the Omega Point theory, and that’s a theory by a French priest who said that we are all fated, the whole universe is fated to swirl towards one point of divine unification. And that was very attractive to me, that theory, and it is a little bit in between science and spirituality. And that’s exactly what I love about trying to bring these two worlds together, because I think that science can learn a lot about spirituality, and spirituality can try to prove many things by science. I think the future lies in bringing these two apparent opposites together.
What made you write a third “Kingdom of Heaven?
Yeah, that just happened to be, when we started writing, we had an idea about how the songs we wanted to sound. Like how we discussed that we wanted to continue in the direction of the Quantum Enigma. But we didn’t have an idea of which kind of songs would emerge from that idea. And at a certain point, I was working on a song together with Isaac [Delahaye], and the song became longer and longer, and we got the idea, it could be like a third “Kingdom of Heaven.” Lyric-wise, it was going in that direction. At a certain point, it felt really good to continue that way. We even added at a certain point 15 minutes of music. We started to cut some themes out in order to not have it too long. Every piece of music should have its function in the song, and not just having a long song for the sake of having a long song. So we cut it down to 13 1/2 minutes, and then it felt like it was finished for us. Something happened while we were working on the song, Isaac’s grandmother and mine, they passed away in the same week. So we decided, Isaac and me, to dedicate this song that we worked on together to both of our grandmothers. It also became a very personal song to us.
I’m really sorry about that. It’s never easy to lose a grandparent, or anyone close to you.
Yeah. Yeah, but I’m happy that she got to 89, and it’s a very good age to reach for mankind I think in general. I visited her the last two years a lot, so you hear often, “I should have visited my grandmother more often,” but luckily I have no regrets, I visited whenever I had the opportunity. I’m at least feeling at ease with the situation, and to be able to dedicate my favorite song of the album to her feels, for me like at least, a full circle., And for that, I am happy, as happy as you can be about how sad such a situation is, that I’m happy how things ended at least this way.
That’s beautiful. I think the next time I’m going to listen to it, I’m going to think about my grandparents who have been long gone now. It’s definitely a song that will hit the heart.
You lost your grandparents too?
All of mine are gone, yes.
Yeah, all of mine too. She was the last one. Eventually, we all have to deal with the same. We have to go through the same problems in life, and it’s never easy. It’s never easy, especially when your grandparents mean a lot, in my case, and probably in your case as well. But it’s part of life, and at least I have beautiful memories, and I always want to think of my grandparents, all of them by the way, I have only beautiful memories left.
Of course. It’s odd, because I was literally just thinking about my grandmother today, and all the great memories, and now here we are, you’re saying this. It’s very weird how time works like this.
Yes, it is. My personal belief is that when we, when I pass away, we get reunited with all the people we have loved during our life, and not everybody agrees with that viewpoint, but I personally think it’s like that. I don’t think that life, when our lives end, that there is nothing. I had a lot of spiritual things happening in my life that I simply, there’s not a single percentage in me that believes it’s over after we die. So many strange things have happened in my life, it’s for me at least it’s not like that.
I would love to be reunited with my lost loved ones. Hopefully, that’s how it goes.
I’m convinced about it, but I know that some people say, “It’s just your brain making things up.” But I just don’t believe that.
This year marks 10 years since MaYanN’s debut album, Quarterpast, and I wanted to know what your thoughts are on that record now, and how things have progressed for you, balancing two projects over the last decade?
Usually, most of the time it was pretty fun. Sometimes when things are overlapping, then you have a challenge to see how to solve it. But for me, the fun thing was to work on a MaYaN album when there was some time off from Epica, and having time to recharge the batteries. Because if I were to have to work all the time on a new Epica album without having anything done in between, for me that doesn’t work really well, because I have to sometimes do something different and to work with different people, and that works really well for me. And then, after a MaYanN album is finished, I feel recharged to work again on an Epica album. I really hope to keep on going like this for another 10 years, and I don’t look too far ahead in the future. I never do. But still, my hunger for making music has not been stilled.
Yeah, I hope you go on for the next 10, 15 years. It’s great material, you guys are only getting stronger after each album. With concerts being uncertain, whether this summer, the fall, or 2022, we have no idea when a live show will really start. I wanted to know if you guys have any plans for a livestream event?
Yes, if things are going to take long, and it seems like it is the case, then we will focus on a livestream, because we want to do at least something rather than doing nothing. And a livestream is, obviously it’s not the same as having fans watching the show on the spot, but it’s the second best thing you can do within the situation at the moment. So yeah, we are already preparing something, in case that it takes long for doing shows, that we are ready to do a livestream, yes.
Is there anything else you want to say or add to your fans?
Let’s see. Yeah, I want to say above all, I hope everybody stays healthy, all of our fans. I know a lot of fans, they’re talking to me, and some already went through the COVID infection, and luckily all the people that I know, they made it through. One ended up in the hospital, and luckily also recovered. But it’s a very nasty disease, and I hope everybody stays healthy. Whenever this hell is over, I’m more than happy to see everybody again. Stay positive, and try to do things that you enjoy in life, what is possible within the situation at the moment. But it’s very important to try to keep going, and not hang in negative thoughts, because I also know quite a few friends who are having a hard time, and I try to be there for them. Everybody who knows somebody who is having a hard time, try to be there for each other, and then we pull each other through, and sooner or later this hell is over.
Can’t wait until hell is over. It’s surreal how last year you guys were in New York, and it’s just crazy. For Omega, as I said, it’s a very powerful record, and I hope your fans will think of that as well.
Thank you so much. I’m really proud of everybody involved with Omega, because it’s something that we did with the whole team. I cannot wait for everybody to hear it, and to hear the reactions about it. But so far, everything sounds good.