It has been just over a year since Epica released Ωmega, their highly-anticipated eighth full-length studio album. For the Dutch Symphonic Metal outfit, founded by Mark Jansen and fronted by Simone Simons, its 12 songs formulate yet another proud chapter in a 20-year career that has consistently delivered exceptional material.
Albums such as their 2003 debut, The Phantom Agony, 2009’s Design Your Universe, and 2016’s The Holographic Principle have built a foundation that has allowed the sextet to explore a myriad of soundscapes, delivering intelligent reflection and deep respect for our world, all packaged in the form of magical prose. Though Ωmega is no different from its forebears, in this sense, it stands as a testament to where its creators are currently at, emotionally and spiritually.
To discuss this bold undertaking, Simons sat down to explore everything from finding inspiration on Netflix to sitars, Tom Hanks, and The Omega Point.
Cryptic Rock – The past two years, especially 2020, were especially difficult across the globe. However, sometimes out of darkness comes light. What’s one positive thing that you have gained or learned?
Simone Simons – To maybe slow down a little bit and be in the moment. I am a little bit of a control freak and you have to let go of that, and that is still something I struggle with daily; I need to feel productive or creative in order to feel useful. It’s difficult for me to slow down. So, I tried to be more in the moment and tried to keep work and family life separated. It is very difficult since we’re all working from home, so it’s super easy to pick up the laptop. Luckily my husband is also a musician and he understands; we understand each other’s crazy work schedules. But that’s also a daily struggle: it starts every morning again.
Cryptic Rock – That’s very true. So, let’s talk Ωmega. The album was a long time coming, and there was a lot of excitement surrounding its release. Did that energy help to invigorate the band, despite not being able to immediately tour behind the disc?
Simone Simons – Yeah, it definitely helps! We are in close contact with our fans through social media and, of course, we check what everybody has to say about the music. We can just sense that, at the moment, a lot of people really feel like they need new music to help them get through this difficult time. It’s the same for me: our music, and music in general, has been a great outlet for me, as well—to get rid of some frustration and have something you can channel it through. I think music is a great tool to do that.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Now, there’s a loose theme running through Ωmega that revolves around the darkness and the light within each of us, coupled with a spiritual return to nature. Was there something specific that inspired that in the lyrics or was it simply organic?
Simone Simons – I guess it’s a little bit of a combination of organically happening and we are also a little bit of a mirror of what’s going on in society. Topics like global warming and also genome editing have been integrated into the lyrics, as well. But we’ve always touched upon philosophical and spiritual topics since day one, and I feel that, in the Epica history, this album is probably the most spiritual, the most soul-searching album. I think it hits the spot. I believe a lot of people will find a great connection to it.
Cryptic Rock – Definitely. It’s a wonderful album. In fact, there are a lot of moments in Ωmega that feel cinematic—they call to mind sweeping aerial shots of an untouched landscape. Were there any films or TV series that had an influence on the LP?
Simone Simons – Well, for me, I can only speak of the lyrical aspect. The Netflix documentary Unnatural Selection (2019) was my main source of inspiration for the song “Code of Life.” When I saw that, I thought, well, I have to write lyrics about this; this is so interesting and scary and weird.
But when it comes to movies, I am a huge movie fan. So movies like Inception (2010) were a big inspiration for the song “Skeleton Key,” which Rob [van der Loo, bassist] basically wrote the music for, and the working title was “Inception,” so. I always have been fascinated by dreams and how complex our mind is, and especially when you’re sleeping, how you can enter different worlds and have different layers of consciousness.
Inspiration can be found everywhere. I know Rob, Coen (Janssen, keyboardist), and Mark (Jansen, vocalist/guitarist) are big movie fans. Mark finds inspiration in nature, and for this album, he’s been reading the emerald tablets, which are the oldest found wisdom stones. He’s been diving into quantum physics theories and also The Omega Point, which is a theory that claims that everything in the universe is going to spiral towards the final point of divine unification—so the Big Bang Theory is the origin of the universe and The Omega Point is like the end. That was a source of inspiration for [Mark] to write about, but he’s a huge nature fan, so he feels inspired by nature, as well. And he reads quite a lot of books. I’m just a huge movie fan and I also take personal experiences and put them into lyrics.
Cryptic Rock – All of those different influences come together to create beautifully intelligent songs, so let’s get more in-depth into a few of them. Let’s start with “The Skeleton Key.”
Simone Simons – The music was written by Rob and the lyrics by me. For the writing session, we met together and stayed for a week in a house. Not many people know that we are scattered all over Europe; we don’t live in the same hometown. Writing an album has always been a little bit of a challenge for us, and, in the past, we’ve done it digitally for the most part. But now, after a sabbatical, we could get together and Rob wrote the song shortly before we entered the house. I remember him playing the song to me in the kitchen, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to do this and that for the vocals.’ He’s like, ‘I love it!’ and the song was done. It went really quickly.
Cryptic Rock – It’s exquisite, as is the intro to “Code of Life.” Is that a sitar in there?
Simone Simons – Yes! We had a real sitar recorded—it’s one of my favorite instruments. I love Oriental music, I’m a big fan of it. “Code of Life” is also one of my favorite songs, and that’s written by Coen, our keyboard player. When I heard the song for the first time, it wasn’t finished, it didn’t have a bridge or an ending. It just had the main theme going through it and I loved it. I could already sense being on stage, performing the song and the lyrics.
The lyrics I wrote were inspired by the Unnatural Selection documentary, talking about the CRISPR technique where you can cut and paste human DNA to create designer babies and eradicate species. You can do a lot of things with it. (The song) has this Egyptian touch to it. The Egyptians were very wise and it’s a little bit about, you know, you shouldn’t play God and that only bad things will come of it. “Code of Life” is the human code, human DNA.
When I saw (Unnatural Selection), I was just baffled that people can do this at home with their pets. It’s already in a more advanced state now than when the documentary aired, but I don’t know if I’m so happy about that. I don’t wanna hurt anybody’s feelings, but I just have a bad feeling about the whole thing. And if it lands in the wrong hands, it can also be used as a weapon, right?
Cryptic Rock – That is terrifyingly true. So, to avoid considering that idea any further, let me ask this: Will you even attempt to perform the 13-minute “Kingdom of Heaven Part 3 – The Antediluvian Universe” live?
Simone Simons – Yes, we do intend to play it live. Actually, we’re rehearsing all of the songs so that we get acquainted with the new material; so by the time we get on stage, we have the music in our bones. We’re not too focused on stage-playing, like trying to memorize all the parts, because it is a beast. But we will play it. We’ve done it before, many times with [the previous installments of] “Kingdom of Heaven”. Even though it’s such a long song, it’s still a great live song, so I’m curious to see how the “Kingdoms” will perform.
Cryptic Rock – Many would collapse by the end. (Laughs)
Simone Simons – Well, I don’t have to play from the beginning till the end. For me, that’s an easy song to do because I don’t have a lot to do. I just have to make sure that I remember where the parts are and then not sit backstage and forget to come back on stage. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Speaking of vocals, your performance is flawless throughout the entirety of Ωmega, but you have truly outdone yourself on “Synergize – Manic Manifest .”
Simone Simons – The music is written by Isaac (Delahaye, guitarist) and the lyrics by myself. The lyrics deal with an inner union that’s out of balance; you have to align both energies in the right balance. For me, it’s a weird song because it has a kind of weird chorus that’s very… It has an uplifting feel the whole song, but the end part of the tale is actually quite sad. But I love it! I love the melody and I love to sing it, as well. It’s a little bit like what we also did with “Burn to a Cinder” from Design Your Universe, we added a little outro. It’s not one of my favorite songs, but I like the drive in the song and the guitars.
Cryptic Rock – Do you have a favorite?
Simone Simons – Yes. I love “Code of Life,” “Rivers,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “The Skeleton Key.” I really like “Freedom,” as well. I have a lot of favorite songs, and if I say “Synergize” is not one of my favorite songs, I still think it’s an amazing song. Picking one is difficult. If I really had to pick only one, I would choose “Code of Life,” because no matter how often I listen to it, I love it and it always gets me.
Cryptic Rock – Do you have a lyric from the album that’s especially resonating with you at the moment?
Simone Simons – Oh yeah, I love “Rivers” a lot for that because it’s not only the music and the melodies, but also the lyrics. It’s very intimate, very personal, but still written in a way that a lot of people can identify. This was the third single that we released, and we got a positive response to it, so I’m very happy about that.
Cryptic Rock – Two more questions, so let’s step away from the album for a moment. To me, it’s especially important for women to support other women. So, who are some of the talented ladies within any art form who inspire you, motivate you, or simply make you smile?
Simone Simons – Well, I am a lot on Instagram so there’s a couple of colleagues I follow on and I stay in touch with. But I really love the singer from Garbage, Shirley (Manson), because she has a quirky sense of humor and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. I’ve seen her live a couple of times, we wrote on the Internet; unfortunately, we didn’t meet in person. I would love for that to happen one day. I was a fan of Garbage when I was a teenager, so there’s some nostalgia for me. The fact that she’s still rocking, and she looks amazing, sounds amazing; it’s just very nice.
Cryptic Rock – Would you ever try to get her on an Epica song?
Simone Simons – I don’t know if that would fit. I think maybe that I would fit more vocally with her. I don’t know. But I love her voice, it’s very unique.
Cryptic Rock – Last question. You last spoke to Cryptic Rock Magazine in 2017, and you discussed some recent Horror films you had seen and TV series you were watching. Has anything new piqued your interest in the past few years?
Simone Simons – My husband and I are very much into German movies, German Comedies, at the moment. But Netflix series that I love would be Mindhunter, American Horror Story, The Alienist. At the moment we are watching How to Get Away with Murder, even though I sometimes think it’s too much before going to sleep. The editing and the filming and the music, and it has a lot of flashbacks all the time; it’s a little bit confusing to watch before going to sleep.
I love Better Call Saul. Every time I get questions about my favorite series, I can’t think of any even though I’ve watched half of Netflix. What else? We watched The Haunting of Bly Manor recently. I thought it was very interesting, but it only started to get interesting after half of it.
Cryptic Rock – Have you seen any good movies lately?
Simone Simons – I started watching Inferno (2016), Angels & Demons (2009), and The Da Vinci Code (2006) again. I am a big Tom Hanks fan. I think he’s very charismatic. I like his voice and he has a ‘huggable’ factor; I would like him to be my stepdad or father-in-law—but that’s not gonna work anymore. I would like to have a Thanksgiving dinner with Tom Hanks.
I watched Crimson Peak (2015) again. I had my husband watch for the first time, but I have watched it a lot of times; I actually like it more now than I did the first two times I watched it. And the same with The Shape of Water (2017). I love Guillermo del Toro movies.