Interview Epica – Mark Jansen: the Omega Point, science and taking ice baths

Dutch symphonic metal formation EPICA recently released their 10th opus ‘Omega’. Metal-Exposure had the opportunity to chat with founding member Mark Jansen about the new album, science and taking ice baths.

How has the reception of the new album been so far?
It has been received well, as far as I read, hear and see. I didn’t stroll the internet for reactions but from what I gathered people are happy with it.

If you count The Score and The Consign to Oblivion Orchestral Edition, this is Epica’s tenth record. Reflecting on that, can you name some highlights of your career so far?
Too many to say. I can name a highlight of every album we recorded because we gave a 100% every time. I have a bond with every album really. Every album is of course a snapshot in a timespan of twenty years, which have been a lot of highlights in a row. There are also moments when things aren’t going well. For example during our American tour when Simone’s dad fell and it was uncertain if he would live and she went back. Those moments are difficult. Most importantly, how things would develop with her father and secondly the financial issues that come with it. Still, it’s only natural that a band also encounters some difficulties. Luckily we have managed to come out of it on the right side of it until now.

You had a break of five years in between The Holographic Principle and Omega. What is the reason for this long pause?
We never even realized that it was that long actually. There were several reasons for this. First of all, we toured quite a lot with The Holographic Principle and we released two EP’s and a book ‘The Essence of Epica’ in the meantime. We also took a break before we started writing the new record and lastly, the pandemic came which resulted in the release being postponed another six months. And then suddenly, it’s five years later.

What was the reason for the break?
We took a six month break to charge ourselves again so to speak. We’ve been together as a band for quite some years now and we all felt we needed some time for our hobbies. Of course we didn’t know the pandemic would come and then we’d have a lot of time on our hands. The record really benefited from us taking this break. After the six month ‘holiday’, we all had a lot of energy and inspiration. So it had to be like this.

When did you start writing again? Did it happen spontaneously or did you sit together to write?
Each of us collected his or her own ideas and at some point we decided to come together for a week and work on those ideas. We worked a lot that week, but we also had a great time together just cooking and eating. The songs really got a bit more body during that time and we changed a lot of things too.

So this writing process and the pandemic actually benefited the creation of Omega. But don’t you have this feeling of ‘what now’, because you can’t tour to promote the album?
I seize the day so to speak. Everyday I try to do something that makes me happy or that will make someone else happy. That’s been working really well for me. So despite not having shows right, I have no problems filling my time. I have a lot of hobbies aside from music for which I have more time now. Me and my girlfriend also moved to a new house, which needed a lot of work, so we have some time for that too.

Mark Jansen EpicaThe title of the new album is Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, often meaning an end point. How does this translate to the album?
It mainly has to do with the Omega Point theory. This theory states that mankind and the entire universe are moving towards one point, and at that point we all become one. I really liked that theory and all the lyrics on the record use this theory as an anchor. People generally feel that we’re apart from one another and seperate from the planet and mother nature. But quantum physics have shown that everything that once was connected, will always be connected. So with the Big Bang, everything exploded to all corners of the universe but it was connected once and will forever be connected. I think we as people are more connected to each other than we realize. If you look at quantum physics on a literal level, you will see that energy flows from one person to another. If we would just realize that we are so connected, we’d step away from the competitiveness of our current societies. I also think the pandemic will contribute to people working together again, that we will work together on our future.

On the last three records at least, you’ve taken a meta theory as your starting point. How do you connect to something like that, make it personal and eventually write a lyric based on that?
Yes, you take a grand theory so to say, often a groundbreaking one as well. For example, the Holographic Principle, if that turns out to be true, that would turn our world upside down. That would mean we’re living in an illusion, in a virtual reality world. I always find it very interesting to continue to philosophize about that and to give it your own personal touch. That’s also what we aim to do. We don’t want to make it too technical, I also think people might lose interest then because they can’t identify with it. I think that is the right balance. Those theories themselves are very interesting and people who weren’t aware of them before and want to know more can do their own research.

Can you name an example of the new album?
I personally like the story of the Cherokee Indians, who say that we have two wolves within ourselves. One represents the dark side, emotions like hate and anger and the other represents the good side, empathy, love. The wolf that you feed the most food will get the upper hand and that is the person you are to your environment. That’s up to you, who you want to be. It’s linked to the Omega Point in the sense that if we are a good person to one another and we work on ourselves from within, we will make that big transformation happen because we are all connected.

A bit of a sidetrack, but in the past I feel that people trusted more in science. In our current societies, with fake news, conspiracy theories and everybody being an expert on everything by just reading something on the internet, science is more and more doubted by people. Is that a good or bad development in your opinion?
It’s good and bad. I’m a fan of peer reviewed science. I value it if something is scientifically proved and peer reviewed. However, there has been a lot of tempering in science as well, like people who make up papers entirely and that’s very damaging to science. One of the biggest healthcare frauds in our history originated at Pfizer, they consciously made false statements and they had to pay a fine of millions. Those kinds of things that diminishes the faith in science. It’s not the fault of people that they lost the faith in science but the fault of science itself. Of course you should not generalize and there are many researchers that honestly and fairly try to help people. It’s a sword with two edges.

So, to summarize, doubting science at times is not a harmful development.
If you blindly trust everything, it can go wrong. History has proven that there are periods where this trust grows and when it diminishes again. Say, if we would have believed everything during the Second World War, we would all have been speaking German now. So yes, it’s okay that people lose that trust sometimes, because otherwise it can be taken advantage of. There is always a sort of balance. So I’m not the kind of person who says to others ‘trust everything blindly’, because we do live in very odd times and strange things happen so it is important to be watchful. Hopefully everything will turn out alright, but that is never a guarantee.

It’s not a view you probably hear everyday. Most people would say that you should trust science completely. I would love to do that, but it’s good to have a healthy dose of distrust towards certain things. But that’s also a direction you don’t want to take too far, because then you end up paranoid. It’s important to find the right balance in everything.

You’ve researched a lot of scientific theories of course for the albums of Epica.
Yes. I’m also very into the natural way of strengthening our immune system. This is why I’m currently reading a lot about the Wim Hof method, because I want to experience that, feel how that works. I also try to take as little medication as possible, so nothing for headaches and such. So only when there is really no other way. I mean medicine can be fantastic, for example when I had Lyme disease I got a heavy antibiotics treatment which helped me incredibly. So I’m definitely happy that such medication exists, let there be no doubt about that. But when it’s not necessary, I don’t take it and I try to make myself as strong as possible by natural means. I’ve noticed that the Wim Hof method works extremely well. Since I started with that, three and a half years ago, I never had the flu again and I used to have it a couple of times a year. It was a life changer for me.

That begs the question, how long can you sit in an ice bath?
My record is thirty minutes.

Wow.
I started building it slowly. You should also not start with that, but in the end I managed to stay in for thirty minutes. It’s a mix of building it up and developing the right mind set: I want to make it to thirty minutes and I will do it. That will allow you to actually do it.

But at what point does this mind set turn into stubbornness of ‘having to do it for thirty minutes’, resulting in hypothermia.
You always have to listen to your body and be fair to yourself when you feel that you won’t be able to do it. You should not force it. That’s also something you learn with that method, to listen to your body. You enter the ice and the first thirty seconds are the worst, then a sort of calm sets in and at a certain point you will feel warmth. That’s very weird, you are in the ice, but you feel warm. When you’re done and you go out of the bath, you warm yourself up again and the first, I was shaking after that but not anymore. And then there is a period of two or three hours that you feel amazing. Like a natural drug. You feel happy, everything is awesome and you want to do everything. So for something that other people need drugs, I just need an ice bath.

So going back to Epica. What is in the cards for 2021?
Nothing haha. I hope we can do something but the festivals are already being cancelled. We do want to do a livestream and we’re also working on something new, musically. Shows will of course depend on the possibilities. I’m not counting on doing a lot of shows, but if it’s possible that would be nice. I don’t think the pandemic will be over anytime soon though. I think we will have to live with corona and its mutations for a very long time.

I want to thank you for your time and hopefully we’ll be able to see an Epica show within a year or two.
Hopefully and otherwise we will find another way to do something. I even think and that’s probably the most odd thing you will hear tonight, that with the pace of our technological development people will be able to visit shows by wearing a special suit. So they will suit up and they will feel everything as if they would be at a show. For example, we will play a show and someone from Brazil would wear such a suit and he or she would feel like they are actually at the concert. At some point, we will be able to create a world within our world that will feel just as real as the reality that we are in now. And then, the possibilities will be endless. It might be hard to imagine but I feel that it is within an arm’s reach. We will experience this in our lifetime.

Interview by Laetitia