Omen turned 15! Complete story

On 16 February 2024, Omen celebrates its anniversary: the single’s release on that day 15 years ago marked a new era in The Prodigy’s fortunes, becoming one of the most recognizable and sought-after hits of the band’s career, alongside Breathe and Firestarter. To mark the anniversary of the first single from Invaders Must Die, we tell the full story behind the track and delve into rare first-hand details.

With over 100 million plays on Spotify alone, ‘Omen’ is a true 2000s hit that hasn’t left the band’s live setlist since 2009. However, it was not originally created in the form familiar to fans, having undergone lots of changes along the way.

Liam Howlett started working on ‘Omen’ with British multi-instrumentalist and music producer Tim Hutton in 2006: the original tune sounded completely different. The very first version was officially called Writing On The Wall (which is how it is registered in music licensing databases). It was occasionally mentioned by Tim himself, and Howlett was quite open with Neko about it.

Writing On The Wall: a screenshot from two music licence databases

Neko: And you said earlier something about two versions of Omen?

Liam: Yeah, basically, the way I was writing this album, it wasn’t like I did for Fat of The Land, where it was like, wrote a tune, finished it, next. With this record, I wrote something, got a bit bored of it, wrote something else. And, that was the way a lot of the tracks were recorded, I had these different ideas.

And originally, ‘Omen’ was on a completely different piece of music. It was on a – it would be interesting actually to put that old version up, because it is completely different. It’s got the same vocal in it, but it’s got a different key to the music. But we really liked the vocal. When we got towards the end, sort of three quarters through the record, I was like “I really like this vocal and I could see what the actual tune had to sound like”.

It’s also important to note that the vocal part on ‘Writing On The Wall’, which Howlett talks about so enthusiastically, was apparently done by Hutton himself! First of all, on this first demo only Liam and Tim are credited as writers – Maxim and Keith are not mentioned. Secondly, Hutton himself, listing his own credits on his official website, says that he ‘co-wrote the single Omen (on which he sang)’.

In fact, that first demo tape might well have remained on the shelf among dozens of other unreleased Howlett demos if Hutton hadn’t, in his own words, reminded Liam of it a few months later – he’d mentioned this detail while chatting with one of All Souvenirs’ mates a few years ago.

Liam for Time Out Dubai: It’s a tune we love. Very anthemic, more melodic than our usual stuff and kind of like ‘Breathe’ [from The Fat Of The Land], with its seething energy. ‘Omen’ is typical of how we worked on this album: we’d do something and then come back to it a few months later.

BBC Radio 1, world radio premiere of ‘Omen’ (12 January 2009)

Unlike any of the band’s previous work, ‘Omen’ was the closest they had come to a conventional pop song structure: a clear, melodic vocal refrain, a bright, recognisable synth hook and a phat beats – a concise form that kept the focus on the song as a whole, rather than the lyrics or arrangement alone. It was this move that brought The Prodigy the attention they deserved: for the first time in 12 years, the band’s track was a genuine commercial breakthrough again, returning them to the world charts and securing the attention of major media outlets.

In the Invaders Must Die track-by-track interview, Liam echoes this thought: ‘To me it’s got probably the borderline of, the limit of, like, ‘The Prodigy meets song’. Maxim also notes that it was a serious challenge for him to make his vocals more melodic. According to the boys, the track shows the journey they have taken over the last 5 years, from 2004 to 2009: Omen is about how the band went through hard times and how they dealt with them.

Liam probably felt that the band needed radio hits after the experimental Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, and the track was written on the principle of pop songs, with the ghostwriter (Tim Hutton) working on the lyrics and the producer in the person of Howlett himself writing the arrangement. James Rushent also played an important part in the creation of the track – the singer of Does It Offend You, Yeah? produced the record with Liam.

    Sample: synth break (at 0:16 and throughout)
    Sample source: nicStage – RMX_UpDownBit5(Loop)

Talking of arrangements, curiously, alongside the canonical drum loop from When The Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin and other relatively well-known sounds, Howlett also used a sample created by a literally unknown enthusiast, Nic Stage – who, within a year of the album’s release, had been approached by The Sunday Times and other high-profile media.

The Sunday Times: Nic Stage is a 27-year-old customer-service technician from Wisconsin. He lives with his wife and young son, and spends his working days answering the phone and his weekends playing computer games. Last year, this softly spoken self-confessed geek was also involved in a somewhat surprising collaboration with the Prodigy. Look through the credits on the Invaders Must Die album — worldwide sales of more than 1m, No 1 in the UK, Top 3 in Russia, Germany and Australia — and you will see his name.

Initially, however, Nick’s authorship was nowhere to be found on the first original editions of the single and album: after accidentally discovering his sample in Omen, Stage contacted The Prodigy’s management and they promptly cleared up any misunderstandings.

Nic Stage for The Sunday Times: Unfortunately, The Prodigy didn’t credit me, so I decided to get in touch. When I spoke to their management, they sounded pretty worried… I’m sure they thought I was going to sue. Some friends did tell me to get a lawyer involved, but I wasn’t interested in money. I just wanted to tell them about Freesound. They were from the old world — the record-company world — and I wanted to tell them about the new world. Profit is not Freesound’s primary motive.

In the original forum thread, Nick also revealed some details. Mike Champion, The Prodigy’s manager at the time, clarified with him exactly how authorship should be credited on future covers and offered to send copies of the current album and the ‘Omen’ single to show the changes. He also offered Stage tickets to a gig near him – Nick was quite pleased with the feedback. With the release of Invaders Must Die (Special Edition) in November 2009, the changes were incorporated into the album booklet.

Probably due to the fact that the track was in the making for a good two years, at least three different official versions have been released: a conventional ‘break-beat’ sound on the single (this mix can also be heard in the official music video), an album version with a straight 4/4 drum beat, and an album reprise – probably a tribute to their own tradition of releasing atmospheric tracks like Climbatize on their albums to give you a breather between the strong fast bangers. And that’s not counting the official remixes and a couple of live-only versions!

Interestingly, a sort of interim ‘dub’ version of the track surfaced online in 2019, combining elements of both Omen Reprise and the full mix – the recording is completely devoid of drums. We spoke to Hutton at the time, and he assured us that this wasn’t the very first version he and Howlett started working on in 2005/2006. ‘It sounds like a very early mix of the album version, before Liam added the drums and the rest of the parts’, he wrote.

Tim Hutton for All Souvenirs: [The original] was in a different key and possibly a little bit slower. I can’t remember what key or what BPM. There were a lot of scraps of ideas around and that was the most fully formed one, I thought.

A lot of people will remember the Beat 55 live jam from 2008, where the xylophone melody from Omen was occasionally played, but contrary to popular belief, the track didn’t even have a rough structure and was played differently almost every time – often without the xylophone.

Check out our insights behind the ‘2008 Pre-Invaders times:

Howlett also used a Virus TI Polar synthesizer from Access Music, as well as other products from the same manufacturer, to record the track (as well as the other tunes on the album) – this has been confirmed by Marc Schlaile himself, the director of Access.

Interestingly, Liam also used the default presets of Logic, the software he wrote and mixed part of the album on. On ‘Omen’ you can clearly hear the lead from Logic’s EXS24 sampler – the patch is called Syn Oct Lead. You can hear it most clearly in the reprise, where it doesn’t overlap with other parts.

The track was completed in early winter and The Prodigy unveiled it to the public on 7 December 2008 at the Carling Academy in Liverpool. Both fans and media were extremely positive about the new material, clearly hungry for the phat Howlett beats and eruption of his distorted bass.

The Telegraph: At least half their set was drawn from forthcoming album Invaders Must Die, and new numbers such as Omen, World’s on Fire and Warriors Dance have the energised moody tribal bounce of their best-loved material.

By the way, there is a possibility that the decision to release ‘Omen’ as the first single from the forthcoming album came shortly after the live premiere of the track. This conclusion can be drawn from Liam’s words in an interview for Japanese Future Groove magazine. When asked why Omen was released as the album’s lead single, Howlett was unequivocal.

Liam for Future Groove:: ‘We wanted to choose a song that shows we’ve made progress as a single. I think there are three or four songs on this album that could be singles, but when we played ‘Omen’ live…’

Keith for Future Groove:: ‘The reaction was really good’.

Liam for Future Groove:: ‘Omen’ is an anthemic song and I love that about it. This track is a little different from our previous tunes’.

The first promo CDs were released in late 2008 on The Prodigy’s fledgling label, entitled Take Me To The Hospital. Omen’s promo artwork, created by Luke Insect, differed from the final cover and looked much less flashy, with a barely visible faces on a dark background. The tracklisting was also different: the eponymous one-track single featured the 3:19 radio edit (the same breakbeat mix used in the video), and the five-track ‘Invaders Must Die’ Album Sampler featured the same version in full length, at 3:36.

According to Wikipedia, the single was officially announced on 9 January 2009 in a special newsletter and the track had its world radio premiere on 12 January. At 19:00 London time, Liam, Maxim and Keith appeared on BBC Radio 1 for two hours. Hosted by Zane Lowe, the boys played their favourite music, discussed new album releases and chatted about their own fresh tunes and upcoming LP.

Liam Howlett for Zane Lowe: ‘This is Omen coming up. We’ve just played this track on a tour. Went really well, really happy with it, really proud of it! It’s the first proper release of our new album, Invaders Must Die’

Keith Flint for Zane Lowe: ‘Good things come to those who wait! That’s the hottest track in the world right now: The Prodigy, Omen. Maxim and myself on vocals. Just been rocking it on our UK Tour, we know you’ve been lovin that one!’

The video was unveiled a week after the BBC broadcast: it was officially uploaded to YouTube on 19 January 2009. It was again directed by Paul Dugdale and was his second full-length work for the band after ‘Invaders Must Die’ music video, apart from short concert vids and sketchy road movies from the tour on The Prodigy’s YouTube channel. It is worth noting that working with The Prodigy was the first major project of Paul’s career: by his own admission he had done nothing of note before, and he caught the band’s attention by showing them sloppy videos shot with a cheap handheld camera – it was this direct style that got them all hooked.

The plot of the video is quite simple: The Prodigy play their most powerful live gig, while a peculiar little girl, as if from The Ring, plays a xylophone melody right in the hall in the midst of a roaring crowd near the scene. The video ends with a man probably trying to figure out what a child is doing at a rave, scaring the hell out of a screaming dysmorphed girl’s face, a clear reminiscence of horror movie aesthetics. The live footage was captured at the Brixton Academy in December 2008.

The first single version of the track was used again in the video, but apparently Howlett still couldn’t decide on the final mix for the album – and eventually the 4/4 beat version made it onto the LP, which was released on 23 February.

Liam Howlett for Clash Music: ‘It’s hard to do something that is right for all aspects, live, on the record… I’m totally happy with this one for the record, it’s perfect, but I know that the live versions will be different on some of them. So I expect to tweak them and bring new life to them. The album version of ‘Omen’ is different to the single version – just some of the beats. The groove is the same and I love doing that’.

The track came out as an iTunes exclusive on the evening of 7 February 2009, 9 days before its official release, and was finally dropped everywhere on 16 February – becoming The Prodigy’s tenth Top 10 UK Singles Chart hit and winning the Kerrang! Award for Best Single. In 2009, the song peaked at number 68 on the Triple J Hottest 100, becoming The Prodigy’s fifth track to appear on the annual chart after Voodoo People, Breathe, Firestarter and Funky Shit.

Official cover for ‘Omen’ in Germany. Design: Luke Insect

In Germany the single was released under the title ‘O’ instead of the usual ‘Omen’ – according to, the German 90’s dance band Magic Affair sued The Prodigy because they also had a hit single with the same title. The Germans won the case and the conflict was resolved by renaming the release. Anyway, it has nothing to do with sampling or other details of music production.

Various editions of the single in 2009 included official remixes by Noisia, Chase & Status and Herve, and 14 years after its release, in 2023, British grime trio PENGSHUi also unleashed an unexpected remix – their work only appeared on the vinyl edition of Invaders Must Die Remixes, released exclusively for Recordstore Day.


Without any prior promotion, Omen (PENGSHUi Remix) was officially released digitally on all platforms for the first time on 23 February 2024. With this release, The Prodigy celebrated the 15th anniversary of ‘Invaders Must Die’ LP, which was released on the same day in 2009.

The cover artwork for the single was done by the aforementioned Luke Insect: it basically continued the storyline of the music video. The acid green artwork featured a blonde girl and her faithful companion, a dog. The font used for the title, as well as the band’s new logo, also seems to have been designed by Luke himself.

Looking ahead, we can also say that Liam’s love for the track hasn’t waned over the years, and from time to time he has continued to change the arrangement of the track specifically for third party projects. For example, on 12th January 2015, a video titled LONDON // OUTLAW was uploaded to YouTube…

In the video, Magnus Walker, former fashion designer and current car collector, drives around the British capital in a Porsche that once belonged to Liam Howlett himself! The backing track is a modified arrangement of the Omen Reprise, which Howlett reworked especially for this video. The official name of this version of the track is Reprize.

All in all, ‘Omen’ was a real breakthrough for The Prodigy: it is instantly memorable and still opens up the band to people who are completely unfamiliar with their tunes (as evidenced by the recent Reddit threads searching for the track based on the sparse description) – isn’t that a popular accolade?

Is This Music? Review: It really hits you between the eyes and doesn’t overstay its welcome – a cardinal sin committed by so many singles and albums these day. With its raw riffs and sparkly keyboard parts, it also shows a much rockier side to The Prodigy. This, in turn, bodes well for their upcoming live shows and, with such venom and fire, reminds you why you liked them in the first place.

Within a week of the single’s release, the ‘Invaders Must Die’ LP topped the world charts and returned the band to the success that had eluded them for over a decade…

Headmaster: SPLIT
Additional thanks to: Sixshot, Tim Hutton


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