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In a genre that is dominated by lush, soulful feminine vocals and fabulous yet predictably orchestral and epic sounds, Epica now seem to be reigning musically and conceptually supreme. Not only have they been steadily progressing as a band with each of their subsequent releases since 'Consign to Oblivion', but they have also dwelt within such sophisticated themes as the importance of Mayan Civilization and the new breakthroughs of quantum physics. It's a unique idea that a band constantly lumped in the same genre boundaries as Within Temptation and Nightwish could even so much as think of creating full-length albums based on such complex concepts, but fortunately for Epica, they make it work. They make it work incredibly well.
Unfortunately, trawling back through the band's expansive (Five albums, and Epica are now hailed as one of the most intellectual symphonic metal bands) discography, it's clear that 'Consign to Oblivion' is arguably their safest effort. Being the shortest album and also the one that features the least amount of harsh vocals and extreme metal influences, you'd be hard-pressed to agree with others that this was anything short of a stunning work. Fear not however, because 'Consign to Oblivion' does indeed have it's excellent moments.
The album's title itself is a synonym for losing one's memory over such important eras of time as the Mayan civilization, which in turn, is more than just a little prominent in the lyrical content of 'Consign...'. Most of the songs here are genuinely well thought out by Simone Simmons and her equally as inventive musical partner Mark Jansen, and judging by each of the songs' lyrics, this is plainly justified. In the powerful “Dance of Fate” and menacing “Force of the Shore” Simmons sings harmonically that “The precious time of your existence is now to come/Don't throw your life away by cheating time/Sugared placebos only fool your mind”, whereas on the latter Mark Jansen grunts that “Appearance is deceptive/So perfect in disguise/There's more than what you see”. These are but two good examples of the lyrical talent in 'Consign to Oblivion', but that's not all. The real meanings behind each of 'Consign...'s songs are quite virtual and strong. Whether it's the destruction of important eras, the importance of ones' true individual self or even the loss of one's own independence as a righteous human being, it's certain that 'Consign...' succeeds in being a uniquely crafted album, albeit one with a penchant for being as grandiose as musically possible.
However, whilst lyrics are one of the instant highlights of Epica's second full-length, it fails to interest any listener musically. Naturally, those who depend on any sub-standard symphonic metal album to satiate their musical tastes will undoubtedly love this one, but for anyone else who has a slight curiosity as to what Epica really do well, they would be advised not to go straight to 'Consign to Oblivion' first. The choruses are instantly memorable, and Simmons' vocal style is decent as always, but what about the instruments themselves? The guitars, drums and bass work never really shine, and consequently act as sounds overshadowed by the grandiose usage of violins, cellos, choir work, and any other piece of orchestral music Epica decided to include on here. It's a weakness that some can oversee, but one that definitely shouldn't be on an album that proclaims itself “symphonic metal”, and instead would be more fitting had it been adapted to a theatrical soundtrack.
Nonetheless, one or two songs do manage to explode via the doomy guitar work, courtesy of Mark Jansen and Ad Sluijter. On the monstrous “Force of the Shore” Jansen provides his harshest vocals ever, and even has a range as well. It all works considerably well as his extreme guitar picking sweeps alongside the harmonic yet brutally classical sounds, giving off a somewhat metal version of Lord of the Rings' own soundtrack. Even on each of the three parts of “A new Age dawns”, guitars and bass are both there to make sure “The last Crusade”, “Mother of Light” and the majestic title track never fail to meet the standards set on 'The Phantom Agony's strongest moments. Speaking of “A new Age dawns”, it is surely the true highlight of 'Consign to Oblivion', simply because it is one of the rare moments where the unexpected comes into play: Jansen's harsh vocals ripping through the lyrics, the harmonic yet powerful melodies providing grandiosity and even Simmons herself showing off her almost high-pitched vocal talents.
As mentioned before, 'Consign to Oblivion' suffers largely from having too many soft, melancholic moments, and just when you think the last few seconds of the horribly dull “Solitary Ground” are giving way to an extremely heavy song such as “Force of the Shore”, “Blank Infinity” arrives unwantedly and ruins any preconceived beliefs that the band might just pick up after such a weak symphonic ballad. The only slow-paced ballad that works on here is perhaps “Trois Vierges” (Apparently French for “Three Virgins”...), which fully embraces the gothic metal influences throughout it's song, and even if the sometimes annoying vocals of both Roy Khan and Simone Simmons let it down slightly, the backing music is something of a marvel itself, in the way that it is so elegantly structured.
In the end, what 'Consign to Oblivion' proves to be is a collection of some of Epica's weakest songs, but also some of the band's best moments too. The ballads and often repetitive “filler material” in “Blank Infinity” and “Another me in Lack'ech” should not really have been included in the same album as the largely epic “A new Age dawns” saga and “Force of the Shore”, but if, surprisingly, you can look past such disappointments, 'Consign to Oblivion' will be a decent offering. Just don’t expect the same quality as on 'Design your Universe'.
Mark Jansen hit the ground running in the immediate aftermath of his brief stint as songwriter of After Forever with a respectable sequel to the band’s aforementioned debut “Prison Of Desire” in the longwinded, somewhat epic heavy “The Phantom Agony”. Having now established himself as independent of his former project, one wouldn’t be out of line in saying that he has eased into his new project and taken a somewhat less frantic approach to constructing an album. “Consigned To Oblivion” is stylistically a clear successor to its predecessor, but its general demeanor is a bit more reserved and catchy. By consequence, it’s actually a bit better as it gives Simone Simons a bit more time to shine and doesn’t get overly stuck on repetitive instrumental sections and spoken parts.
In some respects, this could be likened to a symphonic album that goes the Kamelot route, and this is where any complaints about this album might be justified depending on one’s taste. These songs are largely straight line formatted, hook driven, and carefully crafted for easy digestion. The obvious example that really pulls out the near radio friendly tendencies of this approach is the album’s first single “Quietus”, which plays off a really catchy folk intro and some easily accessible classical clichés and let’s Simone’s angelic vocals do the talking. Similar exercises in easy to follow power metal with a slightly less speedy approach than Rhapsody (Of Fire) include “Dance Of Fate” and “Force Of The Shore”, the former bringing in Mark’s beastly death barks for a spell. The band also does some occasional ventures further down their latent pop/gothic tendencies on “Blank Infinity”, which grooves at a slower tempo and almost sounds like a more guitar happy version of Lacuna Coil.
Collectively, this album gets the job done without losing the attention of its audience, but there is still a general sense of epic leanings that come out full force on a few occasions. The formulaic, to be expected 3 song conceptual series in “A New Age Dawns” is where this comes forth, in similar fashion to the last two works of similar structure in Mark’s history. But things are a bit more compact and the truly bombastic material is saved for the concluding song “Consign To Oblivion”, throwing just about every symphonic metal trick in the book at the listener, from Nightwish to Cradle Of Filth. Mark and Simone’s “beauty and the beast” interchanges are spaced in a sectional fashion, and the former gets a couple of minutes in the latter half of the song to explore a couple of different harsh characters. Special note should also be given to the crooning ballad duet Simone does with Kahn on “Trois Vierges”, which sounds pretty similar to a number of latter day Kamelot ballads where Simone has done guest slots.
While maybe not up to the caliber of a number of highly impressive works in this style a few years back (“Of Wars In Osyrhia” and “Gates Of Oblivion” come to mind), this is among the better representations of this sound circa 2005, a year when the style was going through a brief downturn. It’s about on par with Hamka’s first and, to date, only release, carrying a similar mix of eastern influences and dark guitar sounds without the usual technical displays. Indeed, the primary thing that has been holding this band back is the lack of some stellar lead guitar work to offset the downplaying of the thrashing riff work that has was scaled back on this album. Fans of middle era Nightwish and early Within Temptation will like this; though fans of more technically oriented symphonic power metal may like this if they don’t miss the signature shred sound too much.
I honestly don't know if this genuinely surpasses their Debut, I have given it five more percentage points merely because I like it better. I like it because it does not have Tony Blair talking over it, I like it because the notes are lower and the motifs are darker, and most of all because as a whole it is slightly more coherent and focused than Phantom Agony.
From the start we are granted music that affirms the band's name. It sounds like the theme from a high budget movie about some ancient war than anything else, but when the real music kicks in, it kicks in to an exiting, fast, powerfull series of riffs, drums, themes and vocals that are as fun as the best Nightwish ever made, but as deathly serious as Tristania's typical genuis. Simone is at the top of her form, and the composition and song structure is more mature than Phantom Agony's wild days, now encompasing a more recent notion of classical and symphonic material like Gerschwin or even Weber (The later 'Cats' cover and sound of Divine Conspiracy would add credence to the musical era sound).
There is still a soft song on track 4, though a smarter less pedantic one, there is still a long epic work of different passages and styles at the end, but this time that title track has moments of truly exceptional skill and intensity, earning a Cryptopsy moment with a subtle 8 minute build up, and leaving the album with a cummulative effect that will engage your ears, catch your memory and then slap you down in a masochistic master work of beautiful brutality. This is the darkest a symphonic opera metal album can get before it turns to gothic metal, and the most fun gothic metal can be before it abandond it's claim to gloomy darkness. Above all it is good music, the archetype of operatic symphonic metal, a good start for those interested in the genre and a real treat for those who know it well already.
"Consign to Oblivion" is Epica's second, full-length album. Unlike their debut, "The Phantom Agony", it's far from perfect. I prefer to be unbiased when it comes to music, but you have to compare the two.
The first thing that put me off was the length of most of the songs. They're too short. I prefer an album with a small amount of lengthy tracks, rather than a large amount of short tracks. The reason is that there is more chance to find filler songs in an album with a higher amount of tracks. I know it looks like I'm making a big deal out of two extra tracks, but there are actually 2 songs that are boring and underwhelming; "Quietus" and "Trios Vierges".
Secondly, I hated the fact that growls weren't used very often. I have nothing against Simone's vocals, but without Mark's, there isn't any contrast, like in "The Phantom Agony". Only three songs feature this contrast; "Force of the Shore", "Mother of Light" and "Consign to Oblivion". However, they are very restrained on the first two.
I might have said before that I have nothing against Simone's vocals, but I do. I loved her voice on "The Phantom Agony", although she doesn't sound as operatic as she used to. The only songs were I found Simone's vocals to be up to standard are "Mother of Light" and "Solitary Ground". Not that she sound bad here, but sometimes she sounded a bit too poppy.
Lyrically, they've also weakened. Some songs have really amazing lyrics that make you think, like "Blank Infinity" and "Consign to Oblivion", yet they are balanced out by some songs having very unsatisfactory and repetitive lyrics like "Quietus" and "Another Me".
However, those are small flaws which you would find on any album. The thing that made me prefer their debut over this is the uniformity of each song. There is no sudden change in paces. The only few minor changes that happen all contain Simone singing a few lines, then the pace returns to normal, like "Dance of Fate" and "Mother of Light". On "The Phantom Agony" you couldn't even classify a song as being medium or fast tempo, because the pace changes constantly. Personally, I really loved that, but some people would probably prefer songs that stick to one pace.
To give it a little credit, the music is almost as great as that on "The Phantom Agony", the orchestra is quite satisfactory, and the choir is as good as always. The intros of “Mother of Light” or of “Consign to Oblivion” show that, although the some elements of the album are weak, the musicians are still as awesome as before.
The track which I could classify as being at the same level as "The Phantom Agony", is the title track; "Consign to Oblivion". The track might not apply to everyone, since it features a lot of growls and screams, yet that's the beauty that I find in it; the amazing contrast of vocals. It also contains full choirs and orchestras. It is a beautiful, amazing track. The very last minute is especially stunning since there is the change in singers and where everyone (Mark, Simone and the choir) all join together.
I would suggest this to people listening to Epica for the first time, since songs are much more easy-listening. However, for real great tracks, I'd suggest "The Phantom Agony" over it.
After hearing "The Phantom Agony", I was really excited when I first got my hands on Epica's new album, as I really enjoyed The Phantom Agony and felt it finished off what After Forever - Prison of Desire started nicely. I will try to write an unbiased review.
One thing I must say is this is an excellent production, the production flaws on The Phantom Agony were dealt with on Consign to Oblivion, where Simone's voice became lost in the choirs in parts of songs, and the veil lifted off the grunts (i thought they sounded a bit distant). I also much prefer to listen to this album through my headphones, as it sound alot better and intimate than through speakers.
The Immediate difference I noticed between the two albums at first was how Jeroen Simons (drums) actually worked on the drum pieces with the band on Consign to Oblivion, instead of coming into the band 2 months before the album was recorded and learning drum patterns written by a guitarist (In my opinion the drums were too simple on the first album), and it is easy to see that he has a progressive influence, probably from Ayreon.
Like all Mark Janssen Albums, Consign to Oblivion is a concept album, with three tracks telling the tale of the Fall of the Mayan Empire.
As far as the song strength goes, this album has it in abundance, there are three songs on this album that I think are perfect, and those are Consign to Oblivion, Mother of Light and Force of the Shore, they are also the only three tracks with Grunts in them, but they retain a balance, lyrical entropy and grandeur over the rest of the tracks on the album. No part lingers for too long, no part is too repetitive and I cannot get enough of either track. Quietus, Solitary Ground, Blank Infinity and Dance of Fate are very strong tracks, they just arent as Epic, exciting or involving as the other three. Solitary Ground does have some of the best non-soprano vocals throughout the album on it. The Last Crusade and Another Me "In Lack'ech" are the weakest songs on the album, and these songs themselves are quite strong, although I find myself drifting out of focus a bit during The Last Crusade and Another Me is a tad repetitive.
Trois Vierges is a duet between Simone, and Roy Khan of Kamelot made for the Dutch movie Joyride. I am not really judging this track as it was placed on the album as a bit of a sneak-peek into Epica's later 2005 album The Score, which was composed entirely of film music. I feel that Roy and Simone are quite synergetic when singing together in vocal tone, and also the orchestration and atmospheric keys in this track are very placid, it was also placed in a very nice spot on the album at track 9, leaving a very melancholic ending with Another Me and Consign to Oblivion.
This is one of the strongest Gothic Metal albums I have heard, quite bombastic overall, and it doesnt have that "dark or eerie feeling" like most other Gothic Metal albums do. One of the best in the genre today, a must have for any fan of female vocal and/or Beauty and Beast Metal.
Apart from other Gothic Metal-bands that spawned in the Netherlands, Epica manages to make both overwhelming and emotional music. Their first album 'The Phantom Agony' was more like a rehearsal for the new 'Consign To Oblivion'. The first album contained some excellent songs (eventough the lyrics weren't that great) and with the new album, Epica seems to have found their way.
I must say my expectations were very high for this one, as I saw Epica performing on Graspop in Belgium in 2004, where they did a great job. Especially the live vocals surprised me, which is not so usual for a Gothic Metal-band (cfr Within Temptation - they really suck live).
When I listended to 'Consign To Oblivion' the first time, my expectations were fulfilled immediately.
The intro is really stunning. Some might say it has more to do with a movie-theme, but I'd say this is the perfect intro for an album like this.
What I liked most about the first album were the choirs, which they seem to have developped in a majestic way on the second album, eventhough these choirs sometimes push the guitar-work to the back, which is a pity. But you can't have it all, isn't it?
This band's female vocals are in my opinion a breakthrough in Gothic Metal. There's a lot of power in it and the operatic tone is an example for all female metal singers. And as I said before, it sounded the same live. Combined with the harsh male vocals, you get a paradoxal mix of good and evil.
The only thing Epica has to work on are the lyrics, which weren't that great on the first album, and neither on this one. For example, nobody expects an ode to the 9/11 victims (with all respect) while listening to such a bombastic Gothic Metal-album. The kind of music Epica makes might suit better with fantasy-themes I think. But anyway, this doesn't harm the beautiness of the album at all, as every word is spoken or sang the way it should be.
To finish, I must say that if there's one Gothic Metal-album you should buy, it's this one!