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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Epica- Consign to Oblivion

Band: Epica

Source: Wikipedia
Album: Consign to Oblivion

Year: 2005

Score: 8.1/10

“One of their Better Albums”

I’d be lying if I said I was the biggest Epica fan.  I enjoy everything they’ve done, yet I don’t feel that anything they have done is absolutely spectacular.  There are usually a few songs per album that I like, but never the final product.  Consign to Oblivion is one of two exceptions (the other being The Divine Conspiracy), where the finished product is a rather strong album with many standouts.

Consign to Oblivion has the most intriguing and the prettiest melodies of any Epica album.  The orchestration is brilliant, and most of the songs are more theatrical and epic than on any of their other albums.  One HUGE positive is that the death growls are largely reduced on Consign to Oblivion.  It’s not that I mind death growls (I like them in most bands), but most of Epica’s growls are very weak.  They are weak in execution and poor in placement.  I largely prefer the choirs and semi-operatic vocals of Simone Simons to the growls.   The main downfall of the album is that it is predictable and fairly simplistic where the metal aspect of the music is concerned.  The arrangements are also relatively simple, that is, the songs don’t venture far beyond the verse-chorus-verse format.  While this by itself isn’t bad, I would have liked to see more structural experimentation.  Especially since similar bands (early Nightwish, the Gathering, and even After Forever) have flirted with more complex structures and dynamics.  I honestly think that the musicians in Epica are very gifted and capable, but there needs to be a bit more variety within the songs.  I will say, however, that Epica has a good formula on this one.  For most of the songs, the simple combination of strong verses and powerful choruses works very well.

From an instrumental standpoint the album is decent.  As with most of Epica’s work, the blend of orchestral and metallic elements is what makes the album listenable.  The guitars are done well; the riffs are rhythmic and precise and, thus, end up being better than one would anticipate.  However, there aren’t any guitar solos; most of the lead melodies are delivered by the keys, orchestra, and vocals.  For a symphonic metal band, the bass is good.  Surprisingly audible at times, it’s a steady force in the songs.  Aside from that, there’s not much to say about it.  The bass did get better on Epica’s future work.  The drums are much like the guitars and bass; that is, they are precise but not terribly impressive.   Concerning the drums, there’s nothing to complain about but there’s nothing that stands out either.  The keyboards are done in a standard symphonic metal way.  They provide a lot of melody in some songs, but in others they are hardly noticeable amongst the symphonic elements.  The vocals in the album might be the best part.  While Simons has never been my favorite singer, she always does a good job.  One of her greatest strengths is the versatility in her voice.  She can go from a more operatic style to a lighter, poppier style.  Speaking of which, she uses her operatic voice a lot more on Consign to Oblivion than on Epica’s later albums.  Her vocals are also a lot better on Consign to Oblivion than on their debut.  The other most impressive aspect of the album is the orchestration.  The lush symphonic backdrops complement the guitars very well.  So far, Epica has been one of the only bands to utilize an orchestra that actually adds something worthwhile to the songs.  Consign to Oblivion is no exception to this trend; the symphonic elements are enjoyable in every single song.

As far as the individual songs go, Consign to Oblivion simply has the highest number of quality songs for any Epica album.  Nearly all of the songs are very memorable, something that I can’t say about the majority of Epica’s albums.  After a purely symphonic intro entitled “Hunab K’u” (it’s actually their best little intro song), the album kicks into gear with “Dance of Fate”.  Already, we have one of the standout songs- an ultra-melodic piece filled with big hooks and clever passages.  “The Last Crusade” follows; it’s not really as good as the previous song.  But it is a good listen and has some well performed shifts in dynamics.   Unfortunately, the album takes a downward turn with “Solitary Ground”.  It’s a ballad.  While it’s fairly emotive, it ultimately falls flat as there’s nothing unique about it.  Not even the arrival of heavy guitars in the middle of the song save it from being simply boring.  The intro of “Blank Infinity” leads the listener to believe that it will be like the previous song but, luckily, it is a solid symphonic metal piece with a good chorus.  It doesn’t quite reach the glory of “Dance of Fate”, but it is a fine listen anyway. 

The second half of the album begins with the surprisingly good “Force of the Shore”.  Contrary to what I’ve mentioned before, the growls are actually tolerable in this piece.  It’s one of the very best on the album, featuring grand melodies and catchy passages.  The singing, above all, is lovely and well accomplished.  “Quietus” is one of the famous songs, and actually one of my favorites.  I love the piano at the beginning; overall, it’s just an irresistible catchy song.  “Mother of Light”, regrettably, ends up falling flat.  It’s not bad, just not particularly memorable.  “Trois Vierges” is especially disappointing, for the sole reason that it’s another ballad.  It’s an important song, however, because Roy Khan (formerly of Kamelot) sings on it.  Both Khan and Simons give a great performance, but the song is simply weak (much like “Solitary Ground”).  It’s not quite as bad as that song, as it does have an interesting feel and atmosphere to it.  For the end of the album, things pick up in an excellent way.  The penultimate song on the album, “Another Me in Lack’ech”, is the absolute best of the album.  While I cannot definitively say it is my favorite from the band, it grows on me every time I listen to it.  This song, to me, is really what all Epica songs should sound like.  Everyone should listen to “Another Me in Lack’ech”, even if they don’t listen to the rest of the album.  The closing song of the album is, of course, the epic title track.  It honestly has the best orchestration of the whole album.  Ultimately, it ends up being one of the better tracks (though not as good as pieces like “Force of the Shore”, “Quietus and “Another Me in Lack’ech”).  It is also one of the band’s best epics, being far better than “The Divine Conspiracy” and “Kingdom of Heaven” from later albums.

Overall, Consign to Oblivion is one of the best (if not the absolute best) Epica albums.  It’s quite a good listen.  While it does fall flat in some areas, it is still an advisable listen.  This will certainly appeal to fans of the symphonic metal genre, and probably to fans of power metal too as long as they can tolerate a female voice.  There are many strong songs throughout the course of the album, perhaps more than any other Epica album. Consign to Oblivion is recommended, but not essential.  It’s a solid listen.

Best songs:  “Another Me in Lack’ech”, “Dance of Fate”, “Force of the Shore”, “Quietus”, “Blank Infinity”, and “Consign to Oblivion”.

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