Epica’s newest release, Consign to Oblivion, is a KILLER album. You’re probably thinking that the use of killer to describe a Symphonic Metal album is a little peculiar but I’m sorry, the usual adjectives like magnificent or remarkable fall short here. This is surely the best Symphonic Metal album to be released since Therion`s, double masterpiece Lemuria/Sirius B, amazed everyone in May of last year. But that was last year and this year Epica has taken the torch from the likes of After Forever, Sirenia, Tristania and Penumbra and ran away with it. I would say that Consign to Oblivion is their `Magnum Opus’, except I wouldn’t be surprised to see them top it. This is only their second album and I thought their first, The Phantom Agony, was fabulous and wrote so with my March 4, 2004 review. Far be it, for me to put a limit on Epica’s potential.
Epica’s creative founder, lead guitar player, Mark Jansen, is a former member of Holland’s After Forever. He left them a couple years ago, citing the usual, artistic differences. From my perspective, it looks Mark was right, Epica is soaring, while After Forever is foundering after three mediocre albums.
Epica’s lead singer, Simone Simons, an attractive woman with long flaming red hair is competition to Cristina Scabbia for the most attractive Femme Metal singer but singing wise, she is no Floor Jansen, the exquisite singer for After Forever. Then again, who is? Nevertheless, Simone really isn’t bad. In fact she’s pretty good and has done a commendable job on Consign to Oblivion. The remaining members of Epica’s nuclear family are Ad Sluijter – guitars, Coen Janssen – synths, Yves Huts – bass and Jeroen Simons – Drums and percussion.
Consign to Oblivion
If I were to have a problem at all with this album, which I don’t, it would be the odd choice of name for the album, a rference to the historical oblivion or the empire of the Mayan Indians, which again is the odd choice for the subject matter of this marvelous album but that’s what it is and who am I to second guess so talented composer in the face of such beauty.
1] “Hunab K’u” (a new age dawns prologue), 1:43, Question: What does Epica and `Pirates of the Caribbean’ have in common? Answer: This song. When I hear this instrumental intro, I get visions of `Pirates’ and Johnny Depp, it just seems to have the same feel. This is the first of a four part song “A New Age Dawns” (5 stars)
2] “Dance of fate” 5:13, We get right with it with strong keyboards and nice riffs that lead into Simone’s stronger vocals, which throughout the album are assisted by the seven member `Epica’ choir and the strong symphonic feel that is created by the eight musicians in addition to the band members, the `Epica’ string orchestra. “Dance of Fate” starts out fairly fast, but the pace slows down for Simones vocals an speeds up in between. (4½ stars)
3] “The last crusade” (a new age dawns part 1), 4:22, The choir leads off with soft voices, evolving into to a stronger grouping of voices and a galloping back beat. Simone carries this very lovely composition through this variable paced with a variety of hooks and interesting applications. Oddly the lyrics are in Latin as well as English. (5 stars)
4] “Solitary Ground” 4:24, This is a very nice ballad with a very pleasant harmony. I didn’t think I liked it that that much but repeated listens made me see tha error of my ways. (4½ stars)
5] “Blank infinity” 4:01, Starts with a piano solo before everyone joins in. Blank Infinity is a melodious medium fast tempo piece, with full orchestra, choir backing and Simone Simons. (4 stars)
6] “Force of the shore” 4:02, On track six, the choir has a prominent part including the beginning. This is the first song in which we get to hear Mark Jansens snarling vox, though it is restrained. “Force of the shore” is a variable paced number and has a lot of interaction happening between the band orchestra and the various singers. (4½ stars)
7] “Quietus” 3:47, Track seven seems a little out of place with it’s initial medieval folk melody in a story about ancient Indians, yet it is a powerfully catchy melody, that is carried throughout the song, very nicely by Simone Simons. This is her best work and it was done with little help from the choir. (5 stars)
8] “Mother of light” (a new age dawns part 2), 5:56 A strong song, maybe the best of many great songs. Simone gives us strong deliberate delivery and the choir is also strong. Nice piano interlude, great power drums and strings. Just a wonderful bombastic, epic number. (5 stars)
9] “Trois Vierges” 4:42, Now we go from what may be the most impressive to the least impressive song. To bad too because Trois Vierges is a mediocre ballad, featuring Kamelot’s excellent singer, Roy Kahn guesting in a duet with Simone. (2½ stars)
10] “Another me” “in lack’ech”, 4:40, Another me is a medium tempo meandering, easy going, pleasant composition. Nothing special but a nice break from some of the more dramatic numbers, including setting up the ten minute finale. (4 stars )
11] “Consign to oblivion” 9:45, This lengthly grandiose classic seems to combine the best elements of all the best preceding tracks. Again a movie score feeling, featuring powerful beats and memorable melodies, permeates this great composition performed seemingly ad infitum, with extra strong performances by a growling Mark Jansen, lovely soprano vocals by Simone Simons and all the rest of the orchestra, band and choir finishing up this powerful melancholy song, depicting the end of the Mayan empire. (5 stars)
One thing is irrefutable, Epica’s music is epic, bombastic, highly melodic and cinematic. The fact that it is cinematic, shouldn’t be surprising since Epica has a forthcoming, mostly instrumental album, simply entitled The Score, an album containing `film music`. Mark Jansen himself, has said, “We have a great admiration for people such as Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. They are the major composers of the great Hollywood films of this era. The sound of Epica is a combination of scores and elements from metal and rock.” and Epica’s label, Transmission Records describes their music as, `classical/ film music with the elements of metalrock.’
Now, if I may, I’m going to quote myself from the aforementioned Phantom Agony review from last year, “I like this new direction. It also reminds me, somewhat, of a musical score for a historical movie. I can see myself turning down the sound and playing this album whilst watching The Highwayman or the Count of Monte Cristo, emoting romance, tragedy and adventure. “, so yes, I guess it is movie style music. You know what? I don’t care. If it feels good to my aural senses, that’s what counts and this music is what I like and if you have marveled at the wonderful music in some of your favorite movies like Gladiator and Lord of the Rings, you should too!