Epica, Consign to Oblivion
In my review of Epica’s first album (“We Will Take You With Us”), I complained that the band had overly ambitious lyrics, and that Simons’ voice lack charisma (and to some extent power) sufficient to stand up to the heavy guitars, drums, and death grunts of a metal band. I am happy to report that “Consign to Oblivion” remedies both deficiencies, while providing another example of the band’s remarkable musical composition skills.
Simons has developed further as a rock singer, which requires different technique than her operatic training. In the lower two-thirds or so of her range, she now generates enough power to stand up to the rest of the band. Unfortunately, Simons generally switches to opera in the top third of her range, where her voice can get overwhelmed by all the other things going on. This difference across her range is particularly evident in “Blank Infinity,” where she uses both styles and her full vocal range. Criticisms aside, Simons’ voice remains an essential part of the Epica sound, and she is also growing in her emotive and interpretive skills, adding considerable warmth to the sometimes-cold performance in “We Will Take You With Us.”
Quite a few reviewers object to Mark Jansen’s occasional death growls. In contrast to them, I think these work (and I’m not usually a fan of death growls). Here’s why: Epica uses the growls as part of the composition. He’s not a singer, he’s an instrument. The growls add dark color in appropriate places in a few of the tracks. In this respect, the death growls play a musical role in this album comparable to the lyrical role they played in the previous album, where the terrorists sang in death growls. It works.
Lyrically, “Consign to Oblivion” moves closer to the first rule of writing – - write what you know. Several songs explore personal themes about ambition and life choices. Other songs continue with the interest in terrorism and fundamentalist religion that dominated “We Will Take You With Us.” Yet even these pieces represent an improvement. Instead of lecturing elites, Epica now connects these themes to regular people, which works much better.
The band remains incredibly ambitious. It still peppers its lyrics with Latin, and its cover art evokes Mayan themes and hieroglyphics.
Though I’m not sure that they would classify themselves that way, Epica writes in the tradition of the best progressive rock of the 1970s. Each piece develops one or more musical themes, usually over a period of 7-10 minutes. Most of the pieces involve changes in key and time signature. I don’t know why this should be true, but like Within Temptation, Epica has a fondness for 3/4 ballads and 12/8 uptempo songs, and for triplets even in their 4/4 pieces. Virtually every track is musically interesting, and repays multiple hearings.
It will also grab you from the first. A teen-aged friend of my daughter climbed into the car when I was listening to this album and said after about 15 seconds, “Wow, I love this music! What is it?” Happy will be the day when more Americans discover this Dutch band as she did.