Epica – Consign To Oblivion
31/03/2005 § Leave a comment
Epica’s songs have so far concentrated on the strength of the individual, confidence in personal ability and the need for overcoming imaginary boundaries. However, something has now changed in the transition between The Phantom Agony and the rather awkwardly-titled Consign To Oblivion. No longer do we have Mark and Simone – the Sonny and Cher of Gothic Metal – preaching to us about excellence, politics and pathos, but eleven nebulous songs inspired by the Latin backwash of Mexico, as Epica take a slightly different, and not altogether unwelcome new tack. Consign To Oblivion is a bit of an unusual album. Not because the title or the artwork don’t make sense [I suppose no-one said they had to], but because it was rushed out a year and a half after The Phantom Agony, and as a result there’s something not quite right about the album’s sound. It’s the sound of a square peg being pushed into a round hole, of an oversized bung being shoved into a bottleneck, needless to say, it just doesn’t fit together properly. Epica should never rush their sound, but Consign To Oblivion does unfortunately feel a little bit strained, and the result isn’t quite as satisfying as before.
Nevertheless, Epica have far from lost their magic touch and Consign To Oblivion is nothing like a bad album. It may be stuffed to Christmas-size portions with a little too much pretentiousness and not enough irony, but it’s still an enjoyable Gothic Metal romp. The old style has not changed one bit and a lot of the time the band are just recycling the old ideas and preconceptions about what Gothic Metal should be, since the younger members of the scene drink it up as if they were on the verge of some national drought. It’s no surprise that Transmission have been all too keen to release another Gothic-Metal-by-numbers cluster, especially since for a lot of people, Epica seem to be overshadowing After Forever in some kind of sick and twisted metal mutiny.
The album starts off as we would expect any Epica album to start, with some classical-esque intro. The only problem, apart from the token Inca reference, is that it really doesn’t sound as if it is played on classical instruments. If we hark back to the days of Ex Cathedra or even Adyta, you could hear the strokes of the bows on the strings, rather than the clumsy clumping of fingers on keys to attain a similar effect this time round. The overall result, employing ‘horns’ and not just ‘strings’, ends up sounding like something off the soundtrack to Jurassic Park in all its jolly buoyancy. Soon enough it trills to a close before Dance Of Fate begins, also exhibiting a similar lack of classical instrumentation, and instead of our ears being caressed by the sheer brushes of violin sounds as is clearly the intention, the first few bars end up sounding like the main melody is being played by a bunch of gypsies on squeezeboxes. However, though this start to the album is somewhat disheartening, the theme thankfully doesn’t continue. Dance Of Fate and The Last Crusade are both perfectly respectable songs and very listenable, although retaining that new bouncy feeling that Epica seem to be so proud of on this album. There are fewer tempo skips, fewer choir members, fewer clever chord progressions; the entire edifice is just more simple and more likeable, though less daring and less devilish.
The real challenge comes on Solitary Ground, probably one of the softest songs that Epica have produced and one gets the feeling that they’re a little proud of it. The melody is soft and effective, but unfortunately it really shows up the limitations in Simone’s voice, especially when this is the kind of number that should show off her talents as a singer. She has undergone some vocal ‘training’ this time round and the result, though not being bad, is less favourable than on The Phantom Agony. It is less operatic and more clean, and it doesn’t sound as if she’s singing in her natural voice at all. She can’t relax into the music since her mind seems to be ticking over a lot of the time with regard to what she’s supposed to be doing from quaver to quaver. Still, after this the album seems to find its centre more, with the rather affable Quietus; Blank Infinity, which is one of the more instantly enjoyable songs; Mother of Light and the token 10-minute number, Consign To Oblivion, which is actually the weakest song on the album since it tries to be big and clever but ends up being a little unconvincing and forced.
I was expecting Consign To Oblivion to be an energetic, bombastic Gothic Metal explosion and in some ways it is. The production is a little weaker than on The Phantom Agony, though not enough to debilitate the album; the singing is a little weak and the death vocals are extremely sparse, being in only three songs. It is very much a Simone-dominated album. Transmission clearly saw The Phantom Agony take off into the stratosphere and decided that Epica were the future, so this album has been finely chiselled to make it even more likeable to even the coy metal softies out there. However, the main problem with the album is none of these points, but the embarrassing lack of development that Epica have shown in their songwriting. Consign To Oblivion is so similar to The Phantom Agony, you’d almost want to call it The Phantom Agony Mark II, but on examination you’d be hard pressed to since the sound production, chord and song-structures are quite unadventurous, so it actually feels like a bit of a step back, an inferior work to its predecessor.
However, before people start crying over their PCs and feeling like their favourite pet has just died, it should be made clear that Consign To Oblivion does one thing very well, and that is delivering many enjoyable Gothic Metal moments which you could listen to over and over again. There’s no bad music here, and on the surface the overall effect of the album is really quite pleasurable. However, deep down we all know that Epica are an inventive band and extremely creative, but this album doesn’t show these talents off. I’m sure they have the strength and the potential to write even more innovative music, but due to what is clearly some pressure on the part of Transmission to shove another album out onto the shelves quickly, there’s none of it here. Consign To Oblivion should have been an album of eleven great tracks, not merely eleven good tracks, and it really shows that the band should be given the chance to develop their music and experiment. If this freedom is not given to them and the stranglehold is retained, the genre is in danger of losing one of its most valued contributors.