Review Summary: Playing it safe with some of the weakest songs in their discography, Epica save 'Consign to Oblivion' from being a disaster by providing an interesting concept backed by a powerful albeit sometimes uninteresting Orchestra.
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 ones' 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 unwontedly 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'.