Evil Dr. Smith : Busy times for the Epica fan. A few months ago there was this DVD/DC release 'We Will Take You With Us' - with re-recordings for a radio broadcast and the 'Memories' cover from the musical 'The Cats' - and now we have this new studio album 'Consign To Oblivion', an already started European tour (with Kamelot and Kotipelto), and there's also the soundtrack for the Dutch roadmovie 'Joyride', written and recorded mainly by Mark Jansen, awaiting them.
Let's pick out the most important part of all this: their new album. Already recorded last Summer, but due to a hi-tech mastering in the Dutch Polyhymnia Studios (normally a studio for classical music and the biggest Dutch contemporary pop musicians), it took a bit longer than expected. But the results made it worth the wait. Epica does honour to its name. This second album is probably even more bombastic than predecessor 'The Phantom Agony'. The format is basically the same - gothic metal - but the details became much richer. A small choir and orchestra (whether or not dubbed to a massive, grotesque choir/orchestra) and the production team Sascha Paeth and Miro (Rhapsody) are present again and leave their mark on the sound, but the music is more atmospheric and less riff orientated. It also sounds better: it's more fluid and better played.
Intro 'Hunab K'u' starts like a Victorian victory in a spectacle movie where Ben Hur and The Gladiator fistfight with each other. 'Solitary Ground' is just like their Memories' cover a prolific proof that the band is influenced by the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and although there's normally plenty of reason to reject these influences completely, this is one of those scarce exceptions. Something you cannot say of the other musical influenced song on this album. 'Trois Vierges' is a duet between Simone Jansen and Kamelot vocalist Roy Khan, but this ballad ends up in hideous sticky mucilage that will drown every rose in a bucket full of snot. It's the only dissonant on this album where Simone proves she's more than just an adorable looking young woman. Her voice on 'The Phantom Agony' was not really mature: her mezzo-soprano just sounded not completely convinced and was laying a bit prefabricated on the music, instead of dynamically and organically mixed into it. Two years later she sounded brilliant. She's also started to sing very various, so you year more than mezzo-sopranos. You may find some vocal similarities now with Within Temptation and Evanescence (like 'Another Me' or the single 'Solitary Ground'), but Simone's voice is strong and rich enough to withstand the test. Because of the production team and the type of music you can resemble this album to the powermetal project 'Aina', yet Epica is stronger in composing and arranging, and the lyrics (dealing mainly with the Maya culture) are also more interesting than fairytales. Finally Mark's chocolate milk-grunt is present again, and although it's less frequent as before, the growls are more terrifying than ever and made you think of Orphanage's George in his best moments.
Because of the choir's and orchestra's big shares on this album, the music sounds more cinematographic and musical-like than before. It makes the album more enjoyable to listen to, although the youngest fans and shallow listeners might think there's a lack of brutal riffing and catchy tunes to sing-along with. This album is, just as the last album from Mark Jansen's previous band After Forever, more an album to listen to with your headphones, instead of learning some lyrics by heart and cry your heart out during some live performances. Did I say headphones? Make it five speakers that surround you, because Epica will release this album also in a 5.1 mix (with three bonus tracks) and that version implodes you to smithereens.