Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Illuminandi - In Via (2010)

Sometimes I just love being wrong.  Mind you, I rather enjoy being right, and revel in the knowledge that I had the answer the first time, or that I knew something before others so I could have that joyous moment of "I told you so."  However, as a human being, I also recognize the importance of failure: growth and humility.  So as I stumble through my meager existence, I understand the need to fall on my face once in a while in utter failure so I can learn from those experiences and grow as a person, as well as grow in my faith.  It is these failures that shape & define us, ultimately helping us to grow closer to God in our walk with Him.

So how does that apply to Illuminandi?  I had first heard of them a few years back and checked out their Myspace page, as is the now standard way of looking into a band.  Even if a band sounds really raw up front, usually this is enough to see some potential.  For whatever reason, the demo tracks the band had up didn't impress me.  At all.  Despite some friends telling me that this was a good up-coming group, that first listen was discouraging and the band suddenly fell far enough off my radar that I didn't think about them again until I heard about the "Illumina Tenebras Meas" EP coming out.  Even then I recalled how unimpressed I was with the demo tracks, and didn't think much of it.  Fast forward to a year later, and I heard "Hymn Of All Creation" on a friend's radio show, and was blown away.  Was this the same band that had put out the somewhat poor quality demos I'd heard a year or so prior?  Surely not!  But after looking into it I realized the growth that they had from those early demos to the EP.

So after months of wrangling and sorting through my ever-growing CD "want list", I finally picked up the EP, and it's quite good.  Better than good, I'd say.  Thus, my initial fears were assuaged and I was delighted to find out how wrong I was.  Imagine my surprise, then, when a few weeks later I got an e-mail from the band requesting a review of their latest full-length release (yet to be released at the time of the e-mail) "In Via".  I was more than pleased to add it to my review queue, and even more excited once I started listening to the material and realize even more how wrong I was about the band initially.

What I find inspiring with this release is just how polished the whole package sounds.  The sound is crisp and clear, the instruments are all well produced and proportional (save for the bass guitar, the usual casualty in metal recordings), and the levels are also appropriate for instrumental versus vocals so that it's loud and heavy enough to please fans, but still allows the vocals to shine through.  Whereas their earlier material was more squarely in the gothic extreme metal genre, this branches out a bit more, including a lot more folk influence (with violins and other stringed instruments) to interplay with the more metallic backbone.  In addition, the band brings in other influences as well - there is some mild traditional doom in there, a sprinkling of hardcore and metalcore (some breakdown-like elements in a couple spots), and dare I say a bit of a mainstream-conscious smattering of influences from the likes of mid-period Paradise Lost.  It all adds up to a highly melodic, highly listenable mixture of folk, rock, metal, and gothic sounds melding together to form a fairly cohesive whole.  Nothing sounds out of place, even the aforementioned hardcore influences; it all blends together contextually to make sense.

Instrumentally, this album is a joy.  Everything sounds crisp and clear, the mix is really good, and the production values really shine.  Guitar sound is varied and interesting, ranging from crunchy riffing and thick guitar sounds to a less gritty tone in the high notes.  There is a fair amount of groove in many of the tracks, more so than many bands of this genre outside of the mainstream wanna-be "goths" playing in heavy rock bands that populate rock radio as of this writing.  Guitar solos are not ever present here, as with much gothic-styled metal, but rather the occasional accent.  There are a couple spots where a cleaner guitar sound is utilized, and it works well with the music, despite being a bit of a departure.  Bass is more apparent here than in much metal, having both that background rumble as well as having some definition and real audible notes.  On a good audio system, the bass really comes across well, adding a good layer.  The symphonic instruments sound great, giving that slightly folky feel to some of the material.  Drumming is varied as well, switching it up between slow and steady "rock" style drumming to a full-on attack when necessary, and being careful not to overpower the songs, but to instead be an integral part of the material.  Vocals often have a typical lower-end gothic metal sound, with a real "throaty" feel to them.  Some parts are nicely overdubbed to give them a more "full" sound as well.  Death metal growls are sprinkled throughout, sometimes being the dominant vocal style within a song, other times just providing additional texture or effect.  There are some times when a bit more of a spoken/shouted hardcore vocal is utilized (like in "Wejdz"), but it doesn't feel like the modern hardcore shouts, having more of a 90's groove metal kind of vibe.

So all this sounds like a winning combination, right?  For the most part, yes.  Obviously for me not knowing the Polish language, some of the lyrics will always elude me until such time that an English translation is made available online.  While the songs are catchy and enjoyable, they're not quite as memorable overall as I had hoped.  That said, this is still a fine album that fans of the band will readily enjoy, and fans of the gothic/folk metal genres in general will also have plenty here to love.  With such skilled instrumentalists I would have liked to hear the band branch out even further, with a few more guitar solos, as well as perhaps even more folk influences here and there.  But as it stands, "In Via" is successful in melding gothic and folk metal with a decidedly accessible bent, and they will likely grow their audience as a result.  Recommended.


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