Review Summary: Illusion Suite returns with one of this year’s best progressive metal albums
Illusion Suite’s debut showed much promise, but never really made any worthwhile impact in the progressive metal scene. Five years have passed since then and now the band returns more potent than ever. All the strong suits from their debut is developed and brought further. The Iron Cemetery is more focused, harder hitting and showcase the band’s personal characteristics in full fruition. The songs are shorter and focused on strong songwriting as opposed to lengthy instrumental craziness. That being said, there is more than enough going on to keep up the interest of the listeners. Especially the heavy use of keyboards add a unique atmosphere and technical details that makes you want for more when the album clocks in at a mere 38 minutes. Whereas the debut was somewhat unrefined and held promise of something better to come, no one would have ever expected Illusion Suite to return with a world class album like this.
Following a sci-fi inspired intro, the opener Orpheus’ Quest pounds you down like a hammer from above. The hefty guitar riffs bring Symphony X to mind, while the heavy keyboard atmosphere would make Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon proud. When the strong emphasis on vocal melody takes over the parallels to the Norwegian progressive metal scene is also evident. Particularly Pagan’s Mind is brought to mind, but also Circus Maximus to a lesser extent. This is just the beginning though, as most melodies on the album proves to have earworm potential. The second track is called Uni-Twins and is even more reminiscent of Ayreon’s heaviest songs. Uni-Twins is not quite the powerhouse that the opening track was, but this it more than makes up for with extremely catchy vocal lines. After only two songs it is clear that the lead singer, Bill Makatowicz, has done a quantum leap in developing his vocal register and technical diversity.
The rest of the tracks follows suit and makes for a strongly unified album with a strong sense of personality and great variety in content. The halfway ballad When Love Fails has a steadily growing earworm chorus, the epic title track mixes hefty riffs with wild keyboard solos and the darker atmosphere of Nero shows the band handling both upbeat tunes and gloomy space themes with ease. Standing out on the latter half of the album is the somewhat experimental The Ugly Duckling, whose chorus is like Journey on steroids and whose experimental breaks and bass lines add a touch of humor to the serious tone of the other songs. The final cut called Premonition is an epic progressive piece that mixes minor and major scales with a sugarcoated chorus as sweet as cotton candy. Somehow it oddly works, though a syringe of insulin should best be kept in arms reach before listening to it.
How the dynamics of super melodic vocal lines, pounding guitar riffs and epic keyboards work so well together is a testament to the fantastic production. It was done by Jens Bogren (Symphony X, Soilwork, Amon Amarth, Opeth & Katatonia) and does not stand back from the best progressive metal productions out there. Think Ayreon meets DGM and you’ll understand the lay of the land. Every little detail on the album stands out as clear as the light of day. The drums are distinct, the bass is thick, hard and clear while the balance between vocal and guitar is as flawless as they come. A final accolade goes out to the band’s drummer/keyboard player, Roger Bjorge, whose eminent talent is seeping into most nooks and crannies of the album. Not only has he composed the drumbeats and keyboard bits, he has also arranged all songs and orchestration and has worked closely with both guitarist Kim in the riff department and done the vocal arrangements in close cahoots with vocalist Bill. I can’t find much to criticize on The Iron Cemetery besides the fact that it ends before I realized and I find myself wanting for more. Way to go in getting your subjects hooked. Here is hoping that this is not the last we have heard from this band. If they can keep up the standard of The Iron Cemetery they deserve to rise high on the progressive metal sky.
- Orpheus’ Quest
- The Ugly Duckling
- Extremely catchy vocal melodies
- Great variety and dynamics
- Has a distinctive personal character
- Awesome production
- Colorful keyboard arrangements and solos
- Too short album
- Might lead to unhealthy sonic addiction :)