Review Summary: Stare into the light...
The press release of Messenger's debut album describes it as "a cosmic ode to the forces of nature and the inevitable cycle of life" and dwelling "equally in the earthly realm of folk music and in the celestial void of progressive psychedelia." As pretentious as this may seem, it's a damn good description of the atmosphere Illusory Blues conveys.
Managing to combine the gentle folk melodies of plucked acoustic guitar and Khaled Lowe's vocals with progressive song structures and epic crescendos, plus a light injection of psychedelic ambience, Messenger have instantly created a refreshingly individual sound in today's washes of Genesis and Pink Floyd tribute acts overcrowding the prog scene and with it one of the best albums of 2014.
Of its seven tracks, none drop shorter than 5 minutes, giving each time to develop and offer something different but equally mesmerising and always ending in some kind of powerful climax. The ironically named opener The Return
starts slowly and morphs through several passages dripping with touches of flute, womanly hums and occasional keys, eventually exploding with drum rolls and the closest such a subtle album comes to aggressive vocals, finally coming full circle again with the intro's acoustic chord progression. From the offset it is obvious they're a masterful group of musicians, effortlessly creating atmosphere and flawlessly arranged songs.
Despite the band being at its core a three-piece, their utilisation of instruments is vast and varied, the next song Piscean Tide
beginning with an Americana-style violin, Perpetual Glow of A Setting Sun
using piano and electric guitars and closer Let The Light In
rounding things off with the distinctly Eastern sound of a droning sitar.
What stands out most however is Jaime Gomez Arellano's drumwork. He is literally on FIRE
throughout the whole album, never
using a conventional, boring drum pattern and giving every song a special kind of intensity. The album's stand out moment comes hands-down from the first section of centrepiece Midnight
, when his driving drum pattern becomes ever more powerful until it suddenly takes off and echoes around your head with a swirling delay effect, instantly legitimising any claims of this album being psychedelic... or illusory.
This song is the band at their peak, delivering at least three climaxes (not just from your eargasms), making use of haunting acoustic guitar reminiscent of Anathema
and the kind of faux-heaviness Gazpacho
deliver on Missa Atropos
at the song's pinnacle. Not only this, but Arellano burnishes the final seconds of the song with a last echoing drum hit that will send shivers down your spine, left with a perfect 9-minute epic.
What makes this song even more of a culmination is how well structured the album is, previous songs made to feel like a build up to Midnight
such as how Dear Departure
's haunting distant screeches of violin and crunchy bass escalate to an intense anti-climax once the drums come in, only leaving the listener desperate for more and anticipating the heights the album will eventually reach.
, the album brings itself to a close with the two final tracks, firstly the mellow, poppier and all together lighter Somniloquist
, featuring the album's only guitar solo. This just goes to show how brilliant Messenger can make their music without resorting to old tricks, not that the solo is bad; in fact, because of its uniqueness in the album, it feels all the more special and fresh.
The gentle and mostly drum-less Let The Light In
is the warm daybreak to Midnight
's darkness, ending the album with a tribal-like percussion rhythm that intersperses high-pitched violins and then cuts off suddenly, leaving you on a final breathless note, wondering about the only true negative of Illusory Blues: where can Messenger go from here?