Review Summary: A glorious study in contrasts.
A lone man walks into a sea of people. He looks quite unassuming, adorned with a hoodie, jeans, and a pair of headphones. He looks like he’s about to spit some bars to the unsuspecting crowd… but then the unexpected happens. Suddenly, we - and, by association, the people around him - are met with a barrage of piercing screams and aggressive shouts. This man, clearly having balls of steel, has opted not to lip-sync his vocals but instead belt them out at the top of his lungs. The public looks on in equal parts terror and awe, probably wondering if the dude is possessed. It’s an absolute spectacle, to say the least.
What I just described is the video for Ilenkus’ single “Over the Fire, Under the Smoke”, and its chaotic energy is complimented perfectly by the music itself. The Irish outfit’s second album The Crossing
is basically the twisted bastard child of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s progressive mathcore and Cult of Luna’s dense atmospheric sludge metal, and the results are pretty breathtaking. Combine technical riffs, blackgaze-esque blast beat sections, incendiary vocals, and contemplative quiet passages, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’ll find here. Much like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ilenkus are compelling in their ability to come off as controlled and focused while also sounding as utterly vicious as possible. And of course, if we’re gonna talk “vicious”, I need to bring up the individual I was referring to in the first paragraph: Chris Brennan. This guy’s vocals are absolutely savage
. His inhuman screaming is an excellent fit for the music, especially during the more “blackened” passages in which he lets loose his most intense wails. This isn’t to say that he uses these vocals all
the time - he does opt for cleans during the more reflective moments - but his harsh ones are certainly his most impressive.
Still, the other members rise to the occasion as well. One of the biggest marks in The Crossing
’s favor is its diversity, and much of that is attributed to the musicians’ versatility and willingness to experiment. Opener “Devourer” is a perfect example of this, as its unpredictable, turbulent nature makes it both unnerving and exciting - especially when you’re hearing it for the first time. What begins as an all-out barrage on the senses, complete with riffing and drumwork ripped out of the Jane Doe
-era Converge playbook, turns into a musical labyrinth that’s equal parts mathy and melodic; hell, the middle section of “Devourer” is so serene and calm that you almost forget just how violent and brutal everything started out. But that’s what I love so much about The Crossing
- the fact that these songs really feel like journeys, replete with stimulating twists and turns.
The title track explores these dynamic contrasts even more, and is perhaps the closest thing to post-metal on the entire record. The entire first half is a bleak, doomy Neurosis-esque buildup that merges beauty and bleakness while highlighting the guitarists’ abilities to create atmosphere and intrigue. Brennan, Sam Ellis, and Josh Guyett all contribute to the guitar work found on The Crossing
, and if you want a good insight to both their technical prowess and synergy, listen to the title track in its entirety; the way the trio transform the piece from a pensive melodic piece into a tightly-controlled blast of math/sludge fury is impressive as hell. As for drummer Rory Guyett and bassist Robin Van Der Klooster’s collective presence on the record goes, I would refer you to the aforementioned “Over the Fire, Under the Smoke”; it’s the most consistently intense track on The Crossing
, and its knotty twists and turns create a wonderful musical playground for the rhythm section to mess around with… most notably, a goddamn black metal
section in the middle, in which Guyett gets to show off some killer blastbeats and double bass work.
Yet, as we close things out with “Goodbye Denial”, there’s a strong sense of melancholy. Beneath all the brutality and chaos that pervades much of The Crossing
, the underlying vibe is one of decadent, sorrowful beauty - something that even the harsh black metal screams and technically impressive performances can’t fully mask. And this closer is a fitting way to bring it all back home, as even its most vicious moments are imbued with the same desolate aura that defined its quiet intro. Unfortunately, “Goodbye Denial” would also be a fitting title for the band’s last song: after several years of inactivity, Ilenkus finally broke up in 2022, with The Crossing
being their final full-length record. It’s a real shame, as I consider this album to be somewhat of a forgotten classic; it absolutely belongs in the same company as Converge or Neurosis’ upper-tier work. And the fact that a band could actually merge such disparate influences as sludge metal and mathcore in the first place? That’s fucking awesome.