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Illumishade – Another Side of You

Illumishade – Another Side of You

Illumishade - Another Side of You

I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how I wanna kick off this review for a little while, and I think the reason why I’m struggling to find a starting point is because there isn’t one. There are so many different angles from which I can approach this album and none of them seems like it bears more significance than the others. So, I’ll make that my starting point. “Another Side of You” by Illumishade is beautifully, cohesively and coherently all over the place! I’m talking genres, emotions, various levels of energy, songwriting complexity and simplicity, all piled together into one hour of music that somehow makes sense. It should be chaos, but it’s not. There are reasons why it makes sense. Unpacking those is the rest of the review! And if you stick around, I shall thank you at the end. Skipping is cheating though!

To put it simply, Illumishade is a genre soup. And I’m not even talking about metal subgenres. It’s dabbing into everything! Pop, Rock, Metal, Prog, Djent and Core are all present somewhere throughout the album. And “somewhere” is the keyword there. No genre is dominant. Every song is picking a different route and sticks with it quite consistently, which means that the songs on their own are actually not exactly crammed with detail or genre bending. If you were to hear any single song, you’d likely assume the rest of the album is quite straightforward and exploring the same sounds… right? WRONG! There’s literally a power metal song followed by a Disney rock song followed by a metalcore banger followed by a progressive metal journey followed by a heartbreaky ballad (see tracks 4-8). So how do you juxtapose all these songs and still have a coherent album? When you just read those genres thrown next to each other it seems like the choices are completely random but if you experience the album flowing from one song to the next you notice a meaningful sequence of emotions. Let’s have a closer look. The power metal banger ‘In The Darkness’ feels like a motivational call to face some challenge. ‘Cloudreader’ sounds wholesome and self-assuring like a preparation. ‘Here We Are’ and ‘Cyclone’ are tense and feel like a struggle, the former in heaviness, the latter in emotion. Then ‘Fairytale’ is a sad song that brings a sense of finality and closure. So you have intention, preparation, confrontation and resolve. Whether the songs are conceptually linked or not, is beyond me, but the emotional sequence makes sense. It feels like every song leaves the stage in exactly the right tone for the next one to kick off. That’s how the entire album feels. In a way, I think I appreciate it so much because it feels so similar to the motions of real life. Their way to put so many colours and artistic approaches together seems to be spontaneous and natural, almost like that’s how it fell into place rather than being planned. It doesn’t have the same flow and narrative that a concept album would, necessarily. It’s less carefully planned, less orchestrated or explicit in its message, but sometimes it still feels like a story, or like getting glimpses of a story and having to decode it.

Illumishade – Enemy

Now that we’re done with the masterclass in organizing chaos, let’s look at the musical tools that articulate said chaos. Again, it shouldn’t make sense but it does. For almost any album I’d start picking apart the sound from the drums, go through bass and riffs (the rhythm) and then solos, keyboards and vocals (top it off with melody). I go from rhythm structure, to melody, to detail. But here, the detail is the foundation. It’s the core of this album’s identity. More specifically, Mirjam Skal’s sci-fi cocktail of fairy-tale-ish witchcraft sets the tone for almost every song. It creates the atmospheric soundscape and immerses the listener during the intro track and when the band kicks in, all the instruments sink into the atmosphere set up by her. Of course, then the keys tend to fall to the background, but through almost every gap you can still hear them shine through, and they jump right back in the forefront when the band goes quiet again. It’s like the ensemble of keyboard, samples and electronic effects runs through the entire album like a subtle yet continuous thread that links it all together despite each song sounding like its own solid piece. Vocalist Fabienne Erni also participates in the keys soup with clear piano performances. I assume ‘Cloudreader’ and ‘Fairytale’ are performed by her on both vocals and piano. I would assume the same about ‘Verliebt’ if I did not know it was a guest performance from Epica’s Coen Janssen.

Illumishade – Here We Are

But I won’t sit here and pretend that keys are a functional instrument. They’re just the kick-off point, but once the riffs and drums take over the foundation, keys turn to melody, detail and effects. So how about those riffs and drums aye? The main riff on ‘Elegy’ should already leave no room for doubt that when they want to bang your head, they bang your head, and you don’t have much of a say in that. The more metalcore sounding songs (‘Elegy’, ‘Here We Are’, ‘Enemy’) have such an infectious groove and beefy guitar tones that I just want to drop any artistic analysis and go bananas when they kick off. And that’s the beauty of Marc Friedrich on drums, Jonas Wolf on guitar and Yannick Urbanczick on bass. When the going gets heavy, these guys come at you as a unit, creating a massive sound and amping up a ton of energy. Jonas’ slightly electronic guitar tones and his use of de-tuned effects or string bending, are a great match for the skewing sounds and warping effects that Mirjam brings from her endless library of textures, tying together atmosphere and riffs nicely. And once the status-quo of headbangery has been solidified, Marc decides to betray his bandmates and start tearing everything apart into rhythm-tripping road trips (see the solo sections in ‘Here We Are’ and ‘Riptide’). That is where things get progressive. Illumishade isn’t necessarily a progressive metal band. They prove time and time again that they’re doing just fine with 4/4 riffs and poppy hooks. They just know when and how to throw in the progressive element for maximum effect. It’s not overbearing on the listener, but it does feel like a fundamental part of their musical identity, because every time they do it, it becomes a memorable moment on the album. But the guys know to stay chill as well. Marc’s variety in groove and feeling on the drums in songs like ‘Cloudreader’ and ‘TWILY’ proves that although a very technical drummer, it is the creativity and musicality of his performance that makes him one of my favourite drummers. And Jonas sure knows his way around some beautiful guitar melodies (see Fairytale intro).

Illumishade – Cloudreader

So let’s get melodic. Jonas’ guitar lines and solos and Fabienne’s vocals are the sugar that makes you crave this album more than a 1L bucket of Nutella (if you’re picturing one right now, go stream the album instead). Every song has more or less of a hook in the chorus, which makes them quite easily appealing. It’s not an album that you need time to start liking, rather to understand. It’s gripping, it’s catchy and it’s just fun if you can’t be bothered to dive in all the nerdy details. Fabienne’s performance is extremely vibrant and exciting, loaded with vibrato and exceptional use of volume. She knows to adapt to the songs. ‘In The Darkness’ is hopeful and vibrant and so is her delivery, ‘Cyclone’ is vast and expansive, which is why she uses long notes and a more somber tone. And ‘Fairytale’ has to be the most realistically depressive breakup song I’ve ever heard. It creates a fairytale vibe (pun intended) only to then lyrically dismantle any cliché of magic while you’re still feeling it. Jonas brings equally powerful waves of feels with a Brian May influence on the rock’nroll solos (‘Hymn’, ‘Cloudreader’) and some serious fire when he gets shreddy (‘Enemy’).

There’s more to this album than I can mention but also if I did that, it’d spoil the fun for you to go listen to it… which you will, right? I do however want to mention some of my favourite highlights. The second part of ‘Cyclone’ plays beautifully with empty space, tension, suspension, chaos and release, showing that they can create beautifully coherent sequences of emotion not only between songs, but even within one song. And there’s also a reprise from their debut album, tweaked a bit for maximal effect, just to leave me scratching my head about what it could mean. Because if there’s anything that they still needed to make this album as captivating as possible, it was a bit of mystery. The outro riff on ‘Hummingbird’ is another excellent example of using empty space and hollow keyboard effects to create a sense of expansion. And one can’t overlook the breakdown in ‘Elegy’, which could easily compete with deathcore songwriting if the aesthetic, sound production and vocal was… uuuh… different. It astounds me how they could make that section fit their aesthetic, to give it a more sophisticated sort of impact than just raw aggression, by wrapping it in vocal layers and, once again, fantastic keys and sound effects, because Mirjam is omnipresent.

Illumishade – Riptide

Anyway, that’s all, and I hope it is enough to convince you to give this album a try. It’s the ultimate hybrid of genres, sounds and emotions not just because of how many puzzle pieces it puts together, but because of how beautiful and coherent the final picture is. Now I am a man of my word, so if you did read all the way, thank you very much for taking the time. You have my tremendous gratitude. And if you didn’t… you made me sad.

Track List:

  1. Enter the Void (01:51)
  2. Elegy (04:55)
  3. Enemy (04:53)
  4. In The Darkness (04:23)
  5. Cloudreader (03:12)
  6. Here We Are (03:34)
  7. Cyclone (06:02)
  8. Fairytale (04:50)
  9. The Horizon Awaits (01:59)
  10. Hymn (04:18)
  11. TWILY (05:14)
  12. Riptide (04:15)
  13. Hummingbird (04:54)
  14. Verliebt (04:06)

About the Author

Andrei Dan

Born and raised in Romania, currently living and studying in the Netherlands, Andrei was introduced to both classic and modern prog at once when he discovered Symphony X and Intervals in 2015. He has quickly grown fond of all the sub-categories of metal but keeps a focus on progressive or innovative music. Most of his free time is spent keeping track of new artists or releases and visiting concerts.

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