Illuminata – Where Stories Unfold (2015) – Review

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Now, step back a minute.

We have drum blasts, distorted guitars, and a female front. All check! But only one female this time? Here’s some confusion indeed! Symphonic influence – check! But the record is for sure not your usual piece of Symphonic Metal.

The Austrian band Illuminata hail from the beautiful city of Graz. You know the one with the funky Kunsthaus and clock tower. And I am floored. Their 2015 album Where Stories Unfold departs in a completely different direction than their last record. Gone is the rocky and straightforward style that kept on leaning into Within Temptation.

And in comes – what exactly?

Well, this actually sounds like a concept album, a musical of sorts, a movie soundtrack (minus the film). Or some Game of Thrones theme (no pun intended, well almost…). And it comes with a ton of Nightwish-type elements thrown into it as well.

It is indeed that kind of Cinematic Metal that the latter so desperately tries to implement. And Illuminata here succeed pretty well with their interpretation of a true Hollywood OST1).

Since their last record hit our turntables, Illuminata changed their line-up to a quintet. Joanna Nieniewska left back in 2012. So, the double female front idea has indeed died a painful death, now solely represented by Katarzyna Nieniewska. Sometimes backed up by the keyboard artist Sabrina Supan.

Apart from that, the band appears unchanged. But to me, this is a real pity. I DID like this little extra of a double female front (actually three female singers with Supan). And it had a positive impact on music quality, A World so Cold be my witness. 

Now, apart from the urges to morph into an OST, Where Stories Unfold comes along in a pretty mature robe of Symphonic Metal. Illuminata expertly navigated that deadly sophomore cliff on which many bands shipwreck. Also, they didn’t give in to the temptation to become an opera without being one.

Illuminata‘s new style is interesting and – in a way – addictive. Even if the guitar solos that true metalheads crave are curiously absent, the whole production is well-rounded. However, my metal soul is suffering nonetheless. This is not pure metal anymore, but some confused hybrid between metal heaven and operatic hell. But then, this is where its quality lies, and the band DOES make a point on their current trademark.

This also renders Where Stories Unfold very controversial. Yet again, variation is king. In between the typical Symphonic Metal parts you will also get some sort of variété/musical style music. And sometimes – I have to say it – this sounds like some Imaginaerum from another time.

It looks like the crowdfunding really worked well and allowed them to get a first-rate orchestra to help them out with the symphonic parts. Much to my relief, none of the unspeakable growls that some of the more mediocre Gothic Metal bands like to display erred onto this record.

And Katarzyna Nieniewska really excels on Where Stories Unfold. Her vocal performance really is a step up from the former production. She expertly navigates different styles, directions, and nuances to a fine point. And with just enough energy to keep it interesting and not block out the instruments. Not an easy job with these complicated concoctions.

As the tracks go, Violet’s Compass is excellent work. I like the mix between classical and contemporary instruments and there is a certain amount of rockiness about it. Now, White Heart and Phoenix serve as the centerpieces of the production. Perhaps a bit slow on the metal side. I like them, but you gotta be in the mood for this kind of tune.

But Arbitrary Asylum – whilst fascinated – left me with mixed feelings. That’s a very complex production. But also about the only one where you can hear the boys of this band for a few moments. 

The only real failure is Entwined with that ill-fated duet with the guest singer Mario Plank (ex Visions of Atlantis). And it is a pity too, as the song actually has a good structure, starts well, but then deteriorates. As is often the case, it is somewhat of a difficult call to have a guest singer in the band and this one just doesn’t fit, guys. Sorry.

And here are a few words to Danse Macabre, one of my favorites. Many hate it, many love it. But it is full of variety. Changes of tempi, sometimes rocky, sometimes softer, often musical styles – not bad at all. The Phantom Rickshaw finally adds some metal to this here selection of tracks.  

Wow, many words to describe something that we should be able to do in a few sentences. Where Stories Unfold is a beautiful record. Again not something I indulge in usually (to say the least..). But if this album could hold my attention for so long, this means it is of extensively good quality.

So, my sincere thanks go to Illuminata for keeping true to their own trademark and for being authentic. The proof of crowdfunding is in the music. Right?

Ed’s note: The review made it onto the first ever Intermittent Best Of. Oh, and fancy more cinematics? Try this.

Record Rating: 8/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Site
Release date: 23 January 2015


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