The best thing about doing this is getting emails from bands you otherwise may not have heard of. I received one such email from Illuminata, an Austrian metal band who have just released their new album, Where Stories Unfold, complete with a 60 piece film orchestra, choirs and a host of guest musicians. Lovers of fantasy and epic themes within metal, this one is for you.
Straight off the bat, I can’t help but feel the fact that an independent band can produce something like this is almost mind blowing. They had help through Crowdfunding (where I learned they worked with the people who “did the soundtrack for the second season of ‘Game of f****** Thrones’!” If that’s not a selling point I don’t know what is) yet without label support it’s still surprising that something of this magnitude can exist.
The 60 piece Czech Film Orchestra is the perfect accompaniment to the music, and to Illuminata’s credit, the metal sits with the orchestra instead of on top. A proper orchestra is so much more rewarding to listen to than synth driven effects. Look at the quality of sound between Battle Metal (the debut from Turisas) and Stand Up and Fight as an example. computer effects are great, but you can’t beat the real deal.
How does it sound musically though? Massive is the answer. The promo materials state that “the album is heavily influenced by recent ‘larger than life’ blockbusters movies” and listening to the opening of Arbitrary Asylum you could believe you were watching the start of a film.
The film influence is huge throughout but in songs like Violets Compass you almost feel a video game vibe coming through, with touches of Skyrim hiding in the sound. It’s this array of sounds that keeps the music twisting and turning. While Arbitrary Asylum could be part of a Dark Knight era Batman film, the following track, White Heart, would sit comfortably in a high fantasy movie or even a Disney release. Phoenix, a track that could be in a credits sequence follows.
While The Brass Ring starts out heavy and “questy,” the closing segments almost put you in mind of Finntroll (without the trolls or the death metal), and tracks like Danse Macabre keep up the theme with a sort of Burlesque jazzy sound.
It isn’t all just a movie soundtrack sound though. The metal songs in them are well crafted with some sprawling epics to short straight up metal numbers (or as straight up metal as you can be with a film orchestra hanging about). Katarzyna Nieniewska’s voice is well suited for the type of music they’re producing. She can hit the high operatic notes while bringing it down for suspenseful passages between. It’s almost as if it’s acted than sang regularly.
Tracks like Entwined stand out where Nieniewska engages in a duet with Mario Plank backed up by a choir. This range of singers definitely gives it the feel of an acted out piece which fits in with the “at the movies” theme.
It’s surprisingly hard to review something like this, it comes and goes and doesn’t sit on one idea for too long. Sinister mixes with upbeat, tracks can go from metal to jazz to soaring epic melodies, orchestras swell and fall, duets come and go; it’s hard not to like this if you like a spoonful of epic in your metal. If Tobias Sammet decides to bring us more Avantasia, he needs to get Illuminata on the phone, I’d put money in the crowdfund for that.
Where Stories Unfold is out now. Visit Illuminata on Facebook for more