Illnath // 4 Shades of Me
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — Unleashed! [No, Illnath. – AMG]
Label: Pitch Black Records
Websites: facebook.com/Illnathofficial | myspace.com/illnathofficial
Release Dates: EU: 2013.03.12 | US: 03.12.2013
Bjørn “Narrenschiff” Holter should have his own Lament Configuration puzzle box. He’s one of only a very few metallers I’ve come across, who with the power of their vocals can deliver a sensory overload that leaves you feeling like the screams have wormed their way under your skin. They burrow, tear skin from muscle, flesh from bone; vocals sharp has hooks, like some kind of Cenobite punishment. Just like ‘The Surgeons’ delivering Hell and damnation, Narrenschiff also leaves your senses mutilated, fleshy and exposed. “Angelic Voices Calling” off Illnath’s 2001 EP is a shining example of this – listen to it and tell me it isn’t so! Sadly times change, bands move on, and vocalists migrate on to other projects – enter Mona Beck onto the scene. Prior to 4 Shades of Me, their fourth full-length, Danish metallers Illnath had similarities to bands like Taiwanese Chthonic, South Korean Dark Mirror ov Tragedy, and the the non-Asian Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. The evolution that is 4 Shades of Me led them to drop the keyboard and symphonic sparkle, instead giving up their inner Illnath and adopting a virtually unrecognizable aggressive approach resembling the melodic blackened side of Dark Funeral. While I was intrigued to spin this album and waited for it with some anticipation I also had a seed of trepidation lurking in the pit of my stomach that 4 Shades of Me would have the same meh, lack of power and spark as Third Act in the Theatre of Madness.
Vocally, while Mona never quite reaches the flesh-rending standard of Narrenschiff, or Dark Funeral’s Emperor Magus Caligula, she’s in top form on this album and she gives it horns! Tracks like “King of Your Mind”, “Pieces”, “Unleashed”, “Not My God” and “It’s on Me” should be cranked all the way up to experience Mona’s balls-to-the-wall, blackened growls, witch-like cackle and wrenching screams that evoke images of somebody being butchered. Lyrically, apart from a few juvenile and cheesy moments, the tracks are catchy and Mona’s vocal style makes it easy to pick up on the macabre subject matter and lines like ‘Feel your flesh fall from your bones while I take a bow’ and ‘When you die in the night, no one will be there to pick up the pieces of what was never even there’ are delivered with tasty glee.
Pete Falk’s guitar work is tight and interesting and at times his cheeky solos and energetic riffs, like those in “Blood Warrior”, ‘It’s on Me” and “Gallow Hill” remind me of something John 5 would kick out. Other tracks like “King of Your Mind”, “Angelic Voices Calling” and “Not My God” have heavy, chunky riffs and melodic solos that bring to mind the feel of Greg Burgess and Ryan Glisan’s chemistry in Allegaeon or Martin Buus and Jakob Mølbjerg’s attack in Mercenary (The Hours that Remain era). As the beating heart of the band, Dennis Stockmarr bursts onto the scene from the onset of 4 Shades of Me, providing great, energetic fills and a belligerent blast beat assault that doesn’t let up!
The mix on this album is very much the same as Illnath’s earlier albums, clean and modern with just the right focus on instrumentation and vocals – no disappointment here. My biggest gripe with Illnath since the departure of Narrenschiff is the decline in the vocal quality of the band – while I appreciate that Mona’s giving it her all, her inability to hit the highs Narrenschiff hit, doesn’t bowl me over. A change in direction may be just what Illnath needs to redefine themselves with their slightly less shiny (and new) front-lady. A couple of the tracks on the album suffer a heaped serving of lyrical cheese factor “Captain of The Seven Seas” being one particularly odorous example that’s best skipped over.
It really depends what you’re looking for whether you’re going to want to spin this album, if you’re looking for symphonic black metal, with torturous blackened screams then Illnath’s Second Skin of the Harlequin full-length and their Angelic Voices Calling EP still stand out as being their best work. If however, you’re looking for a high energy, punishing album that will provide you with a good 40 minutes of female-fronted, head-banging brutality then 4 Shades of Me will serve that up in spades.