Borealis – Illusions Review

Borealis is always an absolute treat to review. Combining Evergrey’s dark, melodic qualities1 with Symphony X’s progressive, story-driven character, this Canadian outfit refuses to release a bad album. With the stunning, back-to-back releases of Fall From Grace and Purgatory, it isn’t easy to imagine the band could ever top them. So, when 2018’s The Offering surfaced, I knew the very thing I feared had come true. The passion so instrumental to the band’s success felt sapped from the songwriting. And, where it was weakest, the orchestration was heaviest—as if trying to hide the lack of emotion found in previous releases. As I said in my review of The Offering, it’s still a strong enough album to revisit and enjoy. But something was missing. This year’s Illusions is a sequel to The Offering’s story. But will it be a sequel to that album’s struggling delivery?

From the opening moments of the self-titled instrumental opener, I could tell Illusions would be another heavy orchestral record. From my experience with The Offering, I expected lots of ballads and orchestral interludes plugging filler holes in the songs. But things have changed since The Offering. Employing multi-instrumentalist Vikram Shankar (Gravity, Meridian, and Threads of Fate) to write the key and orchestral atmospheres was a master stroke. Settling down over the last few years to tinker and perfect how these atmospheres push and pull the other instrumentation only fortified the songwriting. While “more is less” might be the preferable direction for any band, it’s not the case for Illusions. How one arranges the “more” determines the success or failure of a record.

Case in point: “Pray for Water” and “Light of the Sun.” These two songs have so many elements that you’d think they were eight minutes long. But neither breaks the six-minute mark. “Pray for Water” focuses on a simple, catchy chorus. The setup is the start-stop chugs and the massive mid-song punch from the guitars and drums. Then comes the Kamelot-esque builds that heighten the soaring falsettos, crushing riffage, and the chorus’ final iteration. “Light of the Sun” focuses on the keys, delivering movie-score characteristics around the blistering fast guitars and emphasized strikes. The chorus is more involved than other tracks, showcasing Marinelli’s register and the surprising number of notes that elevate and drop in a single breath. While “Pray for Water” had some beefy riffs, “Light of the Sun” puts them to shame—adding an intensity that The Offering needed more than anything.

The orchestrations in “Believer” push the song along through verses, choruses, and solos with ease.  The guitars and vocals show appreciation by giving back a killer, headbangable riff and subtle Russell Allen gruffs in the chorus. Together, the instrumentation and keys build this mighty song to its deserving finish. “Face of Reality” mimics the chorus of “Believer” while delivering something totally different. After opening with some gentle vocals and clean guitars, the song settles into a proggy, Symphony X plod that develops into gargantuan strikes from the drums and keys. The climax comes at the end when the swirling guitar leads, male/female vocals, and orchestration combine into one voice. But the best song on the record is the closer, “The Phantom Silence.” It proves the painstaking detail the band achieved on Illusions. At a whopping eleven minutes, “The Phantom Silence” pulls out all the stops. It includes the most intricate and memorable riffage, the most passionate vocals, and the best combination of building passages and orchestral interludes on the album. No, not just the album—in the band’s entire catalog. If you listen to no other song on Illusions, you must hear “The Phantom Silence.”

Another place where Illusions succeeds and The Offering fails is with the band’s signature ballads. Illusions includes only one traditional male/female duet. Where The Offering chose to increase the emotion factor with sad boi ballads, Illusions uses them sparingly. The result is a more balanced product that hits hard and initiates foggy eyes as it sees fit.2 There might be songs like “The Fortress” that go on longer than they should, but the effect on the album is small. The master is also far superior to the horribly compressed The Offering—making it easier to experience the intricacies of Illusions. But what I love the most about Illusions is it shows a band coming into its own. Comparisons bloat previous reviews with bands like Evergrey and Symphony X. While those tags still pertain to Illusions, this album feels more like Borealis than before.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: AFM Records
Websites: officialborealis.com | facebook.com/borealisband
Releases Worldwide: October 7th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Even using Evergrey’s artist for the artwork to the left.
  2. SADBOI! – Steel
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