Disillusion – Ayam Review

Let us take a step back and reflect on the remarkable career trajectory of Germany’s Disillusion. Formed in 1994 the talented progressive and melodic death metal act took a solid decade before unleashing the bottled lightning of their stunning 2004 debut, Back to Times of Splendor. Disillusion took some questionable creative risks on the clunky and uneven 2006 album Gloria, taking another decade before returning with the ambitious long-form single “Alea.” Line-up issues created further barriers over the years, however, frontman, guitarist and composer Andy Schmidt surged on with determination and resilience, gathering his troops and delivering the first LP in thirteen years on the astounding comeback album, The LiberationDisillusion were older and wiser, yet brimming with creativity and ambition, bridging the gap between progressive metal, melodic death, and an almost cinematic sense of scope and drama. With a mighty task at hand to top The Liberation, can Disillusion deliver the epic goods on Ayam?

On the band’s fourth LP, Disillusion strike again while the iron is relatively hot, drinking from the newfound pool of creativity that blessed us with The Liberation. Rather than marking a radical departure from its acclaimed predecessor, Ayam steadies the ship, while navigating uncharted waters and exploratory progressive realms. There is much to unpack across the album’s nearly hour-long duration; Disillusion’s unique, intelligent and exotic progressive metal is intricately detailed, packed to the hilt with songwriting and musical weapons. The craftmanship, transitional skills and ambitiousness on display offers a rich, memorable and enthralling experience. An excellent production job, Jens Bogren mix, and Tony Lindgren master perfectly complements Disillusion’s sophisticated sound and extra instrumental adornments, including keys, trumpet and cello.

Ayam delivers a bevy of deeply moving, emotive and gripping cuts, swiftly putting to bed any notion The Liberation was going to be an overwhelmingly tough act to follow. All the epic arrangements, technical showmanship, progressive adventurism, and melodramatic bombast from The Liberation are present in spades, yet despite the stylistic similarities, Ayam is no lazy sequel. Leading off with a trio of singles, Ayam hits the ground running. Stunning opener “Am Abgrund” follows the trend of Disillusion nailing the longer-form epic, its dramatic ebb and flow, fluid transitions, stunning vocal harmonies, and darkly authoritative bluster sit comfortably alongside previous triumphs, “And the Mirror Cracked” and “Wintertide.” The fragile build-up on “Tormento” unfurls into the album’s most singularly efficient, riffy and heavy cut, as gorgeous orchestrations mingle with jagged, crushing riffage, complex rhythms, and Schmidt’s outstanding multi-prong vocal attack. Schmidt’s vocal performance on Ayam perhaps marks a career-high. Whether it’s the punchy blows of his quirky growls, dramatic croons, or soaring, layered cleans, the dude is in outstanding form and is responsible for some of my favorite vocal melodies on a metal album in recent years. Bassist Robby Kranz also chips in with backing vocals.

The epic “Abide the Storm” builds on early album momentum; a masterful demonstration of progressive muscle, intelligent songcraft, and unmatched musicianship, capped by one of numerous jaw-dropping solos punctuating the album; heroic, misty mountaintop shreddage of the highest order. Initially the more sedate, progressive forays of Ayam’s latter half took a few extra listens to fully appreciate, especially as the heavier shifts are more sparingly, yet effectively placed. However, repeat listens uncover the rich attention to detail, intricate subtleties and elusive, compelling hooks on songs like the mournfully majestic “Longhope,” and the stirring, uplifting beauty of “From the Embers.” Musically Disillusion push their instrumental skills to the limits. The guitar work is a feast for the ears, expertly balancing complexity and emotion, melody and aggression, and proggy flair with metallic muscle. Schmidt, the departed Sebastian Hupfer, and Ben Haugg share axe duties, while drummer Martin Schulz produces an excellent performance, loaded with technical skill and the ability to seamlessly contour his playing to the shifting progressive tides of the album.

I possibly underrated The Liberation, and definitely under-ranked it in the 2019 list festivities, however, Ayam has its measure and perhaps more. There is little to complain about. Sure a few heavier moments would not have gone astray, while “Nine Days” is not quite as compelling as its counterparts, but these are minor gripes. Although the raw brilliance of Back to Times of Splendor will always be close to my heart, deep into their career, Disillusion are riding a creative peak, a testament to their resilience and willingness to overcome setbacks and push boundaries. Ayam is a triumph on multiple levels, a stunning progressive metal opus that finds Disillusion at the peak of their powers.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: disillusion-official.bandcamp.com | disillusion.de | facebook.com/disillusionband
Releases Worldwide: November 4th, 2022


GardensTale

One of the most difficult questions to answer is one of the simplest to ask. What’s your favorite? No matter the subject, be it food or shows or movies, the category is without fail too broad to make answering anything but a Herculean task. But for me, during the last few years, one question has become as simple to answer as a query for the current time. What’s my favorite album? Disillusion’s The Liberation. I declared it a 5.0 in my top 10 list that year, and I still haven’t shut up about it.1 Which brings us to the next difficult question: how can the band that made My Favorite Album Ever follow up on that?

My trepidation for Ayam was quickly annihilated when I first heard opener and lead single “Am Abgrund.” Mixing the sweeping grandeur of The Liberation with the off-kilter time changes of Back to Times of Splendor, the track represents the best of the band’s past and present alike. It’s heavier and darker than its predecessor’s material, conferring an uneasy atmosphere, whether it blazes through aggressive melodeath riffs accompanied by the blare of brass or dipping into subdued prog rock passages. This sense of bridging the more adventurous, experimental debut and the more sure-footed, unified sound of the band’s post-hiatus era persists on subsequent tracks. “Tormento” is easily the heaviest and weirdest on the album, with jarring shifts in its pacing and driven by a colossal riff while Schmidt bellows ‘I AM YOUR TORMENT!’ “Driftwood” uses smooth strings to expand from a gentle acoustic start into a suffocating gothic chrysalis, and when it finally bursts open it’s one of the most beautiful and satisfying transitions I’ve heard in years.

Like Disillusion’s prior work, Ayam is impossible to appreciate fully on a single spin. The music is simply not direct enough for that; though there’s a spectrum of excellent hooks and riffs, not to mention a glut of truly fantastic solos, they are not the focal point. There is an arc to each individual song. An initial mood is set up, and through its changes in pace, texture, and instrumentation, the composition leads you through dramatically interesting developments. And because this band is so goddamn good at that, nothing feels like filler or waste. “Longhope” and “Nine Days” start at a similar level of intensity, but while the former develops outward, looking for the horizon, the latter feels like a warning, pulling on the dockline before the ship can set off. “From the Embers,” then, is where the wind catches in the sails and all hesitation is cast away as it bursts forth with unbridled spirit, the three guitars weaving together in a storm of joie-de-vivre that knocked the breath out of me the first time I heard it.

Even once Ayam’s been delved into deeply enough to have a solid grasp on the intricacies of its songwriting, further excavations still unearth an impeccable sense of detail. Tiny additions to background layers ensure no moment falls flat, often echoing features more prominent elsewhere in either the same track or a different one, which increases both the unity of the tracks individually as well as the album as a whole. Appreciating such minutiae would hardly be possible without a good production, and thankfully Jens Bogren’s Fascination Street studio has delivered a warm and vital master with enough weight to carry the heavier sections, yet enough detail for the many delicate layers to retain their full impact.

I won’t say I absolutely unquestioningly love every single choice made on every single second of every single track on Ayam. The bridge of “Abide the Storm” is perhaps a tad long, and I’m not overly fond of the tip-toeing vocals used early on in that section. But this is nitpicking beyond nitpicking, and entirely overlooks the colossal achievement that truly matters here. I was completely prepared for Ayam to be a rung below The Liberation, because how likely was Disillusion to make another album as good as that without essentially re-recording the same album? But I was proven wrong. By combining the best of the band’s past and present and wrapping both in that wondrous, impeccable, adventurous songwriting, executed with unfailing precision, Ayam has become a transcendent experience that I can’t give anything less than the highest accolade possible. My only regret is that I will once more need to think and hesitate when that maddening question is asked. What is my favorite album? Well… can I pick two?


Rating: 5.0/5.0

Show 1 footnote

  1. My fiancée will confirm this.
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