I’ve gushed about the astonishing debut album from Germany’s Disillusion before, and consider 2004’s Back to Times of Splendor to be one of melodic death metal’s finest post millennium offerings. Following-up their phenomenal masterwork was always going to be difficult, so rather than repeat themselves Disillusion took a significant and questionable stylistic detour on 2006’s ambitious but underwhelming Gloria. Now, following a Tool-length break from the studio, Disillusion make their long-awaited and highly anticipated return via their third LP, entitled The Liberation. Representing a return to the band’s exotic progressive and melodic death roots, The Liberation is far from sounding like an attempted rehash of the debut.
The intervening years brings an older, wiser and more refined entity, sounding supremely confident and energized. Disillusion set about crafting a cutting edge jewel of ambitious, progressive melodeath to compete with their timeless debut creation. Not content to ease back in, Disillusion deliver an epic opus containing a mere seven tracks within an nearly hour long duration. The album begins in simple style with opening instrumental “In Waking Hours” eliciting delicate sounds reminiscent of a atmospheric and folky theme to a somber fantasy epic. The song segues effortlessly into the grand fusion of prog and melodeath of “Wintertide,” the first of three mammoth compositions over ten minutes in length. Like any well composed song of marathon length, the minutes seem to fly by as the song twists and turns with overflowing creativity, cohesion and gripping hooks. The wintry melancholy, fluent, dynamic song arrangements and stunning blend of folk-tinged progressive and melodic death metal present on “Wintertide” and throughout the album evokes artists such as Insomnium, Wilderun, Barren Earth and vintage Opeth, not necessarily closely linked in sound, but certainly sharing similarities in tone, ambition and complex structures.
Although the aggressive melodeath angle remains present, the progressive elements are more prevalent, revealing intricate layers and complexities within flowing, challenging structures that reward patient, deep listening sessions. Not to suggest the album isn’t gratifying from the outset, as the lush production and soaring melodic backbone rolls out the welcome mat for the ambitious songs to unfold in all their muscular, addictive and melancholic glory. Two of the three longest songs are beautifully crafted, with the aforementioned “Wintertide” matched by the spectacular title track, which expertly shifts through intricate and varied textures and moods, from explosively energetic bursts of groove and aggression, through to an emotive acoustic section, and blazing climax. “The Great Unknown” cuts to the chase in a more concise form, ripping through thrashy bursts of speed and aggression while flexing the band’s soaring melodies and brooding prog. “Time to Let Go” illustrates further song-writing diversity and is a sublime, moody slice of pop-infected prog to chill the spine and warm the soul. Vocalist and band mastermind Andy Schmidt spearheads a new look line-up and brings his distinctive range of harsh and clean vocals to the equally diverse and dynamic songs.
The musicianship is outstanding and all band members bring their A-games, highlighted by the extravagant instrumental complexity, gorgeous harmonies, gripping lead work, and an atmospheric blanket of tasteful keys. As enthralling as The Liberation frequently proves to be, its not without some wrinkles. Schmidt largely delivers a sterling vocal performance, responsible for some truly rousing clean melodies, and his accented, intelligible growl adds welcome weight to proceedings. However, when he produces his almost semi-spoken word and melodramatic croons it occasionally takes me out of the moment. Thankfully this doesn’t seriously hurt the album but remains slightly bothersome. The impeccable flow of the record stumbles slightly on epic closer, “The Mountain.” Impressive in its ambition and featuring striking moments amidst the bombast, the song is also guilty of meandering in places and the overly theatrical vocals are a bit too much for yours truly.
Perhaps my unreasonably high expectations left a knee jerk reaction of disappointment on initial listens, but I’ll be damned if The Liberation and the 2019 incarnation of Disillusion didn’t succeed in winning me over, despite a few relatively minor gripes. While it may be near impossible for the band to replicate the bottled electricity and innovative, feverish impact of their debut, Disillusion forge ahead into familiar yet forward-thinking territory to craft an album of epic scope and style, riddled with lasting hooks. The Liberation stands as a powerful progressive metal album in its own right and marks a strong comeback album for fans old and new.