While I’m a man who has never invaded a cottage owned by bears, eaten their porridge, and slept in their beds while complaining about everything the entire damn time, I sometimes feel a bit like Goldilocks when commenting on melo-death. Sometimes melo-death can be too soft, coming across as sickeningly sugary and too much like guitar-heavy pop or bubblegum metalcore. Sometimes it can be too hard, sounding like regular death metal with needless weepy guitar histrionics that sound out of place. Outside of Sulphur Aeon, it’s hard to find a band that’s just right in the current phase of the genre, but just like that old fairytale went, it’s the young bear’s stuff that ended up being the best. Illusions Dead are a young Finnish melo-death band set to release their first full-length Celestial Decadence, and they’ve taken an interesting path in trying to hit the “just right” mark.
Given that the word “Finnish” has been used, it can be assumed that the melodies here are pretty melancholic. To my ears, Tales from the Thousand Lakes is a good comparison, but Illusions Dead cites Insomnium as an influence, which can clearly be heard too. Also mentioned in their relatively short list are two cred-boosting melo-death scene darlings, Intestine Baalism and Anata. The latter’s 2006 effort The Conductor’s Departure plays an especially noticeable role in parts of the sound on offer. There’s a bit of black metal in the mix as well, and it’s of the Norwegian and heavily melodic variety. The band mentioned Gorgoroth by name, but we can confidently add Immortal to the growing list of comparisons. Another comparison in riffing that I kept coming back to in my notes was At the Gates’ At War With Reality. This is due to the darker nature of the melodies there as opposed to Slaughter of the Soul, and this fits with Celestial Decadence’s overall sound well.
I’m a sucker for a good opener, and “Incursion” nails it. This short little number showcases everything good about Celestial Decadence: the great guitar interplay, the somber yet exhilarating melodies, no time wasted on fluff, and a vocal performance that spends the whole song in overdrive. “Hour of the Raven” shows Illusions Dead can drive a good song with their foot lighter on the gas, as Infernus’ modern “token Gorgoroth slow track” playing style is put to good use alongside more traditional Finnish melo-death parts. Immortal’s slow tunes are an influence too, and the ending is an exciting and fitting climax that brings various parts of the song together in a great way. “The Way of the Deceiver” reminds me of Anaal Nathrakh’s more restrained and melodic moments such as those in “Satanarchist” if they were mixed with later Immortal and forced into a melo-death track. This mixture works well, and the song is a highlight because of it.
Now back to Goldilocks. In an unfortunate instance of too soft that would make the Royale toilet paper kittens say “whoa dudes, calm down” in matching squeaky voices, “Shadow and Flame” has a midsection that carpet bombs the song’s entire appeal with its horribly lame, over-poppy nature. Elsewhere, the deflation of the excitement built up from the great opener made “Devoured by Hatred” all the more irritating in its nondescript nature, as it can’t quite figure out how to do melo-death right and suffers for it. It’s not heavy enough to succeed on that, and it isn’t melodic enough to succeed in a way akin to Mors Principium Est. Instead it just occupies the mind, failing to offend or captivate. “Tormentor of the Weak” seems to hit all of the right notes when it’s playing, but once it ends the song fades into the hazy part of my memory where things like what I made for dinner three Wednesdays ago are kept. As for the production, it’s nice, not brickwalled, and balances each instrument nicely. It’s not a standout production job, but it’s good.
Illusions Dead are a new band that has a huge amount of potential and Celestial Decadence sounds like they’re finding their own niche, and once they become more comfortable in their own skin and more adept songwriters within it, they’ll be releasing stuff that’s going to turn a lot of heads. Until then, they’ve given us what will easily be in the top ten of 2016’s melo-death tracks, along with a couple of other good tunes. The rating doesn’t scream for this to be checked out, but that doesn’t mean Celestial Decadence isn’t worth hearing. If anything, melo-death fans should listen to this at least once to hear a cool take on the style that just might produce something great in the future.