Illusory – Crimson Wreath Review

Oh boy. There’s a crying child on the cover. If there’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to metal covers, it’s that a crying child on the cover means serious business. Because really, who grabs an album with a weeping toddler off the shelf to liven up a party? Sociopaths, that’s who! So, after this introduction to my grab bag result of the week, what kind of seriousness is this Illusory? Well, the band’s been around for almost 30 years, but until less than a decade ago it was still known as The Ivory Tower and released a whole one album. Since the half dozen Greeks enacted their name change, however, they’ve released 3 records, this one included, so if nothing else, the moniker morph has at least quickened the pace of their output. But has it resulted in quality music? And is it all as serious as the cover suggests?

Well, there is admittedly a bit of a dichotomy there. Lyrically, the album is quite serious, dealing mostly with anti-war themes as well as three tracks dedicated to vocalist Dee Theodorou’s parents, who both passed during the recording of the album. The music oftentimes doesn’t reflect this, though, consisting of a rousing mixture containing two parts Iron Maiden, one part Sabaton and one part Iced Earth. The album opens well with “Besetting Sins,” a fun, hook-filled track which utilizes the dynamic rhythms of NOWBHM but switches to a more US style stomp in the bridge for a cool breakdown-style effect. The most immediately likeable track is the Achilles themed “Ashes to Dust” and its heroic chorus, but the tribute tracks near the end show more emotional depth, with a touching mixture of sadness and hope. I particularly enjoy the melancholy of “The Isle of Shadows,” which reflects upon the mystique of the great beyond while retaining a light touch.

It’s an energetic sound, largely executed with aplomb, calling forth a battle-ready spirit to charge into the front lines… And then it just keeps going. And going. Crimson Wreath doesn’t stop for almost 80 minutes, and entertaining though it might be, it does not have anywhere near the substance to support itself that long. At that length, it starts to sag under the weight of the lesser tracks, such as the overlong “S.T. Forsaken” and the sappy balladry of the title track. But the worst offender is 10 minute closer “Fortress of Sadness,” which is not only far too long, the center section is ruined by a spot of female guest vocals poor enough that my only explanation for their inclusion is a family favor. Add to that another 5+ minutes of various annoying and unnecessary interludes and you have an album that is incredibly bloated and suffering needlessly for it.

It’s such a shame, too, because if they’d rein all that extraneous garbage in a little, this would be a cool-ass album. Theodorou has a mighty voice, bringing both personality and power to the proceedings, which effortlessly gets me into a fist-pumping mood, and his presence and technical fervor make the minor ESL issues charming rather than irritating. There’re plenty of good hooks present, either vocally or guitarally, and the band have a relaxed, lived-in chemistry. The production is not so incredible it stands out, but the master is easy on the ears and the mix is balanced nicely, with the bass earning a strong spot. It’s all just diluted too much to make a lasting impact, and the record still has several tracks to go before lethargy sets in.

It is a sad conclusion, because I really wanted to enjoy this album. The cover had me afeared, the opener turned me around on that, the running time set my hackles on edge again, the sad circumstances outlined in the promo text softened my heart and made me pay extra attention to the back half of the album. It’s been a regular rollercoaster, but as the train rolls into the station and the safety bars lift, I am forced to declare that this ride is full of promise but ultimately overlong and unfocused, watered down by irritating interludes and unsatisfactory epics. If Illusory’s next one is as strong as the best 45 minutes of Crimson Wreath, I’ll be one happy listener. Until then, maybe scan the tracklist for playlist selection instead.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rockshots Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 21st, 2021

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