Into the Obscure: Disillusion – Back to Times of Splendor

Disillusion - Back to Times of Splendor 01We all have our dirty metal secrets that we selfishly keep to ourselves, only sharing with a select few close to us. Or alternatively, we incessantly talk up underground gems and spread the gospel to anyone that will listen, as we cherish our slice of underground cred. Into the Obscure aims to right the wrongs and unearth the artists/albums that for whatever unjust reason didn’t get the exposure or credit they sorely deserved the first time round.

There’s a fine line between genuine obscurity and an album that simply flew under the radar and remained a criminally overlooked corker, never quite attracting the attention and recognition it surely deserved. For this long-gestating second chapter of Into the Obscure, I present the strikingly brilliant 2004 debut LP from Germany’s Disillusion. Back to Times of Splendor dropped in the midst of the melodic death explosion into blatant commercialism, where bands came out in droves and embraced the potential to create a glossy, sugary and poppy angle to the sub-genres slick melodicism and thrashy undercurrent. At the Gates had long since folded, while scene stalwarts Soilwork and In Flames had embraced a  more prevalent poppy sensibility, shifting away from the urgent, classic sound of their roots.

In many ways, Back to Times of Splendor was a melo-death anomaly in 2004. Sure it wasn’t the only standout album the sub-genre presented that year; Insomnium dropped their impressive sophomore album Since the Day it All Came Down and Arsis burst onto the scene with their superb A Celebration of Guilt opus. But I can guarantee there was nothing quite like the chunky block of originality Disillusion carved on Back to Times of Splendor. Overlooked by many upon its initial release, the passage of time has been kind to Disillusion’s debut, and nearly 15 years since it was originally released, the album has garnered something of a cult status. Forming 10 years prior to the debut’s release, Disillusion bottled their long pored over efforts into the colorful, unique and vibrant song-writing that defined the six tracks and nearly hour run-time of Back to Times of Splendor.

The album reeked of a band that had toiled away tirelessly, working and reworking, writing and rewriting, and honing their instrumental chops before arriving at the refined final product. Back to Times of Splendor expanded upon the classic Gothenburg template in original and exotic ways, creating fluid, epic and progressive compositions, featuring the technical theatrics, speedy rhythms, aggressive execution and catchy melodies synonymous with the Gothenburg glory days. However, Disillusion went a step further, adding folky touches and a more progressive bent, as shifting dynamics and a spectacularly epic feel bolstered their ambitious vision. The songs themselves are remarkably consistent, dynamic and expertly composed, from the simply amazing opener, “And the Mirror Cracked,” a masterful, hook-laden blend of prog, folk and scorching melo-death, to the lavish, if slightly bloated 17 minute climax of “The Sleep of Restless Hours,” Back to Times of Splendor never ceases to entertain and is an epic journey indeed. The dark, heavy grooves and pulsing energy of “Alone I Stand in Fires” and massively catchy, rifftastic bounce of “Fall” are other highlights.

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Naturally, the top-notch musicianship leads the way, with perfectly crafted riffs striking a stunning harmony of aggression, melody, sharpness, and groove. Gorgeous acoustic melodies and dense, layered harmonies compliment the excellent riffcraft, while the feverish drumming of Jens Maluschka and tasteful use of keyboards lends the album further layers of complexity and character. Mastermind Andy Schmidt (who handled keys, bass and shared guitar duties) is a definite wildcard here. His vocal performance is fantastic, flipping from rugged growls, grizzled semi-shouts and belting cleans with aplomb. Schmidt’s cleans are somewhat reminiscent of Serj Tankian, but stand apart and supply some incredible vocal melodies and hooks.

The only significant downside is the crushed mastering job that reads a disappointing DR5. This is especially frustrating as the rich, epic material screams for a high-fidelity, dynamic master. Nevertheless, the instruments are all fairly well defined and possess plenty of crunch and clarity. Also, the clean vocals, as much as I personally love them, could be a divisive factor for some listeners. Unfortunately, Disillusion’s second album, 2006’s Gloria, struggled to live up to the high quality of this debut and was marred by clunky experimentation. Here’s hoping the revamped band can hit the studio and recapture the glory. Until then, Back to Times of Splendor is an album not to be ignored for fans of challenging progressive, melodic death.

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