Lunar – The Illusionist Review

I hold concept albums dearly as a style that occupies many of my most treasured proggy excursions. Cautiously, though, many a lesser outing bloat the barrel of this contentious niche. Confidently Lunarߵs third full-length, The Illusionist, inhabits this realm—a dramatic telling of a magician’s struggle with what his work has made of his own life. We all ask this question to ourselves of a great many things in this world. Was it worth it? Was it worth it to park between the lines when the lifted F-150 went and snagged three spots? Was it worth it to pen 700 or so words when the tags read deathcore?1 In the face of what may seem a futile effort, Lunar insists that it is worth it to sit down and see what’s behind this curtain. But when the lights close on this hour-long piece of fretboard theater, will you stand in applause or ask for your money back?

This young California act blends a grandiose narrative through a progressive metal lens similar to the sadly defunct Native Construct—a soundscape I enjoy but approach with high expectations. Aside from the impressive roster of guests,2 which includes members of Caligula‘s HorsePaladin, and many more, Lunarߵs members come with metal creds of their own. Primary guitarist Balmore Lemus (NovaReign, ex-Exmortus) lends many a sweep and tasteful lead to this bombastic venture. Drummer Alex Bosson (Helion Prime), in turn, provides a symphony of splashy cymbals and fervent Maiden-inspired tom runs to meet the mood. Yet as a troupe Lunar comes together as more than just a collection of practiced scales and chiseled sticks—though it runs a bit long the opening overture “Prestidigitation” confidently displays Lunar coming together composed and in the spotlight—everyone gets their moment to shine.

In uniquely prog fashion The Illusionist robs itself of urgency by refusing to commit to its own theme. “The Illusionist,” the first epic, does a good job tethering my jittery brain to the album’s moody malaise with a smooth refrain and “home” tone that allows Symphony X riffs, jazzy piano and saxophone breaks, and ferocious blast beats to weave together not seamlessly but sensibly. However, once the band breaks out the Rainbow meets Petrucci crowd-mover “Showtime,” I hardly remember that I’m listening to the same album. Similarly, the arena-sized “Turn Off the World” feels disruptive in its trad-leaning exuberance, trying to capture existential musings with a few guest growls that feel simply out of place. In truth, vocalist Chandler Mogel’s tight vibrato might be too bright for songs that aim for turmoil (“Juggling Chainsaws”),3 though Lunar additionally piles on brightness through with plenty of overly heroic guitar noodling—impressive but not affective.

Of course, in line with the expectations from a band in this lane, Lunar pulls off complex and immersive moments when all wheels are on the tracks. Often playing around with subtly shifting rhythms against exotic lead melodies, Lunar can take us from soft flute flutters4 to giant ballroom romps (“Disassembled”), or can explode with wide chord slides (“Worship the Sun”), without breaking a sweat. Bassist Ryan Price in particular makes these changes possible by allowing his nasal and popping pulses to find that guiding space between rhythm and lead (“The Illusionist,” “Now You See Me”). Even moments that seem fruitless like the sample-initiated5 mystical interlude “For My Next Trick” comes off, at least, as a glorious tone piece with Price showing off virtuosic tapping runs and gentle harmonic whispers.

But in its extravagance, The Illusionist doesn’t quite add up to an album that I can stomach in full. Sometimes after many a digested listen, a progressive platter like this begins to show its cards and unfold in new ways. However, the trick from hat to fluttering doves remains a sleight no matter how many times I try. Whether it’s a few pacing stumbles here or a few too many bars in solo land there, Lunar doesn’t always substantiate the flash the way I want to hear. So, was it all worth it? Yes, I’d still say so. Lunar hasn’t earned the unceremonious hook, but it’ll be at least another album before we see these talented showmen inspire a standing ovation.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Saibot Reigns Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 3rd, 2023

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Short answer: Always no. – Steel
  2. Painstakingly listed in full on Bandcamp.
  3. Guest guitar solo Christian Münzner (Obscura, Alkaloid).
  4. Courtesy of Jørgen Munkeby (Shining)
  5. Edward Norton from the 2006 movie The Illusionist
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