OK, I’m going to be dead honest with you folks, I was stunned and shocked when Illusion Suite’s second album The Iron Cemetery fell into my precious little hands for review. Why is that you ask? Well, the Lady is quite the fan of them, and is responsible for introducing myself, and a whole gang of other people, to their kick butt brand of progressive metal. Fortunately for me though, life got in the Lady’s pretty little way, dropping The Iron Cemetery into my lap.
Following the path ground out by others such as Pagan’s Mind and Circus Maximus, Illusion Suite is another standard bearer for the amazing Norwegian progressive metal scene. Hailing out of Norway, they began gigging in 2006, and in 2009 released their debut Final Hours to some solid acclaim. The lineup for Iron Cemetery features Bill Makatowicz on vocals, Kim Jacobsen on guitar, Roger Bjorge on drums, and Dag Eric “Deck” Johnsen on bass. The album has the golden touch of Jens Bogren (Opeth, Symphony X, James LaBrie) in the mixing and mastering department. Together they have managed to create a musical package that is fierce and tight without sacrificing a single bit of its soul. In fact, The Iron Cemetery is a 39 minute metal bum rush that leaves you looking around for the license plate number of the truck of awesome that just ran your metal ass over.
After the uber brief and very aptly titled Intro, which gives a slight sci-fi vibe to the air, the band wastes no time getting down to some serious ass kicking as they jump into the first full song, Orpheus’ Quest. With a quick drum roll, the tone of the album is set off, some serious hard chords lead into the first vocal work from Makotowicz. Though not lacking in power or range, there is a slight tinny edge to him that really adds some uniqueness, though it loses its effect at the outer ranges. Guitar tone is solid, with a gritty edge, guttural and beastly without getting ludicrous. For me, the star of the album is drummer Roger Bjorge. Though everyone shines in their own right, he is the one that had me mouthing “holy shit” the most, he goes way beyond the task of keeping rhythm and colorful fills, and in some parts, completely takes the song over. The pace is pretty relentless, a perfect primer for the rest of the album. Uni-Twins follows, opening with an instrumental section that digs deep and delivers, then settles down into a groovy bass line that morphs into a song that has just a slight pop edge to it, very catchy and memorable without really sacrificing any heaviness.
The album then heads into the title track, The Iron Cemetery, which is a prog metal monster. It has a base tone of kick ass, but manages to flirt with so many other moods and tones, but when it comes the core of the song, the chorus, this one is brilliant. All the members line up together and soar high, creating a sound that just won’t leave the mind. When Love Fails follows, and is a soulful piece, full of emotion and passion. It has a very solid instrumental section, and finishes in the style it started. Nero opens with a technically deep opening before settling into a more paced sound. There is a certain build up of tension in this one, really bringing the song into fruition. By the time the song hits it’s intended pace, it’s more skittish than a kitten chasing after a laser point, but in a good way.
Nostradamus’ First Prophecy is a retrospective song on the seer’s visions about progress and technology, with a smidgen of warning thrown in. This is the one song I wish that they had stretched out, going beyond the six minute time limit they set for the album’s songs. I could easily see this one being a brilliant ten minute epic, especially when they break into a spacey and ethereal sounding section, but it only serves to end the song. As the great Steven Wright once said, “Can’t have everything, where would you put it?” The Ugly Duckling follows, with soaring vocal work, a solid rocking base, and a surprisingly charming but brief section of pure groove. Finishing the album is Premonition, carrying a tone of hopeful finality. The conceptual basis of the whole album is one of a world collapsing on it, overrun by a human race whose will is running rampant without a care for the consequences. Not a new theme by any means, but still one that is deftly handled. The sci-fi tone of Intro keeps making it’s appearances throughout the album, battling with the more beautiful, human segments, creating an imbalance of sides that really can’t co-exist. I’m not sure if this is what the band intended, but it’s what I walked away with, on top of some slightly ringing ears.
The album is brief, a mere 39 minutes, but Illusion Suite more than makes up for the brevity with a powerful package that delivers 100%. All members of the band deliver, creating a sound that is fairly unique but most welcome. Textured and rich, The Iron Cemetery brings its sound without inhibitions or apologies. The band brazenly does as it wishes, and I am so thankful for that.