“Aussie Aussie Aussie!!! Oi… Oi… Oi”…. “Aussie Aussie Aussie!!! Oi…Oi…Oi”. Aussie…Oi….Aussie…Oi….Aussie Aussie Aussie…. Oi…Oi….Oi…..
I know I am a little eager while writing this but you will be pondering why I am like this today, and why Aussie? Well today I am bringing a band to you guys from the land down under. Yes, from Australia, because no matter how much you think of Aussies as being just kangaroos and rugby, there’s more to this land than just clichés.
When we talk about classical heavy metal, we immediately think of some tunes from our past that have been reverberating in our minds like anything, and when we talk of present metal, we are not sure if we can relate the current metal music that easily to classical metal. But no, I am here to change your mind by introducing to you a band named “Illuuminus”.
I was not sure of what to expect when I got my hands on the album “Wheels of Resurrection”, by the talented “Illuuminus” but there was something that made me listen to the album in just one go. I have listened to a lot of bands that I think will take at least more than just the first song to impress me, but I can’t forget the moment my finger touched “play” on my iPhone, and thus began a journey into a world so deep and dark yet at the same time so serene and beautiful, that I was just bound to camp there.
Illuuminus is a band that was formed in 2006 by guitarist and chief song writer Mark Halliwell, who immediately received attention from accomplished rhythm and lead guitarist, Darren Ely, and so together they started something that will cross the norms and regular thresholds of the genre we all adore and love. During their venture, Heidi Gass was invited to collaborate, which he did, with infusion of electric piano and synthesizer along with some inspiring harmony vocals. In 2009 the band focused Melbourne, Australia, where they recruited a gem in the form of Daniel Luttick, to record the drum tracks at Wick Studios, Brunswick. For the vocal jobs, Steven Garner of “Chosen Few” was selected and boy I tell you, he has done an amazing job on this album.
The album ‘Wheels of Resurrection’ comprises of 5 tracks that are further broken down into three parts, so there are a total of 15 tracks in the album. But I came across Hallwell’s interview for “Offbeat” where he says:
“On a 75-minute layered album, everything takes some serious time and effort; it became a weekly part-time routine. Song parts were joined in the mastering stage for the final album sequence.”
So all the parts were joined together and hence we get 5 songs that are longer than the usual metal songs with each track lasting more than 12 minutes.
Ron Saint Germain took over the responsibility of mixing the album, and as expected, has done a very good job since he has a lot experience working with U2, Tool, Soundgarden, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson. Mark’s Zala studios in Warnambool was the location for all the initial recordings and the legendary Ron Saint Germain placed the cherry on top at ‘Saint’s Pace Studios’ in New Jersey, USA.
So let us begin breaking down this masterpiece. I will take you through this journey so that you may be able to look at it the way I looked at it and finish it the way I finished it, with a look on your face saying “Wow”. The album is lengthy and hence this review might be tiring but I will be doing the community a favor because you have to listen to this band to believe me.
The album starts with “Illuminus (a new realm)”, and it is straight up bad ass double bass and a riffed interval that feels almost perfect for a song start. And then the vocals kick in and you get the feeling that the vocalist has just the correct vocals for this album. The riff and the blast beats continue with a beautiful guitar lick complimenting the song just in the 2nd minute and I know like me you will be totally glued because it feels the right heavy.
Instantly when you are about to appreciate the great work with the intro, you are taken to a land, a land where there is just calmness, subtlety and oblivion, and this is just in the 2nd minute’s end. The guitar plays something very sweet and soft with a single stroke strumming pattern in the background and ringing in the distance. Steven kicks in with a female sounding backing vocals telling us to ‘Run… Run Away’. It is so beautifully constructed that you will instantly be drawn to it, because it is prepared in such a way that you fall deep inside yourself. 3:30 marks the start of sustaining guitar notes in the form a mini solo, going down the scales and just capturing you further inside itself with Steven continuing his beautiful clean vocals that just can easily bring a tear in one’s eyes. And just like that you are awakened from this dream of calmness and at 5:10 another paradigm shift takes place.
A very catchy heavy metal riff with drum patterns to die for, layered with vocals that shows aggression and harmonic notes. The head banging stuff we all like continues and I bet if you were at a concert, this moment will be a highlight of the band’s performance. The song goes on to follow a classical metal pattern continuing with a walking guitar riff with walking bass notes to follow in, and a guitar solo that is played on odd notes but follows the whole feel of the song. The music return to what it was like in the beginning and there is continuous progression in ways until the 9th minute.
The 9th minute announces itself with something very similar to ‘Tool’, the music played in the background is just similar to something being played by ‘Tool’ and continues with Steven doing his job perfectly on the vocals.
12th minute once again calms down things and takes you down to a lake where you could easily lie down and look at life and the creation around you and appreciate in the midst of what is being played now. Clean guitars and silent snare combined with technical playing of the toms in a way it should be played.
The 13th minute is drawing you to the end of the song, in just the best heavy metal/symphonic way with every musician showing his potential that you will really be impressed with. The song ends with a gruelling 13 minutes but instead of walking away, I bet you’ll be sitting down and saying to yourself “This was fulfilling, yet I am unfulfilled”.
Dark Night of the Soul is next in the most classical heavy metal way there can be with bass notes, the drumming, and guitar showing the bands inspirations perfectly. The song continues to play a great guitar lick with alternate picking. Steven’s aggressive vocals follow until things are brought down at 1:50 with some clean guitar and bass accompanied by instant shifting of the whole feel, and vocals sounding something like Dream Theater. The whole album has injection of classical heavy metal and breakdowns at intervals and it feels different, but in a good way.
8th minute totally shifts the song into a different direction, cancelling the heavy metal you’ve been listening to, bringing everything down to a mellow feel. I love when you can identify evil notes and here I identified the dark and deep evil notes at exactly 7:55 into the song …Dark and deep, you feel strange and beautiful with vocals telling you “Lost within the dream”, and the metal returns just like that and the track’s feel returns with another interlude like the one I just mentioned.
12th minute begins with something you will identify as being played by “Opeth”. I am not saying that it totally resembles Opeth, but being a super and die-hard Opeth fan for more than 15 years, I can say with full confidence that the band is inspired by Opeth as well. The song ends in a classical heavy metal way with some electric keyboard being played by Heidi Gass.
The Great Cycle starts with piano that feels as if a ballad is waiting to start with high notes on the piano that just feels beautiful until the 40th second where just the piano is smashed off by introduction of very heavy drumming and guitar playing. The song I think is just the definition of how heavy metal should be played and recorded and Mike Portnoy like vocals are also heard in between clearly reflecting some darkness that should be present in metal bands. The track continues to be like this till the 5th minute where electric piano notes announce a shift.
Things are brought down yet again and at this point you will be well aware of how the band has played all their songs. Yes they are full of surprises in the form of changes, but they merge in a way that touches the classical roots of heavy metal, like Black Sabbath or maybe Judas Priest, and coming back to contemporary metal. So basically everything is one great mixture for people who appreciate metal in its true form. The 8th minute is clean with clean vocals and clean guitars and bass, with piano being played giving the ballad feel we were expecting at the intro of this song. But the heavy metal element soon returns and goes on till the last 2:45 mins of this track. The last 2:45 minutes for me are the clear highlight reel of the album because it is a drum solo by Daniel Luttick that follows vocals and guitars at places and at places shows some extraordinary talent. You have to appreciate the pedalling of this drummer because it is very professional and technically sound and a portrayal of heavy metal drumming in the finest way.
Pure Christ Dimension kicks in with a walking guitar riff yet again with Luttick playing the hell out of his drums. Steven’s vocals will make you feel you are listening to some black metal band from your past, and semi growled vocal injections will confirm this. Clean guitars soon make their way but the whole heavy metal feel continues through most of the song. Screaming guitar licks with bends and shredding for the first time, along with Steven showing you his vocal range. 5th minute again feels like something you might have heard before, lowering down the tension in the air by some clean playing and clean strums in the background.
This track will take you to the highs and lows at the same time, in the form of shifting interludes that are heavy at one instance and mellow at the other until the end. An amalgamation of contemporary and classical metal will keep you on the edge throughout.
Finally the last track Wheels of Resurrection, the album’s title, starts off with clean piano and clean guitars and some buildup drums that’ll clearly tell you that you are about to achieve the end of our journey pretty soon. Everything stays clean for most of the time and some similarities to our old metal folks like Metallica might also be seen but not the heavy Metallica but semi heavy Metallica.
Again in the 5th minute you are completely taken to a different world with some great guitar riffs, great drumming and bass playing, with organs in the background marking something you know but cannot explain. The track follows the usual pattern till it shifts again in the 9th minute.
Similarities to ‘Tool’ can once again be identified, and you are bound to love what begins now because this mixture of ‘Tool’/’Godsmack’ will make you head bang and appreciate the band’s versatility and talent.
The last seven and a half minutes of the album are played in a way that can easily be compared to a mixture of sadness and forgetfulness but at the same time depicting hope and progression in a positive and forward way. Steven’s vocals with Luttick’s drums and some well-constructed bass notes will take you to the end of the album and the album will end with a statement, a very good statement of heavy metal music that has to be listened to believe.
The whole album is played where each and every note for me depicts moods, behaviour and paints surroundings in your brain, where you will be able to see visions and landscapes when you are listening to this album. If you have head phones on and you have your eyes closed, you seriously will be taken to lands and places you might never have visited before. I usually hold back some points because perfection is not that easily achieved, but with all honesty I am bound to give this début album full marks and major props because the production value, the talent, the elements etc. are all worthy of being perfect. Illuuminus are a band you must listen… MUST… and yes, take this as an ORDER!