Album Reviews

Ilium – My Misanthropia

Coming from the land down under, the melodic metal band Ilium has come out with their sixth studio album entitled My Misanthropia.  Aussies Jason Hodges (guitar) and Adam Smith (guitars, drums, bass, keyboards) handle the instrumental duties while Lance King (solo, former Balance of Power, Defyance, Avian, Empire, Shining Star, Pyramaze) is welcomed on board to helm the vocals after the departure of Mike DiMeo (Riot, Creation’s End, Former MasterPlan).   Based out of Newcastle, Ilium formed in 1998 originally under the name Iliad, which was changed in 2002.  They have a number of influences ranging from the NWOBHM, power, thrash, and progressive metal genres, melding them into an amalgamation of their own sound that has developed over the last 17 years.  This album puts forth 10 tracks covering a number of various themes, starting off with the title track.

My Misanthropia is an energetic opener with a quick but cleanly executed guitar introduction, supported by the rhythm with the precise execution.  The song continues with this kind of energy throughout, though the solo section in the middle makes a change of pace, with more prominent keyboards and melodic guitar lines that are slower, but as the extended soloing continues, the pace also continues to pick up and returns the song back to its more rapid rhythms.  The melody lines are relatively conservative without a lot of variation, but the harmonies provide an almost dissonant interest that undergirds the message of the song.  As energetic as this song is, however, it doesn’t really grab me as much as I was personally expecting from the opening track.  But there is more to be discovered as the album goes on.

 The second track is titled after the Mesoamerican feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl.  It begins with a retro-80’s-sounding, almost cosmic, synth introduction with later instrumental additions throughout the nearly minute-long beginning.  This somewhat upbeat song lists the attributes of Quetzalcoatl within the Aztecan mythology with soaring melodies and harmonies and with a flavor of 80’s pop-rock with a bit of edge to it.

Penny Black starts off more frenetically than its predecessor, and the super-fast double kick drum along with the rhythm guitar keeps the drive of the song swift, like a speed metal song.  The vocals are a bit grittier in this tune, and the vocal lines, especially during the bridges and choruses, have slightly dissonant harmonies that don’t quite clash but give the listener a bit of a discordant underpinning.  The delivery and rhyming of the vocals also give the song a bit of a punch to this energetic song.  This is their first single from the album, which you can listen to in the video below.

The fourth track, Lingua Franca – meaning a common language spoken between people of two other languages (such as in trade or diplomacy) – starts at a more measured tempo.  This song carries some gravity in its musical and lyrical content, providing a social commentary on the dichotomies within society based on people’s black-and-white views, judgments, and privileges, and as it states, the “lingua franca of the soul is pain.”  This song has a listener-friendly approach to it, with easily learned melodies and song structure.

Godless Theocracies, with its paradoxical title, is the fifth track that starts off with a Maiden-esque galloping pace, and has an upbeat melody and rhythm to it, though its subject matter is not as happy.  This song has a nice marriage of compelling melody and balance of song structure.  The chorus is memorable, fits well with the verses, and the solo interlude is interesting and not overbloated. And though subtle, it ends with a very brief outro segment of a cathedral-like “Alleluia” as a kind of hat-tip to the pseudo-religious jargon of the song.

The sixth song, The Hatchling, shows off a wider range of King’s vocals with some dirty vocals with some distortions and are more theatrical in delivery than the other tracks.  Despite being the shortest song on the album at just over two-and-a-half minutes long, it contains a lot of variation within it, from traveling bass lines, dramatic vocals, energetic guitar riffs, and punctuating strings.  Despite not being very long, it is one of my more favorite tracks on the album.

Orbiting a Sun of Sadness starts off with an introduction of strings that seem a little more solemn but begin to brighten as the song continues.  The heaviness builds as the song continues into the introduction, with eventual blast-beating of the drums that really push the song forward.  This takes a brief reprieve as the first verse begins, but comes back into play in between stanzas.  About 2/3 into the song is a nice interlude that pulls it back in intensity, and focuses on a fluid guitar solo, with some nicely placed chord changes to support it.  Though this song has a celestial sound to it in places, along with the planetary titular reference, its theme is more melancholy-based using the galactic vocabulary to communicate its message.

The vibe changes as the eighth song begins.  Zenith to Zero starts out of the gate running with an arpeggiated lick further endorsed by the rhythm section with off-beat accents for a strong start, which reprises during the interludes between the verses and the end.  This track includes some good rhythms and riffs, especially in the middle interlude with my favorite on-beat china cymbal for accent included amongst the solos, as well as opportunities for some soaring vocals with corresponding harmonies.  This is a decently-paced song that changes direction a few times throughout so that the same riff, style, tone, or rhythm dominates the whole tune and provides a variety for the listener to take in.

Yuletide Ebbs is a more tempered song, including a bit of organ in the nearly minute-long introduction and later continues to undergird the whole song.   There is a more repetitive quality in the construction of the song that also gives it a measured feel.  The vocal intensity seems to drop on the bridges as compared to the verses and choruses, perhaps for effect, while it is stronger in the other parts of the song.

The Cryptozoologist, the longest and final song on the album at just over six and a half minutes. It begins with a flurry of strings over a fast-paced guitar and rhythm entry, which keeps the energetic pace through most of the song, galloping along on the verses and keeping the speed high during the choruses.  About 2/3 through the song, however, it drops to only guitar and vocals in a much more deliberate section with a slower tempo, which does accelerando back to the original tempo for an energetic guitar solo into the chorus reprise with a key change for extra emphasis and interest.

Aside from the digital release, the first CD version of My Misanthropia will be released as a Limited Edition Double Digipak that will include a second CD entitled Wendigo, that includes 5 tracks with 3 additional original songs, as well as 2 covers of the Bee Gee’s Tragedy and Roger Gover and Ronnie James Dio’s Love is All.

Even with the many musical influences and styles that Ilium lists as contributing to its amalgamational “alloy” of sound, much of the album has an 80’s flavor to it. Musically, My Misanthropia‘s style also reminds me of the Defyance album Transitional Forms that Lance King also lent his voice to, so if you are familiar with that album, you will probably like this one also. King’s voice is as top form as ever, and on this album, he shows a wide range of delivery with a style that is often found on some of his earlier work.  Additionally, multi-instrumentalist Adam Smith shows dexterity at all four instruments; when it’s usually difficult to master one, he shows competence with guitar, nicely moving bass lines, complementary keyboard  contributions, and tightly executed and often difficult drum parts.  Jason Hodges’ foundational presence in the band is evident in his guitar playing and songwriting.  The lyrics on this album are heady and run the gamut dealing with many social and cultural commentaries about humanity throughout time, including legends, myths, and emotional states.  The songs have enough variety that everyone should find something that tickles their fancy.  I’m glad that each song isn’t just a cookie cutter of the other ones, which can be a two-edged sword, because some will prefer one style, others another approach, and some all of the above – but that leaves the album open for interpretation and perhaps a wider appeal for many listeners.  For me, I found it hit-or-miss with my personal preferences, and I had some pre-conceived high expectations of this album that perhaps were misplaced on my part.  This album has its strengths, but I think I was expecting a more epic scale than was intended with the addition of King on vocals.  However, that being said, it should not stop each listener from giving this album a spin and decide for themselves.

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