REVIEW: Borealis – Illusions

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There are bands out there that, once they create a core sound that works for them, really lean into it. One such metal act is Canada’s BOREALIS who, over the course of four studio albums (not counting the reissue of “World of Silence MMXVII”), have managed to craft a powerful mixture of power metal with strong progressive leanings. The Ontario-based 4-piece don’t stray too far from that on the band’s fifth studio album, “Illusions,” which was released on October 7th, 2022, through AFM Records.

So, what does that mean for the soundscape of this album? Well, to answer plainly, it means that what we got on 2018’s “The Offering” in terms of heavy instrumentals, strong melodies, backing orchestrations, and hefty vocals, we get again on “Illusions.” That also means that we get some of the pitfalls (like the double-bass drumming and uniformity in the songwriting department) that plagued that output. On the upside, the album benefits from the talents of composer and multi-instrumentalist Vikram Shankar (SILENT SKIES, REDEMPTION, LUX TERMINUS) who was in charge of creating all the orchestral arrangements and synth elements, thus bringing so much texture and richness to the songs. But not even he can work miracles so as to elevate the songs beyond their unadulterated progressive power metal backbones; more often than not, his work is actually buried underneath layers of drums and guitars. I guess some may listen to this album and use words like “grand” and “complex” to describe it, but I believe the best way to talk about it is by using the expression “wall of sound”… and 62 minutes of that can be a bit much.     

Released as a first single, “Pray for Water” is pretty much “a textbook BOREALIS song” (as per the single’s press release) in the sense that it follows the band’s formula very closely, delivering a catchy chorus, dramatic orchestrations, and an interesting keyboard moment in its second half, but the double-bass drumming almost drowns everything. Lead single “Ashes Turn to Rain” fares a bit better, benefitting not only from the cinematic intro, “Illusions,” as its starting point, but also from some really strong melodies that are well carried by Matt Marinelli’s powerful voice and the chunky guitars, slow-building into an excellent symphonic power metal piece. The duet with EXPLORING BIRDSONG vocalist Lynsey Ward, “Burning Tears,” is another highlight of the album, offering emotional vocal deliveries, serene orchestrations, ambient synths, and a very light and bright atmosphere. In addition to being a great break in the album’s heavy soundscape, this track shows how good the band can be when they stray away from their songwriting style and just let the music breathe. Power ballad “Face of Reality” should also be mentioned here, as its cinematic beauty and soulful vocals provide listeners with another wonderful moment of respite. 

Elsewhere on the album, mid-pace track “My Fortress” boasts some really nice melodies, as well as an incredible guitar solo, while dramatic “Bury Me Alive” and “Light of the Sun” have some strings popping up here and there, accenting parts of the song as Matt Marinelli gives some of the best vocal performances on this album. It should also be noted that, at times, BOREALIS sounds like a much darker and heavier version of EVERGREY, as Marinelli’s voice and delivery match Tom S. Englund’s style and these songs really prove it. My only gripe with this record concerns the rhythm section, as I wish Sean Dowell would give his drums a break every now and again to give the piano and backing orchestrations more room to properly develop and give more depth to the music. Case in point are both “Abandon All Hope” and “Believer,” where that wall of sound is so thick and dense that you can barely hear the backing orchestrations, which can’t really break through that powerful sonic barrier. Closing track “The Phantom Silence” is the longest one here, but it has a fantastic build-up that leads to an extended instrumental section halfway through, while the male and female vocals only add tons of nuance to the fold.   

In conclusion, for better or worse, “Illusions” is a typical BOREALIS album with all the trademark elements in place to give the listener the full experience. Consequently, it consistently offers plenty of epic moments, great guitar parts, intense drums, lofty vocals, and even some exquisite backing orchestrations. This combination makes for a very thunderous and punchy soundscape that some may enjoy more than others. Fans of the band should be very pleased with “Illusions,” while newcomers may find some quality power/progressive songs here.   

Written by Andrea Crow

Tracklist:

  1. Illusions
  2. Ashes Turn to Rain
  3. My Fortress
  4. Pray for Water
  5. Burning Tears
  6. Believer
  7. Light of the Sun
  8. Face of Reality
  9. Bury Me Alive
  10. Abandon All Hope
  11. The Phantom Silence

 Lineup

Matt Marinelli – Vocals, Guitars

Ken Fobert – Guitars

Aiden Watkinson – Bass

Sean Dowell – Drums

Label

AFM Records

Links

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