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Heading into this one I had high hopes for a sterling Swedish death metal release: Evocation come with a solid B-league name for their field and, if nothing else, the cover has Pestilence "Testimony of the Ancients" written all over it which can never be a bad thing. However, from 2 seconds into my first listen to the dozen or so as I write now, all I can wonder is how the band have the gall to write and record an album so entirely, utterly derivative of (recent) Amon Amarth with bits of At The Gates and Hypocrisy thrown in. The total absorption of the victorious Vikings' sound cannot be ignored when critically reviewing "Illusions of Grandeur" but how do the ten songs on offer stand up to their analysis?
Well, not too bad. "Well Of Despair" is a good indicator of Evocation's knack for mixing melodic fast-paced riffs with slower moments of scene setting. "Divide and Conquer" I do actually like - it is more ominous (a pre-battle fighting song you could say) but its adherence to the Amon Amarth template is over-whelming and frankly embarrassing. I love those festival -friendly Swedes more than most (they've been a personal favourite band since the days of "Versus The World") but if I wanted to listen to them I would choose to do so; I don't want another band to play "Twilight of the Thundergod" covers for me. "Perception of Reality" and "I'll Be Your Suicide" follow the classic At The Gates inspired melo-death formula to a tee, so naturally are easily appreciable little ditties. "Crimson Skies", "The Seven Faces of God", "Final Disclosure"...all perfectly decent melodic death metal songs but about as original as a cumshot in a hardcore porn movie.
Perhaps all would not have been so bad if the production to Evocation's AA-influenced tracks gave them an edge, but the clarity of tone in the rounded riffs, standard drumsound and Johan Legg-lite vocalist do them no favours here either. Taking influence is of course standard procedure but if you're going to ape a band perhaps it is best to wait ‘til that act is no more - ala Thulcandra?
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
In the lead up to Illusions being released I was very excited to consume new material from these Swedes. Their last album, Apocalypse, is one of my favorite death metal albums because of its expert blend of old school Swedish death metal and Gothenburg melodic death metal. They played a style that kept both feet on the side of death metal while embracing more melody and guitar harmonies. This is why Illusions of Grandeur is unfortunately a let down for me.
When I hear IoG the bands that come to mind are first and foremost, Amon Amarth, and secondly a touch of At the Gates. Of course their previous work already had that AtG styling to it. But the Amon Amarth influence takes the front seat here. The riffs especially wreak of that band, and it saddens me that while Evocation were not necessarily unique in their past releases, they were still one of a handful of bands doing the melodic death metal sub-genre justice. Even the buzzsaw guitar tone is gone, and its loss is oh so felt!
Thomas Josefsson still gives a pretty good performance on the album. His throaty growls border on the standard black metal rasps. But even vocally the album doesn't seem to escape the Amon Amarth touch with Johan Hegg doing guest vocals on Into Submission.
Josefsson also takes over bass guitar duties on this album as well. The bass plays a much smaller role in the music here than on Apocalyptic. Where before it was a buzzing heavy bottom end now its buried behind the guitars. Even Janne Boden's drumming is slower and less frenzied.
Illusions of Grandeur is a step down in quality by Evocation. They have pretty much abandoned their Swedish death metal roots and instead here are more of a Amon Amarth clone. Still I will admit they do Amon Amarth better than Amon Amarth do but still, it is pretty disappointing. This time around they even opted for the clean modern sounding production. These songs are still decent but I seriously hope on their next release Evocation decides to move back towards their older sound which was far more enjoyable.
Long primed as one of the flag-bearers for the current crop of retro Swedish death metallers, Evocation have maintained a reasonably high profile since they re-emerged from the underground in the 21st century. Up to this point, I've enjoyed all their studio efforts, in particular Tales from the Tomb in 2007, and had every expectation of lavishing praise upon this latest full-length. For some reason, though, this record just isn't sinking in with me, perhaps because, for the first time, Evocation don't sound so much like a fresh take on an old feel, rather than a smattering of ingredients from other, prevalent Swedish acts, and I was constantly feeling distracted with where I had heard this or that riff sequence, or one quite like it...
Don't get me wrong, they've not become a group of plagiarists or precise clones, but so much of the song process here reminds me heavily of their contemporaries Amon Amarth, that with the exception of the more rasped edge to the vocals, I almost though I was experiencing a pseudo-sequel to Twilight of the Thunder God. One of the tunes even guests Johan Hegg. Largely built on slower, driving guitar patterns threaded with somber, mug smashing melodies, pieces like the titular opener reek of those familiar, frothing waves. There are also lots of picking sequences which recall the late At the Gates, particularly in the bridging riffs of "Well of Despair" or the escalation through "Perception of Reality". I'd also add Hypocrisy to the list of influences, especially their late 80s/early 90s phase, with those floods of melodic-imbued, simple chord structures that steer the drama of the bloodied vocals. I suppose, to some degree, these similarities were always present in Evocation's earlier records, but here they seem to have crowded the spotlight, and thus Illusions is a work of diminished distinction.
Not to say that the album doesn't have a few highlights in terms of brighter, memorable riffs, but they seem to be seated amongst a slew of average neighbors which serve little more than to bludgeon along and fill space. The mix of the record is both bold and laid back, another factor reminding me of Amon Amarth, and this is a contributor to how the songs tend to 'march along', but never explode. The vocals were never the most unique element of Evocation's style, but here they border on annoying predictability, subdued as they strive to match up over the beats. Guitar tone and drums have a higher end production, but nothing you haven't heard before from various of their countrymen over the last decade. You get a good bass level, and the songs are reined in at around 3-4 minutes, with little fatty excess to bore the listener, but ultimately Illusions of Grandeur does not feel so inspired as even its more divisive predecessors Apocalyptic and Dead Calm Chaos, and hopefully next time they'll grasp at some broader, exciting dynamics. Not bad, just not on par the other records.