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In these few days just before ProgPower USA XI, I decided to check out the albums of the bands playing to see who'd I'd see and who'd I'd skip to browse the merchandise area or possibly get some autographs. Illusion Suite is the opening band this year for the Friday night line up and right away I'll go ahead and tell you that I am looking forward to this band's performance.. I'm more excited about these guys then most of the bands playing there. Its a really odd line up this year.. more about that towards the end of the review though. Lets get to the album.
There are a few obvious things to get out of the way first. This band/album is driven by the guitar & bass. Unlike some albums in this genre you can't really distinguish the bass from the guitar line or the guitar is overpowering the bass. On this album you can clearly hear the bass and that it doesn't always follow the guitar line or just play the root of the chord. There is a keyboardist in the group the keys are usually just for harmonizing as opposed to bands like Circus Maximus and Dream Theater where they are just as dominate as the guitars. The only real track I've found that really features the keys is the 4th track "Once We Where Here" you might have heard something similar from some dreamcast/playstation games or even an anime soundtrack..or actually even bands like Arwen (I've seen to have forgotten about them until now)... I feel like I'm flying in the skies when I hear that riff.. its just cool. After that opening riff,however, the keys return to its duty of harmonizing the chords.
The epic track entitled "The Adventures of Arcan" is a pretty nice epic. Our female vocalist returns to enhance the the track especially during some segue-esque moments. Theres a really nice clean guitar solo over a guitar part that is again Arwen like, but not quite. The only problem with this track might be that there might be one to many segues/transitions/tempo changes/etc but I'd say thats up to the listener.
There are some points in the album that I just find odd. This first one, and this maybe the fault of progressive/power metal vocalists in general, but on the track "Scarlet Skies" there is a female vocalist introduced for the first time on the album. Personally, if I hadn't seen the band announcement video for this year at last year's festival, I wouldn't of known that this was a female, or at least it would of taking me a bit to realize that. This could of been just an ordinary male vocalist that excelled in falsetto register. I am in no way trying to offend the female vocalist on this album, I think its just a poor arrangement or writing in general. The female vocalist really shines on the track "A Moment To Remember". Her solo is comparable to the female solos on Ayreon's- Ayreon's Fate, from The Final Experiment, if memory serves me correctly.
I don't know what the term is exactly in the recording industry, but I've never been a fan when bands have guests come in and do some sort of narration or they some speech of a president. Illusion Suite uses this technique on a few tracks - the first track it is used on is "The Devil In Your Heart" and it is used towards the end of the track. The only problems I had with this technique is that a) when you first hear it, you can't really hear it... they should of made this track (the technique track.. not the track itself) a bit louder in the mix. 2) I can't understand the language (I'm assuming it isn't in english.. its sort of that hard to tell) therefore adding to the confusion. An example of how this technique is done well is on an album like Guilt Machine's debut album. It makes sense on that album. It just doesn't on this album.
As I've said earlier, I am quite excited about seeing this band perform live. Kamelot, Nocturnal Rites, Tyr, Seventh Wonder, Leave's Eyes, Storm Warrior are playing after Illusion Suite open up for them. I think the lead vocalist has a wonderful voice and the rest of the musicians are quite talented. I hope we get to see the female vocalist as well. For the record the other bands I'm interested in seeing are Seventh Wonder, Tyr and Kamelot depending on Kamelot's setlist. I think Illusion Suite, while possibly a bit underrated, that they will be excellent to watch live. They have the talent to back it up as shown on this album, they just need to work on the songwriting a bit.. fix a few hiccups here and there.
I'm giving this album a 75/100. I think it is one of the more well produced albums out there. I think it can be agreed upon that a problem with a lot of progressive bands out there is the vocalist. That is not the case here. The vocalist and musicians are excellent, however, the group needs to work on their songwriting. Please keep in mind that I rarely give a group a score over 90. There aren't that many great bands that deserve that score.
From the desk of ApolloFC
Limb Music has found itself another emerging star in Norway's Illusion Suite, a power/progressive metal hybrid which summons up the finer elements of Dream Theater, Angra, Pagan's Mind and Shadow Gallery while maintaining a harder edge of harder Swedish power metal (Tad Morose, Morgana LeFay) and a vocalist whose charisma almost rivals Helloween's Andi Deris. Final Hour is an extremely well rounded album which is both heavy and melodic, glorious and skirting the edge of the dark simultaneously.
Although it doesn't hurt that the band is almost flawless in their ability to create good, meaty riffs and epic, atmospheric verses, vocalist Bill Makatowicz takes the album a step further. His silklike but varied range injects life and character into each composition, there is not a stinker in this entire bunch. For the harder side, tracks like "Scarlet Skies" and "The Adventures of Arcan" rock forth a fury of immense riffs, tasteful synth accompaniment and the sheer wonder you always feel when you're a fan of these styles. For a dash of the band's more theatrical, graceful writing there are tracks like "Pandora's Box" and "Once We Were Here" are both extremely memorable and powerful. Even the balladic moments of "A Moment to Remember" lapse into fine progressive metal with glistening vocals.
Final Hour is a big production with a quality mix that will compare favorably to many works in this genre. The musicians are great but reserved, performing only to what the track needs, with slight stretches of lead work tastefully summoned at the appropriate moments. It's a really good album that should impress fans of earlier Dream Theater, the past few Helloween albums, and most of what you'd find in between those two poles. If you're not into the big, sappy and smooth power metal vocals and the prog metal genre in general, I doubt Illusion Suite will change your mind. Otherwise, the album is an impressive debut for what it is.