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While retaining the key elements first introduced in "…And Jesus Wept", "Illusion of Evil" sees Nightly Gale ditching the highly disorienting style that was so prominent on "…And Jesus…" in favor of a more melodic and approachable one, something that might be interpreted as a bad thing in most of the cases, but this one merely shows a band at its growth. What they've lost in edge and surprise they've gained in variety, merging different elements instead of showcasing them one at a time, and while it takes several listening to fully understand the grandeur of "…And Jesus", "Illusion of Evil" will take your breath away on the very first second until the very last.
If I had to describe their new direction, "Illusion…" stands on a meeting point between the synth-driven funeral doom of Shape of Despair, the aggressive sludge doom of Corrupted and something completely new and unique; Nightly Gale are the nice and more talented brother of Zaraza, if you like, they even come from the same country. Now, it requires some good composing skills to blend different and sometimes contradicting elements into your music and excel at it, so one must give much credit to these guys, which have nailed it quite well on their debut and managed to bring it very close to perfection on "Illusion…". And with additional progressive and experimental elements thrown into this blend – and let's say you've never heard how a saxophone solo (!) could sound so organically in a doom band until now – they manage to pass through a very slippery trench and come out as winners.
Great composing skills are crucial in a genre like doom metal, where all other skills can only harm, especially if you're in Nightly Gale: the more remarkable performances on this album are made by the guests, particularly by Waldemar Sagan with his exceptionally sick screams, and even without them the main stage here is owned by the synths and not on live instruments, with the guitars pushed to the background, so they often resort to play basic power chord ridden rhythmic back-up. Then you have Slawomir Pyrzyk, who's in charge for the clean vocals (which are, as a part of their new approach, are dominating in this album) has a very morbid and thus – appealing tone (and even that – after some digital processing) and that's about it; the bass and the drums are – well, programmed.
Yet somehow when these parts come together – it works beyond expectation. The minimalistic guitar riffs, the contradictions between the simple and monotonous clean vocal melodies and the emotional screams, combined with cleverly layered synths and the crystal clear production result in something rather oxymoronic you must hear to believe – the mood of "Illusion…" manages to be very bleak and very epic simultaneously, proving again that sometimes less is more. The lyrics would serve another example how weakness could be turned into advantage in the right hands: Leaving the grammar and spelling mistakes aside, the main theme dealt with in the lyrics is love and bitter (often sick) relationships. Now, it might rebuff a potential listener as much as it almost rebuffed me, but the twist is that the lyrics actually fit in the miserable atmosphere of the music, sometimes even enhancing it – like on the song "Vanity", where the line "my treasure, a little butterfly" is uttered with such a passionate screech, you'll fight the chills for a few moments before it would let go.
All this praise, yet there's still one thing that makes "Illusion…" one step short of perfection, namely the title track, which falls below the standarts set by the other three, it is comparatively mediocre and fails to preserve interest throughout it's 12+ minutes. This statement by itself poses a greater problem, simply because there are only 4 tracks on the album, so the impact of every single track on the general impression is far more significant than in a 7 track release.
Overall: "Illusion of Evil" gives you a very rich, epic and interesting journey, offering 3 lengthy good tracks (and a bad) into your misery. It's a very different experience than "…And Jesus Wept", so if you've liked the previous one you might not like this one and vice versa, though I believe that any doom fan could enjoy it as much as I do.
[Favorite Bits: All but Illusion of Evil]