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Heavy atmosphere - 71%

gasmask_colostomy, June 12th, 2018

As with many of Europe’s premier early-‘90s death and doom death bands, Crematory’s slide from extreme to mainstream metal was both graceful and perplexing, not to mention swift. By the point of this third album, one would no longer be likely to refer to the band in the same in the same sentence as the words “death” or “metal” unless the general idea of that sentence was to be summed up with the phrase “used to be”. What remains curious about the phases of these Germans’ alteration is that the aggression dropped off very quickly, though not all of the darkness, seeing as they have kept hold of death growls, heavy guitars, and strong atmospheres mostly until the present day.

Of course, one can’t talk about Illusions without discussing gothic metal and rock, since the burden of the lyrics, atmosphere, and pacing relies on the morbid and religious preoccupations of like-minded men in black. Three lengthy instrumental pieces are presented along with nine conventional songs of around five minutes apiece, meaning that the progress from beginning to end of the album is a leisurely and deliberate one. Indeed, the non-vocal track ‘The Atmosphere’ produces exactly that, vague strains of choir offering up for speculation both hope and the sense of tempting dread that gothic music should inspire. Keyboards constitute a large quantity of the distinctive features both here and in the regular songs, the epic motif of ‘The Beginning of the End’ displaying the appeal of the instrument when proficiently used and properly mixed, since the melody can lead the song without overwhelming the guitars or doing anything altogether too complicated.

The largest problem for any lagging fans of Crematory’s death metal roots would have to be the pace of the songs on Illusions. There’s no escaping the fact that no pace whatsoever is injected into the likes of ‘Faces’ or ‘Dreams of Dancing’, meaning that nothing exciting happens per se, except for the building intensity of emotions. ‘Sweet Solitude’ has a few heavier riffs to distract from Felix Stass's voice and the keys, though it’s necessary to focus on lyrics and moods much more than usual for metal: thankfully, the lyrics opt for a sort of mysterious approach to the themes of mortality, enshrouding ‘An Other...?’ and ‘Tears of Time’ in imagery and light metaphor that intrigues me much more than it repels through any kind of cliché. On the other hand, the delivery of unequal parts clear death growls and a sort of spoken clean singing (like Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride, but the advantage of a German accent) doesn’t quite bring the drama required to make me really feel the songs, owing to an approach too rigid and with too little deviation from common speech rhythms. Most of the songs are very even in that regard, though ‘...Just Dreaming’, the closer proper, is an improvement and ends the album on a positive note.

My feelings about Illusions are mixed, not because I lack appreciation for the style or because the band’s earlier era appeals more to me, but because Crematory don’t manage to make the best use of the components in their sound. Downplaying the guitars is fine by all means if the keyboards are played with this much atmosphere and good judgement, though leaving the pacing and slightly monotonous vocals exposed for criticism is the flaw that I find difficult to forgive. Nevertheless, all the songs bear some listening (even if ‘My Way’ makes me think of Sinatra), so it’s my verdict that Illusions is a solid but unspectacular offering of atmospheric gothic metal.

-- May Diamhea's feat of 100 reviews in 7 days remain unbeaten --