Disillusion – Back to Times of Splendor
This album is probably one of the best albums of all time. This is no small assertion to make, I know, but I make it with confidence. It’s by Disillusion, a German progressive melodic death metal band, but don’t let that label instill any prejudice in you. This is an album that will destroy you emotionally, then rebuild you, only to tear you down again. And it’s not a dramatic, over the top melancholy fest. It’s much more subtler than that. Of course, as it is the case with most albums that grab my attention, this one’s a concept album. But, again, be warned, this album is very intense. It will play with your emotions, it will lift you up and tear you down. It starts slow, hovering under your radar until you underestimate it, but when you let go of your defenses, it will destroy you. If you think you can handle it, let’s go.
Why is this band so unknown? They’re on Metal Blade, their music is amazing, and it’s both accessible and progressive at the same time. It boggles the mind to see this happen to bands that are so good. Thankfully, you have this column to correct such travesties of the universe. The aforementioned album is their debut album from 2004. They have one more album, Gloria, it’s not as good as this one—but it’s still good. Their drumming is good, their guitar playing is good, and the vocals are incredible. What makes them unique and interesting is the fresh take of the band on progressive death metal. Their songs aren’t dreary and heavy and slow like most prog death bands, they’re mostly upbeat and melodic. Or that’s what you think. They’re incredibly subtle, nothing is over the top but they construct their song so deliberately that you don’t realize how clever it is until it hits you in the face. The first songs are pretty good, but the real gems are the longer songs, and the effect is best observed when listened to in one sitting, paying attention to the music. Trust me. Let’s listen.
The album opens with the magnificent (and underrated, even among the band’s fans) “…And the Mirror Cracked”. It starts with a hard-hitting intro, and you should immediately realize that the playing, be it the groovy guitars or intricate cymbal play on the drums, is good and interesting. The song goes into the verse with a huge buildup, and then come on the vocals over an angry thrashy/melodeathy riff. It’s great, but nothing too unique for now. One thing of note is that the vocals are pretty good, angry yet clear. And then the song suddenly changes. Clean vocals that do not sound like any other conventional band, other than perhaps System of a Down—In a good way, mind you. The song flows perfectly through angry and slow, melodic sections, interleaving the angry vocals and the folky-sounding clean vocals. Then you get a slow interlude, not forced like a mediocre metalcore song, but an actual interlude, first with a lead line backed by drums, and then acoustic guitars come in with the clean vocals. What makes this song so good is that it’s so genuine. It’s about regret, pain of a past mistake, and then trying your best to get over it. And the music actually reflects this. The angry lyrics are with the angry parts, and the slow, emotional parts have lyrics that match. Mind you, this isn’t your usual fare of high school grade emotional angst lyrics. I don’t want to spoil the experience by decoupling the lyrics from the music, so here’s the song for you, go look up the lyrics and then listen:
The reason for this song being so effective is the excellent composition, leading through buildups and releases, no riff is there just to pass time in the song, every note picked is done so with purpose. And the beauty of the song is near the 3/4 mark, the melancholic part ends, and it feels like the song’s over, letting you wallow in the sorrow. But no, the song comes back full force, and the growling sounds different after that point, full of more emotion. I don’t know if that was intentional, but it adds even more to the song. This song is so good, so unexpected, and beautiful. But it’s just the beginning.
The song perfectly flows into “Fall”, which sounds like groove metal at first, and the unique vocals grip you again, and suddenly you’re hooked again. It’s hard to notice because it’s not overdone, but the rhythmic content of the songs in this album is actually not straightforward, there’s a fair share of odd meters. But the excellent composition makes that a means, not an end unlike many bands today. This song is another assault of emotional buildups, the vocals and the melodic guitars wrenching your heart section after section, and by now you should be wondering why this band is so unknown. They’re not generic melodeath, all their songs are actually interesting and technically impressive while not being in-your-face, and the vocals are simply amazing.
Again, there’s a seamless transition into “Alone I Stand in Fires”, which has a tone that is slightly darker than the previous two songs. This time it’s more dramatic, angrier yet packed with even more pain. This song builds up so interestingly, starting dark, then turning melodic and self-reflecting, then halfway through, you suddenly get blast beats and angry riffing. The song keeps grabbing you and holding you down, hen releasing you only to grab back again. This time the song is about letting go, taking that leap to push down the pain and walk again. After yet another intense buildup (I guess that’s the word of the day), the song leaves you to reflect on yourself with a quiet piano outro.
In comes the title track, which starts with a violin backed by an orchestra, and soon the band comes in. Let me warn you, this song is ridiculous, it will very slowly and subtly engineer one of the most epic buildups you’ll ever hear. The first riff in the verse is slightly disappointing, but the delivery of the vocals and the lyrics are so interesting that it keeps you going. Soon, you are rewarded with yet another excellent section, while the vocals sing: “There is a road I must travel; May it be paved or unseen; May I be hindered by a thousand stones; Still onward I’d crawl down on my knees”, and the song suddenly changes tone. By the way, I keep praising the vocals, I know, but they’re just so unique, especially the cleans. They’re what make this band special. And of course the excellent composition. Suddenly the song takes a progressive twist, which is actually part of a hug buildup engineered yet again to twist your emotions, subtly changing from regret to anger. A minute or two later (this song is really long), the song culminates with a huge wall of sound, an orchestra, blast beats, vocals, everything, and then explodes. Silence. Sounds of nature, an orchestra slowly creeping into the frame, and then you get a drum&bass riff reminiscent of Dream Theater. When you guitars come in, you can hear all kinds of influences, jazz, Spanish guitar, you name it. Slowly, you realize the buildup again, there’s even a solo in there, and the song suddenly changes dramatically. At this point I’m so overwhelmed, I just give myself in to the song. Not even close to the end yet. Let me be clear, this is not a bad thing. This song will take your heart and play with it, make you its bitch. This song is a progressive masterpiece. It’s unbelievable. You have to hear it, no excuses. it starts off slow, and a little bland, but bear with it, you won’t be disappointed:
This song is so good that it makes the underratedness of this band criminal.
Thankfully, “A Day By The Lake”, the next song, is easy on you. At least in the beginning. There’s a pretty good bass line, and the guitars paint a very soft, emotional melody. The clean vocals impress again with their unique delivery, and thankfully this is a slow song that doesn’t wreck your emotions further. There’s something very unsettling at the end though, as the vocals sing the final lines with pain: “And I cry just for you; Knowing, this is coming to an end; But still I am hoping that fall will never come”, the song ends. Then, suddenly, a deep and ominous voice says “BUT IT CAME”, and the next track comes on. After I was left emotionally vulnerable by the assault of the songs, that voice genuinely scared me, and I was very unsettled.
“The Sleep Of Restless Hours” starts with an ambiguous acoustic line, not sure if it will crush me further into the fear set in by the end of the previous song, or save me by putting back into melancholy. It very slowly builds up to the actual song following the intro, and it sounds quite promising. First you get a progressive groove, and then the orchestra comes in again. Oh, by the way, this is the last song. And it is 17 minutes long. After 3 minutes of ridiculous building up, the vocals come in, aggressively leading you through sections, and then you get another unique delivery by the clean vocals. And of course, yet another intense, emotionally gripping buildup. These guys are so good at this that you can’t imagine, just listen to this song. After a very long and epic buildup, you’re allowed to rest as the guitar, piano, drums and bass nurture you, but don’t be fooled. They’re orchestrating yet another attack on your soul and being. At this point I don’t have any words for this anymore. This is incredible. This is amazing. This is the best thing that you’ll listen to today. It lifts you so high, then drops you so hard. It picks you up, consoles you, and then hits you in the face. When the song finally fades out, you’ll be wanting more, even though you know you can’t take any more. That’s the beauty of this album.
There isn’t really another album like this. The follow up album Gloria, while being good, is nothing like this one. Don’t listen to it as the work of the same band. let this album stand alone. If you really want more, check out the demos of the band, Three Neuron Kinds and The Porter, which are closer to this vein. But as I said, don’t expect to find anything else like this. This is a once in a lifetime album. Just listen to it, and let it take you over. You won’t regret it.