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Illuminata - Where Stories Unfold

Illuminata - CD Review
Where Stories Unfold




CD Info
11 Tracks
English Lyrics

Illuminata, the female fronted Metal/Gothic Metal Band from Graz, Austria has released a new album called Where Stories Unfold. Perhaps a better term would be unleashed. This album, partially funded through crowd funding, and employing the use of the Czech Film Orchestra, brings a unification of two opposite, yet similar genres of music. From the opening, the listener is taken on a journey of songs (stories), which keeps one on the edge of their seat, with the sound of a film score mixed with metal. Perhaps their most ambitious work to date, this album does not disappoint the listener at all. The intertwining of arching melodies, lush harmonies bring each of the stories to life in their own unique way.

Where Stories Unfold is the band’s third full length album, following From the Chalice of Dreams (2009), considered a “promising debut” by Metal- Archives and A World So Cold (2011), which received highly favorable reviews from metal magazines. Interspersed with these albums were the EPs Lachrymal (2007) and A Frame of Beauty (2009). In addition, the song,”Phoenix,” was released as a single from the new album. Another interesting factor is that all the band’s recordings have been independently released without any affiliation with a record company.

The band started in 2006 with guitarist Lukas Knoebel and drummer Dave Slut (ex-Everlasting Dawn, ex-Rest in Fear). Most of the present band members joined in 2007. These include bassist Christoph Vide, keyboardist Sabrina Supan, and vocalist Katarzyna Nieniewska. Other vocalists during the years 2008-2012 included Joanna Nieniewska (ex-Visions of Atlantis), and Lisa Tomantschger (ex-Everlasting Dawn). Tom Kern (Darkfall, Soul of Wit) replaced Dave Slut on drums in 2011, completing the present band lineup.

A lot of hard work and preparation went into this album and it shows. There are, besides the band, additional musicians who contributed to this album. The band employed the services of the Czech Film Orchestra, best known for contributing to the score for “Games of Throne.” This involved traveling to Prague in order to record in the television studio. Also featured are chamber strings, a classical choir, and a musical choir. Mario Plank (Visions of Atlantis) is a guest vocalist. Finally, Jack Vacik, known for working with Edenbridge, Serenity and Visions of Atlantis, mixed and mastered this album at Dreamsound Studios in Munich. He also worked with the band on A World So Cold.

Right from the first, short song “A Story Unfolds,” we hear the start of the collaboration between the band and the Czech Film Orchestra. The majestic sound of the strings and the rich harmony reminded me of the sweeping landscapes from films. The melody is first heard in the flute, followed by a keyboard interlude and then picked up by the horns. The full orchestra takes up the melody with a lush texture before fading away with the winds.

Even though “Eternity of Today” opens with strings and light drums and keyboard, it doesn’t take long for the listener to realize that this song features the band. The guitar joins in with the drums before we hear the lyrics sung by Katarzyna. Guest vocalist and former member Joanna Nieniewska joins in a duet and with the chorus. The staccato sound of the guitar and driving drum beat occurs during the chorus. The Orchestra is featured during the interlude. A guitar solo, which is tastefully played after the second verse, adds to the song and the brass section of the Orchestra along with the chorus enhances the second interlude. Some interesting lyrics include:

To dream and destroy
To fall and enjoy
To hope and just live
In a vast and endless today

Every song or story is unique in its own way, but that would make this review much too long. The song “Arbitrary Asylum” has some interesting characteristics in that it is almost like a mini-operatic scene. We hear several different characters throughout the song. We hear the cries of inmates in the background during the opening played by the strings and percussion of the orchestra. Then the band takes over with drums and guitar. A very unique feature is the refrain is partly based on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Katarzyna vocal lines float over the instrumental parts underneath as she switches back and forth between the inmate and warden. There is an interesting piano countermelody to her part. Guest vocalist Mario Plank joins in on the warden part and the song builds in intensity. Suddenly the song seems to stop before we hear the very end with the following lyrics:

As bones return to dust
And skin crumbles to ash
From sanguine soil
Only insanity will bloom

When you have neither won nor lost
And you are not alive or dead
The only wish worth waiting for
Is for the clock to reach its end

You can watch a video of the song here.

“Phoenix” is another song the opens with the Orchestra before giving over to the guitars and drum. We have the death and then rebirth. This song features the band underneath the vocals which stay above. The orchestra and the band, specifically the guitars and drum, prepare for the rebirth with an interlude. A completely different, almost serene musical sound begins the rebirth with upper register instruments in the orchestra and the music choir supporting the vocalist. Then, shortly over time, the rebirth is complete and the band once again comes to the forefront. Some of the lyrics include:

Hand in hand we walk through the flames
Again and again perhaps to no end
With passion so real it is hard to control
Not better nor worse just different

The band also made a video for this song which can be viewed here.

There is a quartet of songs which show the softer side of Katarzyna’s voice. In these songs, she is able to show a more emotional side with considerable vocal control. They are “Violets Compass,” “White Heart,”“Entwined,” and “The World Constructor.” A very nice duet with Mario is showcased in “Entwined,” and he also has a part in “The World Constructor,” which has multiple parts switching between the orchestra and a harder rock sound.

Once of the stranger songs on the album is “Danse Macabre.” When I saw the name, the first thought I had was the music of the French Composer Camille Saint-Saens. In some ways, there are some hints but they are very slight. After opening with the sounds of the forest at night, we hear the opening lyrics sung in music with a slight lilt to it. Parts of the song remind the listener of a dance of death. The slight beat of the song causes one to feel like dancing. The melody is very catching regardless of whether it is performed by the vocalist, the band or orchestra. Another appealing aspect of this song is that the beat is irregular similar to how a skeleton might dance or someone dying. This song also features Joanna as a supporting singer or as part of the chorus. Finally, another true trait of excellent musicians is the ability to play various styles of music and this song brings that out. The final verse of the song is in a jazzy, almost Dixieland style which the band pulls off very well. The ghastly lyrics are interesting especially where the voice imitates laughter. They are:

It’s a funny, funny world, why don’t you laugh?
I am drowning you why don’t you laugh?

Dumb and blind you’ll never see
That I jerk your strings
And I pull your leg
That you masquerade
And you swirl and you sway
Through my pitch-black and deadly cabaret
-until the music stops

“The Brass Ring” is my choice as my favorite song. Besides being the longest song on the album, it features multiple style changes and is another mini-theatrical performance. I can easily see myself in a theater watching a stage performance with the music. The song employs all the music writing techniques for a great song. Besides having a different theme for each of the characters, there are nicely written and played counter melodies. After opening with a dark orchestral sound with keyboard, there is a brass introduction, and then we have a heavier metal sound from the guitar and drums. While the song employed multiple choruses, Katarzyna shows her vocal prowess in this song by going from the strong metal voice to a very soft, emotional side between characters. This is so strong that later in the song, when the orchestra takes up that very melody, the listener can feel the emotional tug even without the voice. The melodies and accompanying background music for the “brass ring” part has a carnival feel to it from the keyboards, almost like it is played on a calliope. This song, in my opinion, shows the best collaboration between the band and the orchestra. Toward the end of the song with a flowing keyboard and flute part in the background, there is a superbly played violin solo by Daniela Hoelbling. She continues with a countermelody to the voice, all adding to the theatrical performance. Some of the lyrics are:

This is the way we all come and go
Many in strive of gain and success
Yet crown they will only remorses and woe
With a wish to have treasured more
-and less

Where Stories Unfold took several years to write and record and the result is well worth the time. It would be very difficult for me not to recommend this album, not only for followers of Melodic/Goth Metal, but for any Female Fronted Metal follower. Besides skillfully blending the Classical and Metal Genres, this album takes the listener on a journey that is at times scary and enjoyable. Katarzyna voice at times soars and blends so that the listener is pulled in to the lyrics. The music at times reminds me of watching a movie with overarching melodies, while supported by lush harmonies. Throughout all of this, we are reminded from time to time, that Illuminata is a Metal Band, with keyboard harmonies, guitar solos, and a driving drum beat. There are a lot of changes both rhythmically and texturally as different characters are presented. This is by far the band’s most epic work and any metal follower would do a disservice to themselves not to have this album in their library. For additional information on the band, please check out the following links: