Borealis – Illusions Review

Their sound has evolved rather subtly, but steadily over the past few releases, all leading up to their fifth and latest full-length release, Illusions, which is their most complex...

Released By: AFM Records

Release Date: October 7th, 2022

Genre: Progressive Power Metal

Links: https://officialborealis.com/

 

Line Up:

Matt Marinelli – Vocals, Guitars

Ken Fobert – Guitars

Aiden Watkinson – Bass

Sean Dowell – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. Illusions

2. Ashes Turn to Rain

3. My Fortress

4. Pray for Water

5. Burning Tears

6. Believer

7. Light of the Sun

8. Face of Reality

9. Bury Me Alive

10. Abandon All Hope

11. The Phantom Silence

 

 

Power metal is generally known to be on the fun and upbeat side of the spectrum, as far as metal is concerned. That doesn’t always have to be the case, though, as it can occasionally get dark, atmospheric, or even a bit sorrowful. One band that falls into this side of the genre is Canadian band Borealis, who I’ve been following since the release of their second full-length album, Fall From Grace, back in 2011. Their sound has evolved rather subtly, but steadily over the past few releases, all leading up to their fifth and latest full-length release, Illusions, which is their most complex and epic release to date, as well as quite possibly their best!

As mentioned above, Borealis’s music falls on the darker side of the genre, somewhat along the lines of Evergrey, though they’re generally a bit punchier and more energetic than the Swedish band, sometimes approaching the heaviness of Symphony X, especially on their earlier albums. They started as more of a power metal band, with prog elements being fairly minor, but over their past few albums they’ve become more and more of a prog/power band, to the point where I’d even say the prog elements have taken over and become the main focus, while the power metal elements are still there, but not as dominant as before. I found their second album Fall from Grace to be a bit of an oddity among their discography, despite being my personal favorite, as it was easily the most guitar-driven, hardest hitting, and straight-forward album they’ve made to date, despite still having some excellent melodies and strong choruses. With their third album, Purgatory, the band started moving into the brand of modern, melodic prog/power metal they play nowadays, and they’ve continued to steadily build on that sound, with Illusions feeling like the next step in their evolution.

Their previous album, The Offering, was a bit of a grower for me, in that I wasn’t overly impressed at first, but over time I’ve come to like it a great deal. That isn’t so much the case with Illusions, which I already enjoyed a lot on my first listen, though it has only gotten better with each listen. Stylistically, it’s in similar territory as The Offering, with the focus being on big melodies, strong choruses, lots of ambiances, and a dark atmosphere, as well as increased use of symphonic elements, which sometimes bring Serenity to mind, with how big and the arrangements can get on some tracks. At the same time, I find the music slightly heavier here than on The Offering, and there are some explosive power metal sections, especially on tracks like “Believer” and “Light of the Sun”.

The musicians all do a great job, as always, with some of the riffs and melodic guitar solos, in particular, being excellent, and strongly bringing Evergrey to mind, while the production is top notch. However, perhaps the biggest highlight of the album is the voice of Matt Marinelli, whose delivery falls somewhere in between the gruff, powerful vocals of Russell Allen, and the more airy, smooth, and deeply emotional vocals of Tom S. Englund. He does an excellent job throughout the album, especially shining on choruses, and he’s one of the main driving forces behind the songs.

As is often the case, the one area where The Offering took a while to grow on me was the songwriting, which I found a bit inconsistent at first. Over time, I came to enjoy the majority of the album, even if some tracks weren’t as strong as others. Illusions, however, are great from start to finish, with a few particular tracks hitting me harder than the rest, but there certainly aren’t any weak tracks to be found here. Following a brief, but very nice intro track with some nice chanting vocals from Christine Hals, the opening track “Ashes Turn to Rain” kicks the album off in style. It’s a rather epic, slow-building track, with the symphonic elements immediately making their presence felt, along with some crunchy guitar riffs, which give way to an intense opening verse before everything settles down for a very nice, melodic chorus, where Marinelli’s voice shines. It’s a fairly laid-back track overall, with bursts of heaviness, highlighted by excellent melodies, symphonic arrangements, and a strong chorus.

Next is “My Fortress”, where the melodic guitar leads instantly bring Evergrey to mind, except with a slightly lighter tone. It’s a mid-paced, very melodic track, with a slightly upbeat feel to it, and it has some nice crunchy riffs, to go along with the excellent vocals, another fantastic chorus, and a stunning guitar solo towards the end. It’s an excellent track overall, and probably my favorite from the early portion of the album. Next is the first single “Pray for Water”, a slightly simpler, very melodic track with another excellent chorus, as well as a very cinematic feel to the symphonic arrangements. It’s a bit lighter than the previous tracks, while still having a slight edge to the guitars. It’s the kind of track that’s solid enough on its own, but holds up very well within the full album, and gives a great idea of what to expect from the band.

There are two ballads on the album, the first of those being “Burning Tears”, a very soft track, with light guitar work and some very nice ambient synths, performed by guest musician Vikram Shankar, who’s also responsible for all the orchestral arrangements throughout the album. It’s a very good track overall, with a great chorus, as well as excellent vocals, both from Marinelli and guest vocalist Lynsey Ward, who fits in perfectly and makes for an excellent duet partner.

The tempo picks up in a big way with “Believer”, the first track where the power metal elements get to shine. It gets off to an explosive start, with very heavy riffs and intense drums, moving at a blazing pace during the opening, before slowing down for the verses, which are more atmospheric and laid-back, giving way to a chorus that is quite dark, yet still very melodic and beautiful. The track does a great job of alternating between slow and speedy sections, with some of the instrumental parts being quite intense, while the vocal parts are generally calmer and more relaxed. It’s one of my favorites on the album, though it’s immediately topped by “Light of the Sun”, a track that almost feels like a polar opposite, starting fairly slow and relaxed, with epic symphonic arrangements that instantly bring Serenity to mind, and while it stays fairly calm during the opening verse, the chorus is probably the heaviest, fastest and most intense sequence on the entire album, while still being as catchy and melodic as always. The intensity keeps up throughout, with the second half in particular being fantastic. The track has some of the best guitar work on the entire album, as well as some rather flashy synths at points, and while the chorus itself is already excellent, the instrumental portions help push it to be my favorite on the album.

Unsurprisingly, things calm down again with “Face of Reality”, the second ballad on the album. It’s more of a power ballad, with bursts of heaviness here and there, though it stays fairly slow and calm throughout, with some excellent melodic guitars, powerful vocals, and yet another excellent chorus, as well as a great solo in the second half. Next is “Bury Me Alive’, another more upbeat track, with some catchy keys, heavy riffs, and a nice melodic chorus. It doesn’t reach the intensity of “Believer” or “Light of the Sun”, but it’s a very fun track overall, with excellent instrumental work and a strong chorus. After that is “Abandon Hope”, which alternates nicely between heavy and calm sections, with some excellent melodic guitar work throughout. I don’t find it as memorable as some of the other tracks in the second half, but it’s a great track overall.

Closing out the album is the 11-minute epic “The Phantom Silence”, the kind of epic, slow-building track one would expect from a track of this length, though instead of being divided into multiple parts, it simply feels like a fairly straight-forward track, that just happens to have an extended instrumental section in the middle and beginning. It’s a very epic track, though, with the symphonic arrangements being easily the best on the album, while the guitars are generally more relaxed, with quick bursts of heaviness here and there. The vocals are a definite highlight, with both the lead and backing vocals being fantastic, and the chorus is one of the strongest on the album. Despite not being as complex as one may expect from an epic-length track, there’s still quite a bit going on, and it stays fresh and engaging throughout, never feeling anywhere near as long as it is (in fact, I’m always surprised by how quickly it goes by.) It’s an excellent track overall, and it closes out the album perfectly.

I didn’t have the highest expectations for Illusions going into it, as I was initially not overly impressed by some of the band’s previous work, but over time, their previous album The Offering has grown on me quite a bit, and I can safely say this album takes everything that worked on that album and pushes it further, with the epic symphonic arrangements being more impressive than ever, while the contrast between heavy guitars, beautiful melodies, and excellent vocals remains as impressive as always. Borealis have proven themselves to be one of the most consistent band’s when it comes to producing excellent dark power/prog metal, and this album is no exception, standing as possibly their best work to date. Longtime fans should be very pleased with this album, and newcomers are highly recommended to start with this album.

 

Ratings: 8/10

Written by: Travis Green

My Global Mind – Staff Writer

Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.

 

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Borealis - Illusions
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Borealis - Illusions
The Good
  • Epic
  • Symphonic
  • Evergrey
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