Borealis – Illusions (AFM Records)

Wednesday, 5th October 2022
Rating: 9 / 10

Canadian progressive power metal act Borealis have been steadily climbing the ranks through consistent, quality studio output as well as impressive live performances across North America and Europe through festival/ touring opportunities. Choosing to continue the storyline introduced on their last record The Offering, just given that viewpoint twist of the various children working through trauma events years later that shapes lives in unique ways – the longer downtime between records for Illusions really enhances the totality of the performances and songwriting, sprouting a fuller, detail-oriented experience that pays monumental dividends.

Bigger payoffs take place in terms of the layers of riffs, harmonies, hooks, plus melody possibilities track to track – as there’s more to peel off that may seem one way on the surface, only to deserve deeper inspection through subsequent processing/exposure. The guitar tapestry between vocalist Matt Marinelli and Ken Fobert creates volleys of shimmering rhythms, supportive harmony/melodic runs in addition to ear bending break highlights – “My Fortress” and the calmer to chugging contrasts throughout “Abandon All Hope” two tantalizing arrangements that speak to these earworm components. Allowing guest musician Vikram Shankar to showcase his multi-dimensional sonic palate throughout in his keyboard/orchestration work gives the record that broader, spacious or larger than life/cinematic accents easily heard on “Ashes to Rain” through specific, pulsating swirls or contrasting heavier sequences during “Believer” to heighten tension/ emotion as momentum builds over the course of its 5:33 time frame. Female vocal support from Christine Hals during the shorter “Illusions” intro sets the mood of the record off in resplendent glory, while Lynsey Ward registers thoughtfully as a duet partner for the majestic, ethereal ballad “Burning Tears” – a feather in the cap of the band to place prime time players in proper positions for the end cause of coloring already excellent performances into off the charts, game changing ones. The concluding eleven-minute plus “The Phantom Silence” showcases Borealis at their dynamic best – riffs that pull from melodic death, progressive, and power angles, diverse tempo changes, guitar/keyboard parts weaving in, out, and around the verses, a mid-section atmospheric transition before the bombast/aggression cascades shift into a dramatic finish.

Lest we not forget the challenging duties of drummer Sean Dowell to engineer/mix all these sounds into a fair, cohesive record and you understand that Borealis for Illusions continues to boldly embrace a love of progressive power metal with teeth, dynamic intent, moving listeners who crave material that isn’t disposable. Ideal for people into Evergrey, Symphony X, and others in that ilk.

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