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Illuminata: Where Stories Unfold
Illuminata - Where Stories Unfold Debut CD Album Review

Illuminata: Where Stories Unfold

Melodic/Symphonic/Power Metal

Let's cut to the chase. Austria's Illuminata wants to be Nightwish. Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica all rolled into one. They so much want to be like Nightwish, I'm betting each player has a picture of the band taped to the ceiling of their bedroom so they can wake up to them each morning. I wonder if Illuminata guitarist and composer gets a woody every time he wakes to Tuomas Holopainen's image. The band financed their latest album, Where Stories Unfold through crowd-funding, an increasingly popular tactic for bands. I suppose their pitch went something like, "Give us enough money and we can be Nightwish before the real Nightwish releases their new album". Whoa! That was a clever little marketing ploy.

Illuminata - Where Stories Unfold Photo


Well, after all, imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery. The difficulty, however, is that, while trying to clone Nightwish, Illuminata walks on the knife edge between musical plagiarism and disingenuous creativity. But, to their credit, Where Stories Unfold is grand and ambitious if only for getting support from a string chamber ensemble, several choirs, and the 60-piece Czech Film Orchestra. You know, the dudes that do the Game of Thrones score for television. (Holy crap! How much money did Illuminata raise?) Take that Nightwish. Let's see you beat that, bitches.

Sarcasm aside, on the positive side Where Stories Unfold is well-crafted, thanks to the fine composition of guitarist Lukas Knoebl. He's no musical slouch, and quite talented, which will allow Illuminata to be symphonic metal contenders for a long time. And later, if need be, to make money, becoming a Nightwish cover band (which is where they may have started). Also, while sounding like Nightwish, the overall sound is rich and vibrant: somebody knows their way around studio production. The band's goal was something akin to 'cinematic metal' and they bring a certain amount of immensity to their music that makes it feel like it was composed for an epic fantasy film. Another positive note is that there is no fool doing death vocals at any time, at least not that I could hear.

Conversely, even with all this, once you've made it through the intro and two songs, you've basically heard everything you need to hear or know about Illuminata. You get that they are, essentially, a Nightwish clone, perhaps their doppelganger. Actually the more interesting stuff comes in the second half the album. The Brass Ring adopts the proper carnival/circus motif as the title implies; The Phantom Rickshaw invokes a singular European symphonic power metal sound; and The World Constructor includes a light folk element thanks to a flute incorporated early on. (You really have to listen for it, and I hope it wasn't just synth tomfoolery.) Finally, vocalist Katarzyna Nieniewska, for all her operatic strengths, is largely difficult to understand across this work. Even with the lyrics in hand, I found it hard to discern what she was saying. Where the problem lies for this, I don't know, especially considering the depth and professionalism of the album's production.

With my crafty and creative wordsmithing, you probably think I'm panning this album and the band. Not so much. I simply wish bands would stop trying to be like other bands, notably the flagship and breadwinning band. Bring something new to the table, will you. Geez. Where Stories Unfold is merely Imaginaerum without a coherent conceptual theme. Is there room for bands like Illuminata? Absolutely. They've got tons of talent and ambition, and will likely have a long career. And Where Stories Unfold is a worthy and entertaining accomplishment. But I wonder if they'll merely be the band you go to see in Europe when you can't get tickets to a Nightwish concert. Just saying.

Illuminata - Phoenix - New fiction, crime fiction by Craig Hartranft

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In Short

It's more than obvious. Illuminata sounds like Nightwish; they may even want to supplant Nightwish from the symphonic power metal throne with Where Stories Unfold. But the album is ambitious and lavish. Get it, while you're waiting for next Nightwish album.

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