Borealis – Illusions


I love music that inspires, not just lyrically or conceptually, but that literally inspires with how grandiose it is.  I’ve been a fan of Borealis for a long time now, and I have yet to be disappointed in their output.  The new album is called Illusions, and it releases on October 7th through AFM Records.

Borealis comes to us from Ontario, Canada.  The band currently consists of Matt Marinelli on vocals and guitar, Ken Fobert on guitar, Aiden Watkinson on bass, and Sean Dowell on drums.  One major change is that Vikram Shankar of Silent Skies and Lux Terminus guests on keys and orchestrations, as well.  Additionally, Christine Hals, famed Scandinavian composer and vocalist, guests on a couple tracks, and Lynsey Ward of Exploring Birdsong sings a duet with Matt on “Burning Tears”.

I first discovered Borealis with their 2011 release Fall from Grace, an album I still listen to regularly.  I soon fell in love with their debut World of Silence, one of my favorites, and they released two other terrific albums, Purgatory and The Offering, in 2015 and 2018 respectively.  So, it has been 4 years since their last album, and I was definitely getting a little hungry for their sound.

The band plays progressive power metal, pure and simple.  They have one of the most unadulterated sounds in this genre, in my opinion.  Their guitar work is crisp and heavy, they love blast beasts just like power metallists should, and their music is supremely and vibrantly epic.  With the addition of Vikram’s orchestrations and synth, this album feels even more towering and lofty, while also cutting through the riffs to make the album feel even more layered and dynamic.  In fact, I would say it sounds like power metal combined with epic cinematic music, aka Thomas Bergersen or Two Steps from Hell.  Much of the album plays like a mighty score to some immense fantasy epic, only with metal elements, too.  It brings a real fire to my mind from the very first notes.

As it stands, I think Illusions is my favorite Borealis album after their debut, which I love for various reasons.  I think one thing they have in common is their dark synth elements and expressive nature.  Matt is a great singer on all fronts, but this album reminds me of their debut in how emotional and detailed he performs.  From little note twists to perfectly timed elongated notes, he offers all sorts of character and interesting ideas that add so much meaning.

Illusions has eleven tracks and is over an hour long.  I might say that it is a bit too long for its own good, but maybe I’m just getting old.  Still, every song here is terrific in its own way.  Even the titular intro with Christine’s haunting harmonies will give you goosebumps.  Some standout tracks are the single “Pray for Water”, especially with its crazy keys in the second half and addictive chorus; “My Fortress”, one of the catchiest songs Borealis as ever written; and “Light of the Sun” with its vast musical space and huge orchestral sound.  I think “Face of Reality” is a winner, too, with its enormous transition from ballad to cinematic powerhouse.

My favorite songs, though, are “Ashes Turn to Rain”, “Burning Tears”, “Bury Me Alive”, and “The Phantom Silence”.  “Ashes Turn to Rain” is the second single, and it proceeds directly from the opening title intro.  It is a spectacle of a song; it takes its time to build a gigantic vision, and it delivers on that promise in every way.  “Burning Tears” might be many metalheads’ introduction to Lynsey Ward (they really should go check out Exploring Birdsong, because that band is superb), and I was impressed with how natural she fits with Matt’s voice.  They sound very warm and genuine together.  I love the song, though, being a ballad with intense orchestrations near the end.  It is exactly what this heavy album needed: something to slice through the wall of guitars for a few minutes, and Lynsey’s voice is the perfect tool to do that.

“Bury Me Alive” gets me every time.  This might sound silly, but I love it for its grunty little oomph after the main riff, like an extra hefty note that really adds something.  This album has many moments like that, but this song leans into it.  Matt sings his heart out on this track, too, laying down some of his best-ever vocals.  Finally, “The Phantom Silence” is the closer, and it is an 11-minute beast.  Playing like the soundtrack to your favorite epic film, this song has an addictive, static-laden riff that sounds fantastic.  Christine (I believe) features on this track, too, as the song builds steam and ends with all the fireworks and emotion it can muster.  It is a searing and appropriate closing to a monster album.

Borealis is releasing an incredibly ambitious album, and I hope people take notice.  This is an album that every power and prog metal fan should appreciate, and I think even people outside those genres can find beauty and artistry here.  I am stunned by the sheer weight and height and breadth of this creation.  If thundering, fantastical, melodic metal isn’t your thing, this album might change your mind.

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