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Illuminae - Dark Horizons CD (album) cover

DARK HORIZONS

Illuminae

 

Crossover Prog

3.92 | 44 ratings

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lazland
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Dark Horizons is the album from a new project, Illuminae, fronted by Ian Jones, founder and guiding hand of South Wales band Karnataka, and on vocals Agnieszka Swita, who has a solo album Sleepless, which is now on my must buy list, but is better known for her collaborations with Clive Nolan of Arena fame in Caamora and "Alchemy. The Musical".

This is a wonderful album, which I was reminded of by my very good friend Thomas "Tszirmay". I initially downloaded it on iTunes, but this is far too good for a mere digital download, and after a couple of listens, I clicked on the relevant Caerllysi Music button to get the digipack cd. Worth every penny.

Before I discuss the album in any great detail, I really must pay tribute to Agnieszka's stunning vocal performance. There are times, most especially on opener The Lighthouse and closer Dark Horizons, when I am listening to her voice, and the hairs on the back of my neck literally stand up. This incredibly talented vocalist takes you to a place that is full of joyful noise and must rank as one of the finest female performances in prog in recent years.

It has taken me until the fourth paragraph to mention the guest performances. Whilst these are important, and obviously a decent selling point for any prog project, I really must stress that the likes of Steve Hackett on The Lighthouse, John Helliwell of Supertramp fame on Sign of Infinity, Craig Blundell superb on drums throughout, as are Troy Donockley, one of my favourite musicians, and Luke Machin on lead and rhythm guitar, simply enhance what is, at its heart, a rich and beautifully woven tapestry written in its entirety by the two lead protagonists, and produced to wall of sound effect by Jones. The key word here is atmosphere, because the album has it in spades.

So, to the music, and the opener exemplifies that atmosphere perfectly. The Lighthouse opens with foreboding menace, but develops into a paean to a journey we all must take one day. The first hair raising moment comes when Swita sings out "and the weather will be clear", backed by a symphonic storm, and this has become an all-time favourite of mine already, it really is that good. Her voice is angelic, yearning, the orchestration is soaring, and Hackett adds that special ghostly cream on top, because, remember, whilst he does many guest appearances, he is choosy about what he does, and he adds as much as you would expect from a maestro. This track is worth the entrance price alone, and you are left exhausted by the power of it at the denouement.

How do you follow that? Well, with Blood On Your Hands, a thumping track about the dangers of following demagogues set at a blistering pace, but with enough space to allow for Swita to soar. Lyrically, I think that this theme owes much to One For The Vine, another (and I do mean another) classic intelligently warning us of the dangers of following madmen who pander to our worst fears and desires. Jones and Blundell form an incredibly powerful rhythm section, and, again, the orchestration is spot on.

Edge of Darkness takes us into a Gothic world of wolves, and forbidden love. The sound is thunderous, with some lovely guitar breaks by Machin especially. This is intelligent music, and Swita simply takes you above all of this to her own special place.

Lullaby initially takes us down quite a few notches, and features at its heart some of the lilting Celtic themes Jones and co do so well in Karnataka. It reminds me in places of a latter day favourite of mine, namely Feels Like Home. Donockley is stunning on pipes and whistles, and combined with Swita's gorgeous lilt, some amazing fret work, and such intelligent drumming and orchestration, at the closing When The Hopes Are High passage, the dreams become reality. Quite beautiful, really.

Jones plays an atmospheric organ to begin Twice, which is a lovely ballad I take to mean something ever so important, namely seizing the moment and opportunity for love when it calls us. Machin once again brings some wonderful fret work to the fore, and Swita simply makes you fall in love with her by this point with her yearning vocals. The history of progressive rock is full of beautiful love songs. Twice has joined that pantheon.

Heretic and Prophecy takes us back to a fairly dark place, fused with Celtic menace and cruelty. Donockley is again key to much of this. A man is a wolf to another man. The flames of retribution and so called justice, this is a very knowing and intelligent song.

Sanctuary takes us once again to some horror, with lilting organs setting the scene for a rollicking song about bloodlust. If ever Hammer should decide to remake Dracula, they should call on these two for the soundtrack. This is a song with relentless pace and focus, driven by thumping drums and bass, and Swita playing the foil perfectly.

Black Angel is more fantasy than horror, and rips along. The short chorus is gorgeous, and the sequencing is clever rather than intrusive. This is the shortest track on the album, and is enjoyable fare which does suffer a little bit from comparisons to all else here.

Sign of Infinity features a really nice piano extended piece by Gonzalo Carrera of Karnataka. The theme is once again of death and what comes after. Swita dances with her ghost, and the track simply comes alive with the blues when Helliwell adds a gorgeous sax and clarinet.

The title track closes proceedings, and is the longest track with an epic eleven plus minutes. Epic is, in fact, the word which more than describes this, and Swita again delivers her hair raising impact upon the listener. Initially, this track struck me as being a return to the theme of the opener, but upon more careful listening I think it is, in fact, about coming out the other side, reaching out for one another, some form of redemption and an appreciation of what we have and what should be to come, so pretty much summarising where many of us are right now in this pandemic. The production is crystal clear, and there is such a gorgeous guitar solo in the midpoint by Machin that you know we have a successor to Gilmour in both its feel and execution. This is not, however, a copy, a "neo" tribute, it is, rather, quite unique and the whole song rises with it with some wonderful orchestration and programming. From the final "Like an island" in the closing passages, you are once again taken to a different plain, the four main protagonists creating such a sumptuous noise it really has to be heard to be appreciated. Words are simply not enough. This is music as experience wrought large.

If any artist releases an album as good as this in the remainder of 2021, it will have to be an all-time great. This is about as good as our genre gets, and proof positive that it is well and truly alive and kicking creatively, artistically, and intelligently.

Very highly recommended. A masterpiece of modern progressive rock.

lazland | 5/5 |

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