Finland’s icy fields are home to metal bands from every niche imaginable: Whether it’s nightmarish funeral doom, atmospheric, morose melodic death metal, or black metal, Finland is well-loved by the international metal scene with good reason. Black/death metal outfit Illusions Dead, based out of Helsinki, add to the country’s ranks with their first full-length Celestial Decadence. While it suffers from some setbacks in songwriting and some wasted momentum, it is a strong offering that combines melodic black metal with pounding death metal and shows promise for the band’s future.
Celestial Decadence‘s production was its greatest first impression on me: The performances are (mostly) tight and at times resemble late-90s/early-00s Behemoth in their primal rage, but Johannes Katajamäki’s guitars have a raw black metal edge and Akseli Auralinna’s drums sound very natural. The balance of raw power to rock-solid performance is most apparent on opener “Incursions,” which moves seamlessly from battering Zos Zia Kultus-esque rhythms to melodic tremolo picking ala Gorgoroth while Jake Lastujoki’s throaty roars take the helm of the song. Throughout the album’s course, the slightly raw production keeps a visceral edge to the music and, along with the vicious shrieking vocals, adds an element that would be missing with a more polished mix.
The opener is a to-the-point burner, but elsewhere, Illusions Dead wander into more winding territory, at times recalling Dissection and Sacramentum. Closing cut “Illusions Dead” (I see what you did there) is probably the most distinct cut on the album in terms of songwriting and memorability, serving a dual function of ending the album on a high note and providing closure. There are moments, however, that fall flat: “Shadow and Flame” starts strong with a driving intro and verse, but it also has section that probably meant to come off as something similar to Enslaved — angular playing, descending octaves — but, in delivery, sounds like a metal band playing a pop-punk guitar line. “Revolution,” the longest track, also dwells too long on a doom-influenced breakdown that kills the song’s momentum before arbitrarily reviving a melodic black metal riff for the song’s ending. When Illusions Dead hit the nail on the head, the songs are smashing; when they wander too far off course, though, it’s hard to stay glued to the speakers.
It becomes apparent that some of these songs were written at an earlier point in the band’s existence, and the difference in dynamic between some of the songs is jarring as they teeter between faster death metal styled material and slower, more deliberate melodic black metal. There are also some flubs in execution, such as on “Shadow and Flame” when the drum patterns fail to mesh with the guitars, which seem at times to be playing two entirely different things. My biggest complaint, though, is a very nitpicky thing: There are some points where the guitars are clearly out of tune, or at least improperly intonated. This is an amateur mistake that should never be on a recording beyond a scratch track, much less a properly recorded album.
All flaws considered, Illusions Dead could become a very effective black/death metal outfit if they tighten up the songwriting and put in more work to really find their niche. Celestial Decadence has some solid songs overshadowed by the feeling that the band are still finding where they fit in the metal community.