If musical notes were a limited resource, Dream Theater would have used all of them up already and there’d be none left for anyone else. Thankfully there are plenty to go around, but Art of Illusion are doing their best to use as many as possible. In their case this isn’t really a criticism, as they’ve got the chops and ideas to pull it off. Big time.
ART OF COMPLEXITY
After the ambient intro (“Ico”) we get the first proper song, “Devious Saviour”, a glorious mixture of big guitar riff-o-rama, syncopated grooves, deep vocals and complex rhythms. These are the hallmarks of Art of Illusion, right up front, no messing around. As it ducks and weaves, “Devious Saviour” successfully brings together a lot of great ideas, and I mean a LOT. It moves swiftly from section to section, leaving very little time to take anything in on the first listen. Like a rollercoaster, once it ends, you feel like you just want to experience it all over again. And while the heavy, dark breakdown in the last minute, with its ripping synth solo, could be seen as extraneous, it was enjoyable nonetheless.
After this bombastic start, things do start to drop off a little. ”Allegoric Fake Entity” starts with jazz-tinged swing piano and brushes, which I was not convinced by (Jazz Odyssey, anyone?), and “Santa Muerte” has a good complex structure and solos, but sounds like an extension of the previous track rather than something new. By this point I was finding things interesting about the album, but not fully satisfying. Could the band pull something special out of the bag to rise above the thousands of other soundalikes out there? The answer was a resounding yes!
RACING TO THE FINISH LINE
A true standout track is “Able to Abide”, where I finally got a little respite from the sheer complexity of the previous songs. Easily the most commercial-sounding song on the album, with great vocal melodies and a more traditional structure, it heads brilliantly towards the cheese end of the spectrum. If you love the commercial side of Dream Theater then you’ll love this! My only criticism is that it fades out mid-chorus, which seems at odds with the rest of the album. Surely an extended, epic closing section would have done this track justice?
Either way, now I felt that the band were really getting cooking. “Cold War of Solipsism” is tinged with Eastern influences, which brings to mind visions of Metallica vs. Iron Maiden in the middle of a desert, ready for battle. Standout solos from guitarist Filip Wiśniewsk and the saw-tooth keys from Paweł Łapuć feel fresh and epic in every sense of the word.
And here I was at the end, the ten-minute closer “King Errant”. The signature heavy guitar with piano backing keeps the song moving along nicely. Like any good closing track, it builds and builds into some more great solos before another fade out into a layered, reverb-soaked vocal choir. ‘And breathe again‘, I thought! When the dust had settled, I realised that this is a record of a young band in the middle of finding their sound. The lower-range grunge-style vocals and abundance of piano arpeggios, mixed with bone-crushing riffs make for a somewhat new listening experiences. Like any diamond in the rough, Cold War of Solipsism is not perfect; the first three songs in particular are overly busy and almost knackering to listen to in their complexity. In addition to this, not developing “Able To Abide” and “King Errant” further is something I felt was a missed opportunity.
If Art of Illusion took a breather now and again and focused on their two secret weapons (the unique vocal of Marcin Walczak and the amazing synth sounds/piano of Łapuć), they would be capable of writing a true classic album. The impressive second half of Cold War of Solipsism proves that they have the ability to do this. More exposure and experience will help this band grow into something special for the future. I for one will be keeping a close eye on them as they have the potential to be up there with the other neo-prog metal greats. For $6 from Bandcamp, you’d be mad to not add this to your collection.
Notable Tracks: “Able to Abide”; “Cold War of Solipsism”; “King Errant”
FFO: Dream Theater, Haken, Lonely Robot, Threshold, Enchant