Release Date: 26 Apr 2019
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Here's something a little different. Illuminate are a German band who tend to be categorised as gothic rock, darkwave or even electropop, but they're clearly somewhere on the rock spectrum to my ears, even if they're in that spacious middle ground between, say, Enya and Rammstein.
For much of the album, they're closer to the Rammstein end of that scale, if not particularly close. They do sing in German, often with the abrasive but enticing combination of voices belonging to Johannes Berthold and at least one of his female counterparts. There's also an epic feel to their sound, a sound that swells magnificently and really ought to echo gloriously through the largest of arenas. However, they're a good deal calmer than their more celebrated countrymen who, having formed in 1994, are surprisingly a year younger than Illuminate, for whom this is studio album #14.
At points, though, "a good deal calmer" means really frickin' calm, not only during the atmospheric intro and outro or during the electronic stringsled build of Nach dem Zorn but especially on the tellingly titled Ein Moment der Stille, or A Moment of Calm. As with rather a lot of Zorn, it's driven by piano rather than guitar, but this one never kicks into high gear, content with a new agey style of romantic goth that's reminiscent of Enya, hardly the usual comparison I conjure up here at Apocalypse Later.
The rest falls somewhere in between.
The title track, for instance, starts out almost in gothic doom territory but builds for six minutes, mostly through Berthold's programmed drums, so it's pretty powerful by the time it wraps. Papierflieger aus Stahl pulses a lot over piano before Jörn Langenfeld's guitar kicks in and Berthold snarls at us. It's the duelling female vocals that make it special though and the most overtly gothic the album ever gets.
If the vocals define what genre the song falls into, it's the guitar that defines its tone. On Unser Abschiedslied, the guitar feels like it wants to do that again, more and more as the song runs on, but it never does, even though there's time for a solo in the middle, so the tone is very different, so much that it almost feels like a pop song rather than a rock song. With Ein Moment der Stille up next, things do quieten down a lot.
Perhaps that's why my favourite song, Vanitas, feels so powerful. Sure, the guitar returns to the fore and there's a strong build from the electronica, but, after Ein Moment der Stille, most songs would sound powerful. That this one actually is merely adds extra oomph and it stands out as an example of Illuminate getting heavy right after they emphatically don't.
This isn't going to be for everyone, but I enjoyed my first experience of a band who have been doing this for two and a half decades without me having any idea. Then again, even their website welcomes us with news of their new album, Ein ganzes Leben, released last February. Maybe publicity isn't their thing. Hey, they still have a MySpace link too. Bizarrely, it even actually works.