Tuesday 30 April 2019

Tillian - Lotus Graveyard (2019)

Country: Israel
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 Apr 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website

With influences from Gentle Giant to Opeth via Kate Bush, Orphaned Land and the Dresden Dolls, I was intrigued to find out what Tillian, an Israeli prog rock band from Tel Aviv, sounded like. Which of these varied influences will dominate? Well, I was surprised to find that they've successfully carved out their own sound for this, their debut album.

It's clearly very much lead vocalist Leah Marcu's show. She wrote every song on the album and she drives their directions, whether the instrumentation is loud guitar-based metal or quiet cello-led rock. It's so much her show that I was surprised that the album came out under the name of a band rather than just hers as a solo artist. It wouldn't surprise me if that changed. Well, I was surprised on a first listen but the band are unsung heroes here.

I should go back to that word "show" too. The closest comparison I found was to Emilie Autumn, an artist who doesn't write music so much as she puts on a show. Everything begins with her lyrics and her recognisable delivery, then translates into performance art. Without knowing what Tillian do on stage, I have a feeling that they match those three steps. Certainly, Marcu is very theatrical in her delivery.

I'm Too Close, the first single from this album, sees Marcu exercise her larynx all over an alternating light industrial and chamber music backdrop. It's a more progressive approach but it's exactly what Emilie Autumn does. Monster is heavier than anything I've heard from her, going way beyond her vaudevillian stylings to full on progressive metal at points but the lyrics go to all the same places. "If I had my innocence back"? Yeah, that sounds rather familiar.

Oddly, given how much Leah Marcu dominates this album, it's her colleagues behind her who give her a unique sound because, unlike Emilie Autumn, whose shows feature very little live music—just vocals and her violin—these prog rock musicians explore the musical map and surely do so live as well as on record. They go all Native American on Moonlight Dancer and veer between classical and industrial on Black Holes, the second single.

A first listen is going to have your ears following Leah Marcu all the way, because she wrote this and her wildly explorative vocals are magnetic, but a second listen will show that the band is just as involved, just as varied and just as interesting. If the flaw is that none of these songs are quite as catchy as anything Emilie Autumn conjured up, the boon is that they're a lot deeper and worthy of repeat visits.

On that front, Tillian are more akin to Kate Bush, another vocal acrobat, to whom Marcu pays particular homage on Touched, because her songs all appear to be entirely about her until you listen a few times and realise that the unknown band members behind her are doing incredible work. I particularly enjoyed the sheer variety of Yadin Moyal, who plays some flamenco guitar on Monster, neo-classical on Caught in Your Slough and a variety of styles on the other tracks.

I'll end by saying that this is a prog rock album that ventures into prog metal territory on occasion. Monster is primarily a prog metal song, as is Love or Heaven, with guest harsh vocals from Shachar Bieber, who handles the bass and harsh vocals for prog death band Obsidian Tide. None of the metal songs stay there though. Don't expect a metal album.

Then again, I wouldn't recommend expecting anything. This is highly original work and it's sure to surprise you.

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