Friday 24 April 2020

Illutia - Un sitio sin lugar (2020)

Country: Argentina
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 10 Apr 2020
Sites: Facebook

Here's a very tasty prog rock album with a strong side of melodic rock. It's the first release from Illutia, who hail from Buenos Aires in Argentina, and it's very mature for a debut. I see that two of the four members used to be in another band together called Eden Khatru, who were highly regarded, even though they never released anything. Maybe this has been a long time coming, especially as Illutia formed in 2012.

It's mostly light in tone, though not light in substance at all. There are a couple of dark moments on the opener, Pretexto silencioso (Silent Pretext), but they're not heavy, just textured a little darker than the upbeat nature of the music would allow. Even if this has the patience of a Pink Floyd and the ingenuity of a Genesis, it still feels far more eighties than seventies. The obvious comparisons are to neoprog and AOR, with each of the seven songs here radio friendly if not for running times that only start at four minutes and run up to almost nine and the proggier elements that are responsible for that.

In particular, I'm thinking Genesis and Marillion but not at the points that most people try to emulate. The Genesis influence is from the early Collins era; Gabriel has left and the band are moving towards a poppier sound but it isn't poppy enough yet to translate into chart success. The Marillion sound is post-Fish but not really Hogarth yet. Again it's a point of transition, a prog band liking the idea of pop success but not wanting to ditch the proggy elements that they love so much.

It would be interesting to see whether listeners think of Illutia as a pop band dabbling in prog or a prog band dabbling in pop. I'd generally go with the latter, but it may depend on the song. Both En el hielo (On the Ice) and Máscaras que caen (Masks That Fall) are most obviously prog tracks first and foremost, but Ojos de espectador (Spectator's Eyes) starts out so perky that it becomes hard not to think of it as pop first.

Both the link between Genesis and Marillion and the boundary between a prog mindset and a pop one is most overt in the keyboards, which probably means that the key player here is keyboard player Marcelo Chipont, who's credited on piano, synths and sequencers. However, Leandro Calello, who contributes guitar and bass, also did some sequencing work. It's telling that these are the two members who used to be in the Genesis-influenced Eden Khatru.

The result is that this is very easy on the ears, though not so much that it fades into becoming background music. I listened to this a few times while I ran reports at work and the melodies, however gentle, kept me from drifting away from the music. Another factor in that is the fact that the guitar is a surprisingly low element in the mix, coming out to shine during gorgeous solos (just check out the title track for one of those!) but at other times oddly less prominent than Calello's bass, which surely takes the lead role here after the vocals of Leondro Ejarque on a number of tracks. It certainly leads us into the album on Pretexto silencioso.

The most obvious exception, because nothing is a firm rule with Illutia, is Eterno otoño (Eternal Autumn), which is a delightful instrumental piece, at heart a duet between guitar and synths. That it's easily my favourite track here doesn't for one moment mean that I don't enjoy the vocals. Máscaras que caen isn't too far behind in the grand scheme of things, not least because a nine minute song like this really knows how to breathe. The title track is a great choice too and, frankly, so is everything else here.

The worst thing about the album is that it ends and that there isn't a back catalogue that I can go and explore. This is it for Illutia for now and so I really hope we see another album soon. It may be deceptively light, but this is a stellar debut from a band who deserve a long and distinguished career. The more I listen to it, the more I like it and I liked it from moment one.

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