As soon as I saw that Blind Illusion had a new album out, I was eager to dive into it. Their debut, The Sane Asylum, as long ago now as 1988, is an underheard gem that's holding down a 96% average on Metal Archives. I have to admit that I haven't heard it in decades, but I remember playing my vinyl copy almost to death and never tiring of their brand of technical Bay Area thrash metal. Sure, Larry LaLonde and Les Claypool went on to far greater fame with Primus, but they were already stars in my mind for their work in Blind Illusion.
I hadn't realised until now that they'd eventually got round to making a second album, twenty-two years on in 2010, but Demon Master has a rather less impressive average of 24%, given that it appears to be described less as technical thrash and more as hippie rock jam, with Marc Biedermann the only link between the two. Well, twelve years on again and here's album number three, which marks a fresh shift in sound because, while this certainly features some thrash, it's not the only style here and I'm still trying to figure out what the rest sounds like because it's not just one thing.
For instance, Straight as the Crowbar Flies feels like a groove metal song that's being covered by a thrash metal band. The tone is thrash but the feel isn't and the song doesn't quite fit into any of the clothes it's being given. What distracts us from that are Biedermann's vocals, which have zero interest of sounding thrash, instead being conversational, almost taking a rap approach but never actually rapping. It's an unusual approach and not a bad one, especially when the music behind it stops to let it do its thing. It feels like something Primus might do, even though those folks aren't present to suggest it.
Slow Death ratchets up the pace and hurls right into a guitar solo from the very outset. This one's a playful chugger for the most part but its frantic around that and there are technical shifts that fit exactly what I expect from Blind Illusion. It makes the underlining takeaway from the album as clear as day, namely that it's as its best when it's instrumental and up tempo and the guitars are front and centre. Fortunately there are many such sections and they're often extended, so there's a lot for old school Blind Illusion fans to enjoy, courtesy of Biedermann and Doug Piercy.
I initially saw the biggest downside as the production but that was due to a bizarre outside factor. It seems that when the washing machine is running on the other side of the wall to my desk, it has a weird effect on my sound. Sure, there could be more meat in the production but there's nothing particularly wrong with it. Listening afresh a day later, it's all clean and I was following the bass in the mix and everything. Every song sounds better now it's not being mangled by the wash. A poor one, like Protomolecule or Spaced, sounds good now and a good one sounds great. Slow Death is a real blisterer now.
While the best parts are still instrumental and primarily due to the guitars, I should call out Andy Galeon on drums. I know his work well, because I've been a fan of Death Angel since I was a kid. Of course, in his instance, he was a kid too. He's just turned fifty, which seems insane but he was only ten when he joined that band and fifteen when The Ultra-Violence came out. I'm almost exactly a year older than he is, so was still in school while they took him out on tour. That blew my mind and so did his drumming. He's solid here.
The good news is that there are a lot of these instrumental sections. There's one halfway through Slow Death that keeps on extending far into the second half, which just keeps on getting better. It isn't as long as The Ultra-Violence—time was when I could remember how long that was, down to the very second—but it's long enough to seem special. There are more glorious sections in Wrath of the Gods, from the intricate opening through the central chug to a far more urgent second half. There's more in Behemoth too and some fascinating shifts late in Lucifer's Awakening, with more in the heavy metal stomper that closes out the album, No Rest Till Budapest.
The bad news mostly goes away now I'm hearing the production as it should be. I have to say that I prefer Bidermann's guitarwork to his vocals, but his vocals are unusual and I applaud him for not following the traditional approach. On the crunch stoner blues of Spaced, it sounds like he's trying to be Clutch but keeps turning into Suicidal Tendencies instead. Not everything is at the same level but even the least songs sound interesting now, like that one. From a disappointment, this is now merely a lesser album than the debut, which is an incredibly tough one to match.
There's only one rating at Metal-Archives for this one, but I'm utterly unsurprised that it's 66%, a fair midpoint between the genius of the debut and the apparently ill advised paradigm shift that was taken by its follow-up. I'd suggest that there's a clear way forward for Blind Illusion to find an important place in the 21st century, but history suggests that we're not going to see another shot until I'm retired, so speculation feels moot. I loved some of this, I liked a lot more and I didn't hate any of it, now the washing machine's switched off. So out goes the uncharacteristic 5/10 I'd initially put on this and in comes a low 7/10.