Spawning seemingly out of nowhere, Romanian experimental death metal outfit, Illuminati, have ushered upon the unsuspecting metal underground their debut album: The Core. Bringing forth a refreshing burst of experimental death metal with jazzy progressive elements not unlike Atheist, and an aesthetic quality that could be likened to maudlin of the Well, Illuminati’s debut offering is thirty minutes of dense, riff-laden metal. But that’s not all this band has to offer, the relatively unknown trio of musicians have brought with them a stellar cast of pioneering metal artists to play guest roles, with vocal spots being donned by musicians like Luc Lemay of Gorguts, Mike Browning of (most notably) Nocturnus and Morbid Angel fame, Patrick Mameli of Pestilence, and several others, Illuminati are here to prove they’re more than just another progressive metal gimmick.
The album opens with ‘Please Lose’, a reverb-soaked chord progression and sickening sounding scratching that builds with a maudlin of the Well-inspired atmosphere (to better reinforce the album’s artwork), before breaking out into deep, pounding riff with frantic bass-lines being plucked along, the band’s bassist (and drummer) taking obvious cues from influences like Sean Malone and Tony Choy (also featured on track seven). As the track progresses, it dips into frenzied, incomprehensible technical territory, to in-depth jazz-fusion sequences and guitar solos, as well as tasteful synths along with the atonal and constantly shifting song patterns and styles. All the while, Pestilence’s own Patrick Mameli burns through his four minutes of guest space with deep, throaty death metal vocals that accentuate the music.
Throughout the album’s relatively short run-time, each song is followed by a short interlude, featuring among them delightful acoustic melodies, ambiance and varying world-music forms, funky solos, electronic beats, noise elements and poetry (which I unfortunately cannot understand). And while these small segments might seem like filler at first glance, holding only minute run-times, they are some of the highlights of the album with their extension of ideas and styles. Ever throughout the record’s feature tracks are an abundance of riffs, ferocious, melodic and bold, oftentimes thick and jarring, and just as often they’re blistering and technical, bringing with them shades of late-era Death, most evident on ‘Storms’.
‘Sea of Consciousness’ features Kelly Shaefer of Atheist on vocals, his unique style blending perfectly with Illuminati’s technique of progressive metal, styled so they can adjust to hold their own in the wake of their influences. Atheist’s Tony Choy also provides a slap bass performance on ‘Sea of Consciousness’ to add an extra dash of percussive methodology to the track. Luc Lemay features on ‘Domino Spine’, his tortured vocal style not exactly finding itself suitable in the band’s more jazzy ways, though it sounds like the band is doing their best to create a dense and foreboding landscape of death metal to suit Lemay’s approach to vocals, as well as trying to keep their favoured flavour of fusion metal, featuring psychedelic sounds and soothing, distant vocals in the song’s centre.
And where this album experiments, it features flutes and tribal drumming and percussion, as well as all other matter of instrumental inclusions, as well as Cynic-inspired vocoder found on the track ‘Gulliver’s Extraordinary Journey’. While the album features so many notable guest features, it would be a fruitless effort to speak of them all, and while it’s certainly a pleasure to see so many great names in one collaborative effort, it would have been greatly appreciated to see some more instrumental inclusions, rather than just mainly vocal spots. Having a guitar solo or riff from Daniel Mongrain (whose vocal spot on track five left much to be desired), or perhaps some drumming by Mike Browning. Even so, The Core is a fantastic debut effort and shows great promise on part of the young band, and their dependency on their own musicianship is admirable, proving that they don’t need to lean on their guest musicians as a crutch.