Borealis – Illusions
Borealis is a Canadian Power/Progressive Metal band formed in 2006. Illusions is their sixth full-length album over the 16 years of their existence, and it is definitely an epic undertaking. This is a massive record, full of big, bold, and beautiful compositions. The orchestration blended into this is stunning, adding many of the Symphonic Metal elements to the grandiose storyline, magnifying the whole to new heights. There is much to unpack here, and all of it is fantastic.
- Matt Marinelli – Vocals/Guitars
- Ken Fobert – Guitars
- Aiden Watkinson – Bass
- Sean Dowell – Drums
- Guest Musician:
- Vikram Shankar – Keyboards/Orchestration
October 7th, 2022
- Ashes Turn To Rain
- My Fortress
- Pray For Water
- Burning Tears
- Light Of The Sun
- Face Of Reality
- Bury Me Alive
- Abandon All Hope
- The Phantom Silence
The album opens with the title track, a short intro with no lyrics, instead using the incredible Christine Hals in a series of ever-growing vocalizations. She has a fantastic voice, and she augments the music beautifully. The orchestration on this (though not the orchestral version) is every bit the equal of the voice that powers the track, leading to the first full song, “Ashes Turn To Rain.”
Again, the orchestration is excellent, but it shifts to a killer Power Metal song this time. The voice is now that of Matt Marinelli. The guitar riff is heavy, and a lot of good lead work is layered into the riff. The layers of vocals add a lot of depth to the tone, and the rhythm has a great gallop. The horns and strings bring in different textures, weaving a spectacular tapestry. The voice is mostly clean, with some distortion thrown in and some nice belting added to the mix as well.
One of the first things I notice about “My Fortress” is the drumming. I’m not a drummer, but I love hearing when someone can use variable patterns and phrases, alternating beats, and doing drummer stuff. I love the tempo and the beat patterns on this one so much. The bass somehow keeps track with this, setting a foundation worthy of Power Metal. When the bass and bass drum synch up like this, my heart just swells. Oh, and the guitars are outstanding as well.
“Pray For Water” opens with a killer, chugging rhythm and some powerful lead work over the riff. The keyboards add a lot of texture to the composition, creating a depth that seems equal to the heights the vocals soar to, keeping a balance within the track. The belting, coupled with the grit, vibrato, and power of Matt’s voice, is pretty impressive.
The slow-starting “Burning Tears” is a nice change of pace. This has the power ballad feel we need on any proper Power Metal album that aims to tell an epic tale. This track brings in a band called Exploring Birdsong, a Liverpool-based trio. The resultant vocal showcase is power and beauty combined, an astonishing display of talent that will delight and amaze the senses. The build they go through, rising to a crescendo, dropping to the solemn finale, all feel so natural and peaceful, even when soaring to the heights they reach vocally and musically.
“Believer” is back to the heavy. Sean and Aiden do what they do best, power the song as only a Power Metal rhythm section can. One of the best things about Power Metal is how the bass and drums are more than just support instruments. Since Power often blends with Progressive Metal, especially in situations like this, where a tale must be told, the bass is usually responsible for leading the shift in tempo, and the drums provide the timing, at least to my “non-technical” ears. Even when the changes are not incredibly dramatic, the effect is noticeable.
One of the things that really makes this album stand out over other Power Metal albums is the keyboards and orchestration. Vikram Shankar is one of the most talented at weaving just the right tones into the composition. “Light Of The Sun” and “Face Of Reality” are excellent examples of this. Matt and Ken are amazing guitarists, so adding to their tonal excellence is not an easy task, but Vikram does so with an adept hand. His skill at making a song bigger and better with overt and subdued influences is genuinely something to behold.
For “Bury Me Alive,” the keys come in first, leading to a cool riff with a great pattern. The keys then go over the top of that, using a modern music-style phrase to add a new wrinkle to the tone of the music. This one feels like a blending of genres with the differences between the keys and the rest of the song, though it all still fits into the Power Metal realm. “Abandon All Hope” then takes a slower intro to accentuate the heaviness of the rest of the song. And both of these songs lead to the epic finale of the record.
This is the song we’ve all been waiting for. It has grand vocalizations, tying back into “Illusions,” which opened the record. This track ties the whole story together, lyrically and musically. At over 11 minutes, it has the Power and the Progressive Metal, creating the biggest overall sound on a record that is not lacking in grandiosity. The variable phrasing of each instrument in the individual sections is quite stunning. The guitars use alternating patterns, and the drums are organized chaos, going from silent to rapid-fire double bass to melodic fills, all while the bass hammers out the time with Swiss precision. Again, Vikram weaves in and out of the melody with incredible skill, showing how deft and accurate he is at finding the sweet spot of any tune.
Borealis has put out one of the Top Albums of 2022. This one will stick in my mind for quite some time to come. The way they put the whole thing together is impressive, weaving male and female vocals together, adding vocal layering and atmospheric vocalizations to the front and back end of the disc, and using it sparingly but to maximum effect. The tightness of the music and musicians is a thing of beauty. Using some excellent distortion, the voice remains clean but adds a lot of texture.
The instruments are astounding. The rapid-fire trade-offs of the guitars through riffs, leads, fills, and solos are powerful. The drums are hard-hitting when needed and delicate at other times. The bass is elegant. I know that’s not a word often used for bass guitar, but if you listen through for specifically the bass line, you hear how Aiden is always right where he’s supposed to be, doing what fits the song beautifully. They’ve composed great songs into an epic story that delights the mind and ears equally.
- Guitars – 10
- Rhythms – 10
- Vocals – 10
- Songwriting – 10
- Production – 10
- Overall – 10.00