Hot off the Press

Illuminata | Where Stories Unfold

by Joe Mis
– Senior Columnist —

CoverWhere Stories Unfold is an apt name for the latest release by the Austrian Symphonic/Theatrical Metal act Illuminata. Combining elements of Gothic Metal with full orchestra backing, Illuminata presents an interesting musical tale backed by strong technical performances, one that will appeal to fans of female fronted metal, Symphonic Metal, and Gothic Metal.

While little known in the western Metal scene, Where Stories Unfold is actually Illuminata’s fifth release. The band got together in 2006 and released a demo EP entitled Lachrymal in 2007. They followed up in 2009 with the full length From the Chalice of Dreams and the EP A Frame Of Beauty. These releases cemented the band’s style, which they themselves describe as: “complex keyboards, catchy melodies and a tight heavy metal rhythm section in combination with powerful female vocals.” The five-piece act also put out the full length A World So Cold in 2011, and then Where Stories Unfold in 2014 – an over the top album with a strong theatrical element backed up by the 60-piece Czech Film Orchestra.

The theatrical and orchestral influences are obvious right from the start of the opening instrumental track “A Story Unfolds,” one that goes from soft keys and strings to booming kettledrums and massive brass. The powerful orchestra does a superb job of setting the tone and backing the sweet soprano voices of Joanna and Katarzyna Nieniewska on “Eternity of Today.” The technically solid performances of the balance of the band prove that they are not using the orchestra as a crutch, but rather integrating them into the structure of the music. Katarzyna’s vocals are the highlight of “Violet’s Compass.” Her warm tones, while operatic at times, are clear and understandable – keeping the music accessible to all. The contrast of edgy metal guitars with gentle strings, coupled with varying power levels and changing tempos, add elements of the cinematic. The wonderfully creepy and complex “Arbitrary Asylum” belongs on a modern horror movie soundtrack, although this one may be outside the comfort zone of some listeners. In contrast “White Heart” is a soft, flowing track with beautiful vocals and a simple but effective melody.

“Phoenix” is truly epic, combining solid songwriting and passionate lyrics with a tight, almost progressive rhythm line. This is easily the finest track on the album, and sums up all that is special about Illuminata. The ten minute “The Brass Ring” may be a challenging for the average listener with wild tempo changes and circus-style calliopes – although it would be well suited for a Broadway or Hollywood finale, while the superb duet vocals “Entwined” would make it a fit for one of Disney’s or Pixar’s eco-fables. “Danse Macabre” is also quite theatrical, but would be more suited to Tim Burton than Walt Disney. “The Phantom Rickshaw” kicks the listener in the head as it brings in a pounding power metal rhythm line and intense guitar work. “The World Constructor” is an inspiring cinematic tune that closes the album in fine style with orchestra and metal joined seamlessly and delivering with passion.

Illuminata’s Where Stories Unfold is one of the strongest Symphonic/orchestral Metal releases in recent memory. The music is well contracted and well performed, and the sound is warm and accessible but with just enough extremes to bring it to, but not quite over, the top. Nieniewska’s voice is operatic enough to fit the bill, but clear enough to have broad appeal. The other band members carry the load easily, turning in precise performances – but what truly sells the music is the amazing sound of a REAL, full orchestra – so much better that a synthesized one. Where Stories Unfold should fall on many a top-10 list for the year, and marks Illuminata as a band to watch.

Highly recommended for fans of the genre!

Genre: Symphonic Metal

Katarzyna Nieniewska (vocals)
Sabrina Supan (keyboards)
Thomas Kern (drums)
Lukas Knoebl (guitars)
Christoph Vide (bass)
Guest performer: Joanna Nieniewska (vocals on tracks 2 & 9)

Track Listing:
1. A Story Unfolds
2. Eternity of Today
3. Violet’s Compass
4. Arbitrary Asylum
5. White Heart
6. Phoenix
7. The Brass Ring
8. Entwined
9. Danse Macabre
10. The Phantom Rickshaw
11. The World Constructor

Label: Independent


Hardrock Haven rating: 9/10