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Borealis: Illusions

Ontario's Borealis are back with their sixth platter of melodic & progressive power metal, titled Illusions, for AFM Records. The influence of labelmates Evergrey looms large over the music of Borealis, with lead singer Matt Marinelli having a similar emotional vocal style to the great Tom Englund, and the bands highly symphonic blend of progressive & power metal sounds hits those Evergrey sweet spots pretty often throughout Illusions. While the flattery works well, there are still plenty of unique traits that Borealis bring to the table, one being that than can truly write some ultra catchy hooks, as you can instantly hear on standout tracks like "Ashes Turn to Rain", "My Fortress", the soaring "Burning Tears", and the chugging metal attack of "Believer". There's really not a weak track to be found, and the way the band blend the big, bold riffs with incredible synth textures on tracks like "Light of the Sun", "Bury Me Alive", and the closing epic "The Phantom Silence", which is a great vehicle for Marinelli, is quite pleasing to the ears.

Expertly produced, plenty heavy enough, and featuring the right amount of prog & power metal elements, Illusions is another winner from this talented Canadian band. If you haven't yet checked out Borealis, this is a great place to start.

Track Listing
1 Illusions 1:22
2 Ashes Turn To Rain 4:54
3 My Fortress 7:11
4 Pray For Water 5:26
5 Burning Tears 4:20
6 Believer 5:32
7 Light Of The Sun 6:23
8 Face Of Reality 5:46
9 Bury Me Alive 5:07
10 Abandon All Hope 5:06
11 The Phantom Silence 11:15

Added: March 21st 2023
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 769
Language: english

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Borealis: Illusions
Posted by Brandon Miles, SoT Staff Writer on 2023-03-21 10:59:31
My Score:

Canadian melodic power metallers Borealis are back after a 4 year absence with their 5th studio album "Illusions", and my, oh my is it ever a polished spectacle. Layers upon layers of sheen have been applied to this one until it's practically sparkling with a pristine Hollywood comic book movie glow. If you like your metal melodic, and impossibly well recorded and produced so that nary a rough edge can be detected, this could be your lucky day my friend.

Borealis are a 4 piece (well, they were a 3 piece while recording this) band, but for this release they decided to enlist some help by bringing multi-instrumentalist Vikram Shankar aboard to handle all of the orchestrations and synth work. Shankar's work here really shines and gives Illusions a ton of forward momentum and gravitas. Everything just feels weighty and massive behind the blasting keyboards and percussive orchestral explosions all over the place. There's little spacey sound effects and chimes from time to time, and the intro to lead off track "Ashes Turn to Rain" sounds like it was ripped straight from a movie trailer. It makes it all too easy to imagine yourself in the theater and having your head blown off your shoulders, THX style. Well done, Vikram.

The band themselves are no slouches, with chugging stop/start rhythms, ripping guitar solos, and catchy melodies for days. With the soulful vocal performances of lead man Matt Marinelli overtop of it all, Borealis sounds a lot like a more optimistic, grandiose, though less proggy Evergrey. Not unlike their Swedish sound-alikes, Borealis have a tendency to spend a lot of time crooning over chuggy rhythms and keeping things just above a mid paced stomp. There are luckily some exceptions to keep the tracks from bleeding into one-another; "My Fortress" and the standout "Light of the Sun" in particular get the blood pumping a bit more than other tracks here. Marinelli's vocals are another factor on "Illusions" that make things slightly samey from track to track. Though undeniably gifted and a fine singer, Matt keeps his vocal range dialed in on a low to mid-ranged gritty croon, sounding a bit like Jorn Lande if he couldn't use his upper register. Some bright highs here and there would be welcome.

There's two more vocal curiosities on "Illusions" to bring up. Firstly, requisite ballad "Burning Tears" has a splendid guest vocal performance by Exploring Birdsong vocalist Lynsey Ward. The song itself isn't anything particularly earth shattering, but her performance here alone makes it a must listen. And secondly (and much more amusingly), when Matt Marinelli goes into the deepest bowels of his vocal register, I simply can't stop hearing Michael McDonald. Yes, THAT Michael McDonald. The music accompanying him isn't exactly "Taking it to the Street", but the very thought of it all is highly amusing to me.

In the end, I think the most impressive thing about "Illusions" is just how massive and beefy everything sounds here. It's almost as if every rousing crescendo and epic chorus is riding a giant cresting wave that crashes into the shore along with it. The songs aren't the most memorable in the genre, but undeniably well performed and there's enough here to keep fans of this style of music entertained. If it were possible to take the movie Avatar with all its pomp and spectacle and somehow transmuted it into a power metal album, this would be it. With more varied vocals and less focus on the tried and true chugga-chugga AFM Records mid paced melodic metal we all know (and sometimes love), these guys could be onto something truly great.

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