Reviewed: October 2020
Released: 2020, Rockshots Records
Reviewer: Lee Carter
If you have even a passing interest in rock or metal, it’s quite likely you will have heard some form of either that weaves in symphonic/orchestral elements. Done well, the grand aural spectacle that unfolds can pack the mightiest punch and fill all the sonic space with power – the perfect blend of all that rock and orchestral music can offer. The trick is to find the balance between the two, and one can often be forsaken for the other. So when starting out straddling the two, any band will be walking one difficult tightrope, so how does the US troupe ANTHEA fare?
Say what you will about their debut, ‘Illusion’, it is immaculately produced. Every instrument, from the contemporary band instruments to the accompanying symphony orchestra, have their own space in the mix and sit proudly for all to hear. In fact, the orchestrations are done so well, it’s very much up for debate as to whether they come from an actual orchestra, or just a sample library. In addition to the focused production, the songwriting deserves some plaudits for keeping things in check. Self-styling as “gothic symphonic progressive metal” (it’s fun throwing subgenre descriptors together, isn’t it?), you would be forgiven for worrying the overall product could be somewhat indulgent, musically. Mercifully, there is a formula that corrals everything in, and even the DREAM THEATER-esque guitar and keyboard solos are kept to a sensible level.
So what of the songs themselves? In brief, snappy, bombastic and very much borne of the classic blueprint for symphonic/power metal. “Reach” opens the album, and if you stopped listening once it finished because of a pressing need elsewhere, you can rest easy that that’s ANTHEA’s sound for the rest of ‘Illusion’. Bouncing riffs, rousing choruses peppered with soaring vocals and choral crescendos, and noodly solos during the final third – sound familiar? Because there is a reason that the likes of KAMELOT, NIGHTWISH and WINTERSUN are mentioned in the accompanying PR blurb! Innovative it may not be, but you can’t deny it’s done well.
The heavier cuts on the album, such as follow-up “Eclipse” and “The Discovery” with their crunching riffs will cut a live show (whenever that will be again) to pieces, and the tonal lurch that occurs in the former with the growling vocals are a welcome change to proceedings. The earlier point regarding the album’s musical focus is tested somewhat with “The Light Divine”, though this is mainly about the song’s bloated middle where various instruments take turns to have a little solo. Like many a solo, it’s technically impressive, but in this context, it could be argued as being a touch contrived to fit the symphonic “epic” mould as the album’s centrepiece. It does bring the orchestra to the fore, but when the curtain call, the orchestral version of “Moirai”, does the same but with more subtlety, it throws it into relief.
Chiara Tricarico’s turn on the original version “Moirai” also offers a welcome variation to proceedings, offering an added sense of light and shade to the album that does have its patterns. Her soaring vocals alongside Diego Valadez’s croon works delightfully well and makes for an almost romantic performance on a song that is essentially ANTHEA’s “Nemo”. Aside from the absolute obvious, the two songs are very structurally similar and even feature a similar piano run to the final chorus key change. Once heard, it cannot be unheard! And what’s this? Both songs use ancient civilisation words (“moirai” = Ancient Greek for The Fates; “nemo” = Latin for “no one”) as song titles?! Interesting…
If you are fans of the aforementioned bands, or like your gothic symphonic progressive metal (taken as individual subgenres, that’s not as small a niche as you’d think), then ‘Illusion’ will definitely float your boat. ANTHEA’s debut may be a touch familiar and seldom breaks new ground, but the songs are strong, concise and performed with aplomb, whilst the production lifts things to new heights with a fine balance between the two halves of the band’s sound. We are all missing our live shows and theatres, but you could do worse than to summon ‘Illusion’ and pretend everything is as it should be. A solid effort.
3. Moirai (feat. Chiara Tricarico)
5. The Light Divine (feat. Eric Meyers)
7. The Expedition
9. Moirai (Orchestral Version)
Diego Valadez – Vocals & keyboards
Juan Pina – Guitar & vocals
Marcos Mejia – Guitar
Eric Guerrero – Bass
Peter Vasquez – Drums