Album Title: Carcinogeist
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 28 February 2020
“…more hooks than a pirate convention in a bait shop!”
Well, you have to love a band with a sense of humour and, in the case of Australian melodic metal band Ilium, it is probably gallows humour, borne out of the fact that after more than 20 years and seven studio albums, they remain very much within the underground, far off the radar of metalheads the world over. In my case, it wasn’t until I was contacted by a local fan of the band who I know through social media, that I became aware of their existence. If ever there was a strong argument to prove once and for all that the music industry is tough and downright unfair, it is this. Ilium, on the strength of album number eight, ‘Carcinogeist’ don’t deserve to be where they are; they deserve much more.
To bring everyone up to speed, Ilium were previously known as Iliad but, in 2002, changed their name to Ilium. Hailing from Newcastle, Australia, Ilium are essentially a duo, comprised of founder, guitarist and songwriter Jason Hodges who was soon joined by guitarist, bassist and keyboardist Adam Smith. On previous releases, they have boasted the vocal talents of Lance King but, for this new album, they welcome guest vocalist Lord Tim, alongside his LORD colleague Tim Yatras on the drums.
In these unprecedented and dark times, with the more frequent natural disasters, climate change and now the worst human pandemic for many generations, I have to say that ‘Carcinogeist’ is the perfect tonic. It could be easy to become maudlin and depressed at the current state of the world, so albums like this that lift the spirits and put a smile on your face are invaluable. It’s impossible to say for certain whether or not this record would have had the same effect on me in more ‘normal’ times, but I suspect that it would, because it’s such a strong beast.
The lyrics may have some serious messages about the environment and the human condition, but they are backed up by some seriously ear-catching melodic metal that blends elements of speed metal, power metal, melodic hard rock and good old NWOBHM. And once you have listened to ‘Carcinogeist’ a few times, the quote at the very outset of this review is completely accurate. Some of the hooks are instant, whilst others lurk at the periphery, only to pounce when they are good and ready. But pounce they will and you’ll be helpless to resist.
If there’s ever a track to get the blood pumping and put a smile on your face, it’s ‘Imbecylum’. It opens at the kind of speed that you’d expect from a Dragonforce track whilst retaining a sense of individual identity. Keys dance atop the melodic guitar leads and driving rhythms, whilst Lord Tim demonstrates within seconds how good a fit he is with this kind of music, taking centre stage in the killer, epic chorus that has a ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II’ aura about it.
The title track not only underlines the ability of the Australians to make up cool-sounding song titles, but ‘Carcinogeist’ delivers a darker, more blood-and-thunder thrash-infused approach. Lord Tim unleashes his impressive range to devastating effect, hitting high notes aplenty and the more subtle hooks take longer to tease out from the full-on metal assault, complete with flamboyant and vivacious guitar work.
I’m also a huge fan of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of ‘Harlequin Tree’, which begins in dark and quirky fashion, carnivalesque in tone, but later blossoms into an anthemic beast with a galloping Maiden-like beat and memorable melodies, accented by mellifluous and expressive lead guitar solo trade-offs. It is all then underpinned by a sense of grandiose theatrics through choral vocals and bold synth work.
Speaking of quirky, the bizarrely-titled ‘Uncle Rupert’s Puppet Show’ makes a big impact, principally because of its irresistible chorus that benefits from tinkling piano notes and some bold bass work to enhance the strong melody. It emerges from a up-tempo riff-heavy verse, where the vocals generally sit in a lower, register to tell the twisted tale at the centre of the short but very sweet song.
The more I listen, the more of an impact the material has and it becomes almost impossible to leave any out of this review. ‘Question Air’ has a more serene feel to it, thanks largely to the swathes of rich keys that float throughout the track, giving it a genuinely majestic sheen. ‘Haunted By The Ghost Of Me’ is equipped with the kind of cheeky vibrancy that strikes when you least expect it, making it yet another highlight on an album chock full of highlights. I love the space created within the verses when the guitars momentarily drop out to allow the rhythm section to take the spotlight and the keyboard and guitar solo duel puts a huge grin on my face.
I could go on…so I will! ‘Anachronistica’ is fuelled by more strong melodies that are driven by another fast-paced, galloping rhythm section. The keys are again a major positive within the composition, as are the backing vocals that join Lord Tim at various points to add a certain gravitas to proceedings. The grandiose, cinematic intro to ‘Messiah For The Broken’ is a really nice touch, allowing a momentary pause before the song kicks in with all the subtlety of the Tasmanian Devil. I sound like a broken record, but this song skips along at a furious pace but is held together by excellent musicianship from all corners of the band and, yes, another hook-laden chorus that begs repeated listens.
That just leaves ‘The Serpent Maligned’ and ‘Vigilante Vagrant’, both of which offer plenty of entertainment as well. The former delivers a wonderful mid-paced chugging riff in the middle stages which is then built on by a great lead guitar solo and guitar harmonies. The latter closes out the album with suitable panache, boasting more dual guitar harmonies, commanding rhythmic work and a sense of the theatrical, leading up to a cool chorus with layered vocals, almost ‘gang’-like in approach.
Phew. If I haven’t done enough in this review to convince you to check out this record, then it’s entirely possible that you’re simply not a fan of this kind of music. Either that, or my review is a pile of steaming horse dung. For everyone else, my parting shot is simple: ‘Carcinogeist’ is utterly wonderful in just about every way and if, like me, you’re a sucker for well-crafted and executed melodic power metal, then you need to ensure you add this to your collection as soon as possible. And, when you’ve fallen for its many charms, make sure you shout the name Ilium from the rooftops to help give this band the success that they so obviously deserve.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: