[Cover art by Sandra Fink]
Sometimes you go into a band blind and immediately think, “This is pretty neato keeno, ye flatulent beast in need of Beano!” or something else a normal human would say. What makes that experience even more wonderful is discovering a back catalog that has created a minor cult following of rabid fans. Disillusion has a small but mighty fanbase that is all too happy to tell you about their classic output, and after listening to Ayam, it’s easy to see why.
The one-two strike of “Driftwood” and “Abide The Storm” is my favorite example of what Disullusion does so well. Appropriate to its title, “Driftwood” is a primarily softer track that implements a subtle flamenco flavor to clear notes that waft into the ear. As it builds, guitar notes are picked more aggressively and the cello adds a flare of the dramatic. The song is a masterclass in how to layer and build a song up to a climactic heaviness, but the heaviness isn’t one of crashing metal and more of an emotive one you might expect from a power ballad. After about six minutes, the song fades with cello notes and acoustic guitars just to crash into “Abide The Storm” and its mechanical crashing sounds that announce the return of metaldom. While the opening of the song focuses on speedy riffs and pummeling rhythms, it’s actually the use of the trumpet and flugelhorn that stand out most with this song. In the opening stretch of killer riffage, one quick-hit trumpet note pops at just the right moment to make a more impactful transition. That brass then returns to follow the melody and pattern of the second guitar to a grandiose effect. Eventually, the song calls forth its title with storm and rain sound effects that are overlaid with proggy keyboards, acoustic guitar and some very chill trumpet. It’s the type of segment Watershed Opeth fans should enjoy. Never content to let the relaxation go on too long, however, Disillusion implements the deep, resonant tones of the flugelhorn to bring an absolutely crushing layer to the rest of the music.
What else does good prog music need? Why some indulgent guitar leads, of course!
Ayam is chock full of those two, often providing more than one of different styles in a single track. The aforementioned “Abide The Storm” slides through a gorgeous clean lead during that proggy stretch but then fires off a big-dick swinging jam of a lead later on. Both fit perfectly within in the context of the song and are unleashed on the listener at just the right time. And should you think perhaps they just approach with leads with some different tones and speed, they also make sure to squiggle out a very Thordendale brain-scrambler of one on “Tormento.” That song also happens to have one of the simplest yet heaviest riffs on the whole album and every time it comes back in those brief four minutes, it feels even more crushing than the time before.
Andy Schmidt’s vocals are worth calling attention to. The band is primarily associated with death metal, but his voice is no guttural beast. Rather his vocals are more like a gruff spoken word like that of a scolding monster or severely pissed-off preacher. What makes his impact even more significant is his clarity. Whether he’s singing or yelling, you’ll be able to pick out every word easily, and his German accent also provides a certain extra power to the proceedings.
As it was with last year’s Dordeduh album, it would be unreasonable to discuss this album without bringing up Jens Bogren’s exceptional production and mixing work. Yet again, he manages to create and fill space with an artist’s work in ways few other producers know how to do. Everything is deftly layered that even the most subtle ping of a triangle carries significance among whatever else is happening around it. An extra layer of guitar or a blaring trumpet note can back up a moment so briefly but manage to make it feel a thousand times bigger.
If the likes of Ashenspire and An Abstract Illusion have been stoking the flames of your undercarriage for the last several months, there’s no reason that Ayam shouldn’t be next in line for your ears.