Review: Disillusion – Ayam

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Hey, that was fast.

Feels like it was just the other day that I was trying to make up my mind about Disillusion’s big comeback record, The Liberation. A mere three years later, I’ve finally been able to clarify what exactly made up the big “but” that always followed my assessment of it as a good album. It’s a good album, but a lot of it is very heavily indebted to the band’s legendary debut, and while it must be said that it does a good job at continuing ideas from Back to Times of Splendor, those ideas were a good 15 years old at that point. Long after the sophomore and the 2016 single Alea had proven that the band is well capable of venturing out from under that shadow, it was a bit disappointing to see a significant part of the album seemingly run in place.

With hindsight gained in the interval as well as several spins of the new record, I’m beginning to see that maybe a teeny tiny hint as to what The Liberation was supposed to be could be found in the album’s title. After all, it did bring in some new elements. Maybe it should be seen as a transitional record performing exactly the process it’s named after. The question resulting from this galaxy-brain level conclusion is whether the operation was successful. Does Disillusion’s new effort Ayam present us with a band that is indeed liberated, or do they remain doomed to relive former glory?

Visually, Ayam solidifies Disillusion’s new aesthetic with the same “Photoshop encountered a problem” style of art that the predecessor had, but while the color palate has remained similarly cold, clouds and water now dominate instead of harsh mountainsides. I’m not gonna ruminate another three years before determining that this illustrates the content pretty well. The album is more in line with the aspects that The Liberation introduced than with anything that came before it, yet the band neither rehash the previous record, nor do they completely abandon their roots.

In terms of harking back to the past, there are songs on Ayam that invite comparison to the first two records in terms of their overall mood and their role on the album. The softness of “Longhope” recalls that of “A Day by the Lake,” the euphoric tone of “From the Embers” falls somewhere between “Save the Past” and “Too Many Broken Cease Fires,” and structurally as well as thematically, “Abide the Storm” conjures memories of the debut’s title track. Beyond this macro level, however, these comparisons don’t hold up. None of the individual parts making up these tracks really compare to anything else the band has done, neither back in the day nor in recent memory. The way they move, the places they go, the paths they chose to get there, and last but not least, the immensely hook-laden choruses they pack all manage to feel remarkably fresh.

In terms of changing things up from the last record, those clouds on the cover nicely mirror Ayam‘s tendency to take things a bit slower and quieter. While opener “Am Abgrund” charges out the gate with unparalleled ferocity, it significantly cools off in the second half and is in no hurry to ramp back up again, focusing instead on beguiling vocal lines. “Driftwood” offers an oasis of calm after the dramatic and surprisingly creepy “Tormento,” but some heaviness still creeps back in over time. With the aforementioned “Longhope” as well as “Nine Days” immediately afterwards, however, the record hits a block of moody, pensive atmosphere. The latter of the two songs finds time to explore very interesting and unusually dark verses that slowly build from ambient sounds, circling the listener like a beast its prey, and occasionally pouncing on them. The second half then develops into something that is similar enough to “Longhope” to almost retroactively render that song superfluous. Even though it’s very beautiful in its own right, both songs combined end up tanking the album’s momentum here, which was a major snag during initial spins. Curiously, both songs also prominently feature dreams and water in their lyrics, although to be fair, the number of times this album mentions bedtime and bodies of water gives it serious drinking game potential.

Aside from this slightly odd decision, Ayam benefits from the abundance of softer moments. They’re balanced well with the heavier sounds and offer plenty of room for confident explorations of sounds and song structures that truly make the album stand on its own. If you’re here for the dramatic melodeath side of the band’s sound, you might end up somewhat disappointed, but anyone looking for adventurous prog compositions with an impressively layered, rich production and often downright epic atmospheric breadth* is in for a hell of a good time. Ayam shows that Disillusion have arrived in a new era of their history and have no need to go back to the same old well.

5 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Ayam is out now on Prophecy Productions. Get it here.

*The prime example of this that I somehow did not mention is closer “The Brook” (cheers). Please listen to this song the next time you’re standing on a mountain, looking out over the sea, or just forlornly staring into the sky. You shan’t regret it.

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