It admittedly always is hard for a band to be continuously compared to their master piece "Beyond The Veil", especially since one of the main songwriters, Morten Veland, had left the band since and TRISTANIA having released two full albums since this milestone release in the Gothic Metal genre. Now, two years after the release of previous effort "Ashes", the Norwegians are back and I kind of approached the CD with equal eagerness and reluctance and upon first listen I was standing somewhere between indifference and promise.
So all the signs stood on a longer process to get acquainted with the fifth full album of TRISTANIA and it took me a little to get into the 2006 sound of the sextet, yet in the end the wait and effort surely paid off, because even though the band has long abandoned the vigorous, dark force of their second album and is now rather putting their emphasis on the atmosphere and reduced foam, this different side of the band has its appeal as well, don't get me wrong! Overall we get more slower paced songs and a darker, overall less symphonic touch than before, but it works due to the fact that the Norwegians also invite a few different approaches and melody lines to spice things up and save the material from a potential drifting off into shallow waters.
Opener "Mercyside" surprises with powerful guitars at the beginning, which then alternate with quiet, atmospheric passages, forming a very interesting and compelling contrast between the two extremes, even incorporating a few light Death growls, very nice! So there indeed still is life in this band and "Sanguine Sky" right after proves that point as well. This probably had been the track I have had the most problems with while trying to get into "Illumination", mostly due to the strange melody and off-the-beaten-path vocal melody of Vibeke Stene, but once the rest of the instruments sets in and this vocal line returns in the chorus, it all suddenly makes sense.
That the TRISTANIA of 2006 are definitely no longer the TRISTANIA of 1999 is shown by the measured, dark "The Ravens" or the ballad "Destination Departure" (with some brilliant melodies) show. Still, in the second half of the album, the Norwegians run a little bit out of steam compared to the very strong beginning, but still the songs are far from bad. "Fate" is pretty sparsely instrumented, while "Lotus" crosses over into Gothic Rock and "Sacrilege" tries a completely different approach to the genre, not as dark, but interesting, so it seems as if the less heavy tracks were bunched up towards the end of the album for some reason.
Overall "Illumination" is a worthy album, yet due to the reduction of intensity in the second half loses some of its magic. I still enjoy it a fair bit, but to me it still looks/sounds as if the band is still trying to find its very own groove, let's see what the future will bring...
(Online January 15, 2007)