ILIUM – Genetic Memory

Although the roots of Ilium date back to the early 90s, as a recording outfit this largely Auatralian power metal band released their first EP in 2002.  Other releases followed, but perhaps the band’s largest change in fortunes came in the late 00’s when vocalist Lord Tim quit the band and was replaced by ex-Riot/Masterpan mouthpiece Mike DiMeo.  With DiMeo on board, Ilium recorded ‘Ageless Decay’ (their fourth album overall, but first for the Escape Music Label), which gained the band accolades from various specialist rock websites.

2011’s ‘Genetic Memory’ picks up where the previous release left off – and with DiMeo still occupying the vocalists slot – the band brings eleven more slabs of power metal with a strong element of fantasy within the lyrics.  From the off, the music smacks the listener in a rather gung-ho fashion as the guitars tear into some big riffs, which when coupled with DiMeo’s rather gravelly vocal delivered at full-on belt means that any kind of subtlety is rarely on the agenda. Within the first half of the number, although the bands intentions are plainly obvious, Martin Kronlund’s mix is lacking anything resembling bottom end.  Sure, DiMeo’s vocals have a huge presence (whether you like his style or not) and the twin lead guitars are where they should be in the end mix, but there’s not enough focus on Adam Smith’s bass and Tim Yatras’s drums sound like plastic tubs.

By ‘Grey Stains The Rainbow’ – track three – things sound a little better in the production department (or maybe it’s a case of tuning in and expecting less) and thankfully Ilium have slowed down a little. The guitars are melodic throughout (with some decent lead work) and the accompanying keyboards bring an extra dimension, often lost elsewhere.  DiMeo reigns in his vocal, especially on the verses, where he’s also accompanied by a few harmonies.  Also better is ‘Fevered Tongue’, a track which comes equipped with a musical structure that Dio may have enjoyed.  That said, although Ilium do their absolute best musically, DiMeo’s end performance lacks absolutely all of the class the legendary Ronnie James would have bought with him, particularly to such a ridiculous set of lyrics… Since the track provides guitar highlights with a great mix of choppy rhythms, twin leads and reasonable solos, it still shows Ilium in a far better light than most of this release.

For the title cut, it initially seems that Ilium are about to take the listener on a journey into something more atmospheric, as twin guitars lay down a gentle melody, but this soon breaks into an old school metal riff, which in turn breaks into a world of double bass drum pedals with the guitars riffing as fast as possible.  The instrumental breaks are better – particularly a slightly Iron Maiden-esque twin lead – but once again Ilium insist on playing everything with maximum speed.  ‘Hostile Sky’ – a mid-paced rocker – has elements of great sounding metal: a fantastic twin lead guitar, a decent song-structure with something resembling a chorus and pleasing keyboard work (low in the mix, mind).  In principle, Ilium would have a far better album on their hands if they could throw in a few more numbers like this one (and ‘Grey Stains The Rainbow) – numbers which give the listener more time to breathe.  DiMeo – as usual – powers through his vocal, sounding as if he’s about to burst on occasion, but that’s hardly a great surprise.

The eleven minute epic is another of Ilium’s better numbers, with plenty of hard rhythm guitar work driving the lengthy piece along, but despite some good elements, it could have been pulled in at half the length without losing any of the impact.  The performances are all solid enough, but in the power metal stakes, it’s incredibly weak up against the best moments of Symphony X, for example.  The didgeridoos are a nice touch though; just enough to remind the listener that Ilium are from Newcastle, Australia and are not as German as they sound 97% of the time!

There are a couple of numbers where Ilium show promise with regard to their chosen subgenre of metal, but it’s always on the slower numbers.  Those aside, ‘Genetic Memory’ is too bombastic by half. If you didn’t like power metal before, this album isn’t ever going to win you over.  If you’re not a fan of Mike DiMeo’s vocal style, he’ll do nothing to change your views here either; those things combined could lead to a musical headache.  A bigger budget and a better gift for song writing would certainly help here, but with ‘Genetic Memory’, Ilium are preaching to the converted at almost every step of the way.

August 2011