ILIUM – Quantum Evolution Event

Since their formation in the late 90s, Australian power metal band Ilium have worked hard at building a fan base, but a sporadic approach to recording and a fairly fluid line up have contributed to making their output seem a little inconsistent. The arrival of Masterplan’s Mike DiMeo on vocals in 2009 and a distribution deal with the Escape Music label helped bring the band to a wider audience, but these associations were fairly short-lived. After a short time away, they re-emerged with the ‘My Misanthropia’ album, recorded with vocalist Lance King – the fourth man to hold that position – and although further albums released between 2017 and 2020 brought former members Mark Sneddon and “Lord” Tim Grose back to the fold, by this time, Ilium only seemed to be reaching out to their more committed fans.

‘Quantum Evolution Event’, the band’s twelfth release, features core members Jason Hodges (guitar) and Adam Smith (guitar, bass, keys) with Lord Tim (vocals) and ex-LORD drummer Tim Yatras and, perhaps due to its short playing time, plays much better than some of their previous work, opting for maximum riffs throughout. Never was the concept of “maximum riffs” more appropriate than during the title track which, using a thunderous double bass drum as a bed, crashes in with massive harmonic guitars throwing out the biggest power metal riff this side of Masterplan, adopting a tune that sounds as if it’s been appropriated from an old Japanese cartoon. It’s bordering on the ridiculous, and yet it really works. Moving into the meat of the song, the riffs mix classic metal sounds with a few thrashier elements, which – as expected – is perfect for the vocal. Lord Tim, a far more palatable presence and arguably a much better singer than DiMeo, approaches the performance at full pelt, but clings on to some great metallic melodies, making him sound like the Aussie equivalent of Michael Kiske. His voice is huge enough to hold his own with some of the genre’s biggest names, but his keeping one ear on a decent melody suits the Ilium sound perfectly. Factor in some sharp edged lead guitar work and this actually becomes one of the band’s best songs to date.

The rest of the EP isn’t quite as interesting, but those who enjoy old school metal played at full pelt will certainly never feel short changed. The slightly heavier ‘Tsetse’ takes the core of ‘Warning’ era Queensryche and heavies it up considerably, again, allowing Tim to wail with ease, and by the time the instrumental break rolls around, a combination of heavy keys and complex time-sig leans further towards classic prog metal. It doesn’t break the mould, but it really shows off Ilium’s musical skills. If it weren’t clear previously, the band have grown so much since the ‘Genetic Memory’ days (circa 2011), both in terms of musical sharpness and ability to make a chorus hook memorable. ‘Hostile Sky’, meanwhile, makes a bigger feature of the keys, with multi-instrumentalist Adam providing a great intro with synthesized string sounds accompanied with atmospheric tinkling. By the time the rest of the band kicks in, it provides a great opportunity to experience them playing in a slower, more melodic style. In the past, this was their strong suit; with this line up, it doesn’t stick out as being obviously better than the speed driven tracks, but certainly provides more than enough metallic entertainment. The riffs are heavier and fatter, but various twin leads falling between Iron Maiden and peak Trivium provide much closer links with the band’s past. Although a chugging bass and heavy drum dominate, there’s actually plenty here to attract those who love a more melodic metal sound, with a chorus driven by great harmonies providing something of a musical highlight.

The twin leads at the core of ‘Undergods’ owe far more to Tim and Tim’s other project, the classic metal band LORD, but a relentless drum part driving the instrumental moments and deep chug keep Ilium’s power metal heart pumping furiously. Musically, this is terrific; the very 80s riffs are deftly played and the lead guitar work is on point throughout, always having the potential to thrill a broad cross section of retro metal fans. However, an almost folk metal melody on the chorus and lyrics about setting a course and being a “determined force” are a little silly – almost Manowar-esque. As if almost realising that if he didn’t take it a hundred percent seriously it might fall apart, Tim injects everything with a terrific sense of melody and clarity throughout. Like it or not, though, it’s very distinctive, which is more than can be said for ‘Mothcaste’ which, despite some great twin leads, never rises beyond being power metal by numbers; sort of an Iron Maiden on steroids. Regardless of Ilium settling into a comfort zone, though – and the presence of an even sillier lyric – it’s hard to find fault with Jason’s guitar playing. He really gives his all throughout this number, whether working with Adam to create another decent twin lead break or two, or indulging in various arpeggios to deliver some of the sharpest retro guitar work this side of Troy Steele and Kai Hansen, he really is in great form throughout.

With just five songs in hand, ‘Quantum Evolution Event’ is committed to making its point quickly and directly. It is far better than the work the band were doing with Mike DiMeo a decade earlier – and comes with a far superior production job too. Although it’s fair to suggest that those who aren’t besotted by bombastic power metal aren’t likely to be won over instantly, it’s worth persevering. Ilium are definitely pitching these songs at a slightly broader demographic than before, possibly due to LORD’s classic metal influence, but they’re all the better for it. ‘Quantum Evolution Event’ isn’t perfect by any means, but for fans of old school metal, the best bits certainly make it worth seeking out.

November 2021