The mysterious band from USA Isle Of The Cross, named after Herman Melville’s unpublished book, released the debut album this year, which barely falls within the scope of musical genres, there is a lot of different stylistic elements here. This variability is rather a positive moment because overall the album sounds complex and doesn’t create cacophonic chaos, it is carefully thought-out. There’s no information about Je Schneider’s band, so let’s this music speak for itself.
“Excelsis” is an energetic and cheerful release, though there are some epic interludes and even ballads, but it is also diverse and atmospheric with a unified concept throughout the album. The album bends more to progressive style, but extreme parts are closer to symphonic death metal, but it’s not so easy to define the music of the Isle Of The Cross more accurately.
There’s plenty of melodic parts and change of mood, the melodiousness is so strong, that sometimes it reminds of pop release (of course, in the context of heavy music). The structure of songs is based more on heavy metal, although there are solely atmospheric tracks, mainly the short interludes, connected with subsequent songs. This atmospheric aura is created specifically by the epic synthesizers and choirs, there are multiple symphonic elements on the “Excelsis”, in the spirit of Therion (like in the self-titled track “Excelsis”). Sometimes the keyboards sound very traditionally (like in romantic ballad “Stars”), but sometimes they create more thoughtful and sophisticated mood, like in the endings of the songs “Empyrean” and “Breatheia”. But on the first song “Sacrifice” the sound of synths is almost psychedelic with the accompaniment of female whisper.
The rhythm section isn’t emphasized, but in the first part of the song “The Wolf” (“Invocation”) the tribal drums build up a scary mood, before the next part (“Sanctuary”), dynamic and heavy, begins. The song “Paradigm” is one of the heaviest, but in truth, the hyper melodic chorus makes it almost like typical metalcore track. The guitar parts here are masterfully performed (thanks to guest musician Eric Gillette). The guitar riffs are quite memorable and vivid, but the solo parts are mostly tearful and emotional, closer to hard ’n’ heavy (for example, in songs “Tartarus” and “Stars”). But on this release, everything is important to single out some specific part – vocal lines, beautiful guitar solos and catchy riffs, atmospheric keyboards and choral parts, experimental elements (like in the song “Tartarus” with electronic influence and acoustic passage with flute).
The singing technique varies, and on some of the songs the guest musician Eric Castiglia joins in. The growls of Joe aren’t too prominent or eloquent, and the same can be said about clean voice, except for the song “Stars” with deliberately piteous manner of singing. The female singing of Diane Lee sounds pretty good, there is a delicious confrontation to male vocals on the symphonic power track “Empyrean”, but on the last song “The 9th Circle (Inferno)” she demonstrates her academic skills. On the songs “Tartarus” and “Empyrean” the voice is slightly distorted, to add some extra diversity to the album. “Excelsis” ends with three united songs under the common title “The 9th Circle”. It starts with the solemn and epic choral interlude, then follows the minute-long recital, and ends with the classical symphonic metal track with romantic singing, beautiful guitar riffs and distorted synths solos on the religious theme (and even with Latin prayers).
The cover art is vivid and sublime, and like the music itself, it is full of struggles between the light and darkness, but the flaming angel is a symbol of victory, which rises up to the light. The music isn’t easy to define, but the release is surprisingly coherent and easy to perceive, so the experiments aren’t too cumbersome or complicated, but the progressiveness of this release is rather general than in separate elements. So, the debut album of Isle Of The Cross appeared to be successful and nice, after all, it’s not so easy to create experimental music so lightly and reasonably on the first try.
Release date: February 21st, 2020
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