San Antonio-bred hardcore outfit Illustrations take a lot of sonic risks on their sophomore full-length, Acts of God, all of which completely pay off.
Acts of God comes three years after the release of the band’s debut effort, In Vain; a darkened hardcore heavy-hitter relentless in its vitriol and angst. On this new recording, these Texans retain their seething, aggressive hardcore chops, but introduce a myriad of new elements that are seldom incorporated by other bands of this caliber. With Acts of God, Illustrations prove they are not bound by their ties to hardcore and can transcend the genre in interesting ways.
The opening triple-threat of “This Is the Dark Era”, “Pestilence” and “Iron Rain” gives an adequate dose of Illustrations-brand brooding hardcore, while casually guiding listeners in the direction the album will eventually take. “This Is the Dark Era” is full of furious d-beat and thrashing, stampeding riffs that aim right for the throat and are propelled by vocalist Matt King’s acidic rasp. The band also employ intricate, melodic licks and atmospheric breaks on this four-minute stormer, breaking up the metallic bashing but still retaining the track’s potent heaviness.
“Pestilence” comes crashing in with an abundance of chugging, apocalyptic riffs hellbent on pulverizing listeners to dust. The track steadily creeps along throughout its five-minute duration, trading in chugging malevolence for darkened chord progressions and sinister melodies. Walls of atmosphere and guitar-generated sound eventually take hold of the track as Bruce Lamont’s (Yakuza, etc) expressive saxophone spearheads the track’s midpoint (his playing can be heard in the heavy-hitter “War Have Mercy” as well). “Iron Rain” also storms out of the gate with guns blazing, strewing incendiary, yet melodic riffs in every direction. As it progressions, the track becomes an emotive tug-o-war between metallic destruction, emotionally-charged choruses and piano-led interludes. From this point onward, the album starts to move in surprising and exciting directions.
The doomed, synth-driven instrumental “Libation” marks the beginning of the album’s flirtation with experimentation. Although there are still some crushing cuts to behold (“War Have Mercy, “A Blessing from Below” and “The Killing Field”), the majority of the remaining tracks on Acts of God showcase the newer sides of Illustrations.
“Harrowed End” is full of neck-breaking instrumentation, but is also peppered with atmospheric fervor that nearly pushes it into post-metal territory à la Junius. Tracks such as “Chains of Reality” are full of ethereal atmospheres, minimal electronica, droning vocals and haunting guitar melodies that result in an almost Cocteau Twins-inspired vibe. Slow-burners such as “A Vacant Stare” build from walls of airy ambiance, driving percussion and throbbing bass lines, to intense waves of shoegaze-esque instrumentation. Then there is the closing track “Eternal Plight”, which attempts to tie everything together within its eight-minute timeframe. Crushing riffs are enveloped in dense atmospheres as elements of post-rock meld with glitching soundscapes and symphonic flair on this multifaceted, grandiose tune.
Acts of God, while a metallic hardcore record at its core, goes off in many surprising directions in its nearly 60-minute duration. With so many sonic elements being utilized, the record could have gotten messy and lost focus at any moment. But thanks to Illustrations‘ impressive songwriting skills, everything seems to blend and fit together as it should. No matter what aural curveball the record throws at the listener, it still stays true to the record’s mood and the band’s core. With this record, Illustrations are on to something truly special.
Release Date: May 26, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Pestilence”, “Iron Rain”, “Harrowed End”, “Chains of Reality” and “Eternal Plight”
For Fans Of: Centuries, Bone Dance, Tidemouth and The Secret