21 October 2020

Anthea – Illusion

It’s been a very long time since I’ve listened to symphonic metal. When I was 15, I discovered Nightwish and I was completely obsessed with Floor Jansen and her ability to seamlessly switch between a commanding metal presence to one of the serenest beauty. I was in awe when I saw Wintersun support Arch Enemy in 2018, my mouth ajar with the thrill of hearing Sons of Winter and Stars in its full theatrical explosion.

Formed in Los Angeles, California, Anthea have clutched onto these Finnish influences and transformed them into their own individual creation and dynamic. Their debut album Illusion, is everything you could possibly want from a progressive symphonic metal band whilst delivering a few unexpected twists and turns.

Elements of Nightwish’s Dark Passion Play and Endless Forms Most Beautiful weave their way into the intro of Reach, as creepy china doll inspired keyboards transpire into that dramatic heaviness that we all crave from symphonic metal. It’s immediately apparent once the first verse begins that vocalist Diego Valadez has a fantastically histrionic presence. All I can think of during the verses is the archetypal Disney villain stepping up for their musical moment. I mean that in the best way possible.

The lyrics are hugely decorative, absorbing the listener in a message of following your own ambition and journey, rejecting conformity and striving for your own dreams before it’s too late. The final ending line in the second chorus of “Form the memories of elation” is absorbed so literally, with Valadez taking that final word and absolutely soaring with it in full unabashed power, taking listeners on their very own fleeting moment of euphoria.

With barely any time to take a breath, Eclipse begins in full frantic force with echoes of Wintersun but not consumed by it. This is Anthea’s own creation. The coupling of the black metal screams and growls from guitarist Juan Pina and Valadez’s theatrical qualities is a stunning dichotomy. In Eclipse, this falls into an angelic and devilish pairing with brightness and hope flourishing in Valadez’s sections and then consumed with pure fire and fury within Pina’s screams. There’s an absolutely brilliant breakdown in the middle section that really intensifies the heaviness of this track to a whole new level. A definite highlight.

Moirai features a stunning duet with Chiara Tricario as beautiful melodies absorbs the listener into the true symphonic territory of feminine delicacy. Arguably this track contains some of the most poetic lyrics on the album, conjuring up images of destinies and stars.

Single Illusion is undeniably catchy. The chorus melodies persisted and floated around in my mind a while after initially listening. Again, the lyrical content is absolutely stunning. I mean, where else would you find the opening line of “Gallery of warped memories in my nebula”? Brilliant..

The opening of The Light Divine was born to be an accompaniment to a protagonist’s quest. The chugging palm muted guitars create a determined pace whilst the drums provide the proud heartbeat. The lyrical content is driven by an unconventional pilgrimage of trying to find religious truths yet this is transformed into discovering one’s own truth about themselves and the universe. Musically, it’s excellent throughout yet the middle section is brilliant with its flourishing keyboards followed by a wonderfully melodic guitar solo. This segment continues to keep you guessing and its so refreshing to be unable to anticipate what’s coming next.

I really appreciate the thrash element in Discovery. It’s so damn fast. The chugging palm muted riffs really propels the verse melodies which speak of evolution, the beginning of all creation. The musical elements demonstrate how there’s such beauty in chaos, a summary of the formation of the world and all that now inhabit it.

Illusion refuses to stagnate towards the end of the album as Anthea continue to offer all that they have. The Expedition takes the listener to far and distant lands. It possesses such a beautifully slow and melodic melody, conjuring images of sailing underneath dark skies adorned with glistening stars and promises.

The album officially concludes with the slow ballad of Reflections, a moving piece that looks at the state of the world. To me this resonated and reminded me of how often I think about the damage and destruction, the loss that can never be resurrected or regained. Reflections seems timely, particularly with the way the world is shifting for better or worse with the ongoing pandemic.

The orchestral version of Moirai is a beautiful extra addition and I can fully appreciate the inspiration that Anthea find within film scores. It’s the perfect peaceful instrumental to play whilst meditating, writing or just simply being.

Any form of metal comes with its own escapism but there’s something so inherently fantastical in symphonic metal and Anthea offer nothing less of this genres charm. The music and the vocals work together in perfect harmony, whether its through gentler moments or full unashamed bombastic power. Lyrically, Anthea offer a truly poetic experience, elevating a listener’s wonder and imagination to optimum level.

Illusion will happily satisfy any symphonic metal fan or will welcome one returning to the genre with open arms.

Highlights: Reach, Eclipse, The Light Divine 

Anthea are part of RockShots Records.

You can find the band on Facebook