Illudium watch as surroundings burn, personal wounds surface on soul-ached ‘Ash of the Womb’

Photo by Michelle Nisbet

Wildfires in California are not a new phenomenon, but it seems like they’ve been picking up the intensity and violence the past few years, with 2020’s making worldwide headlines amid a pandemic and a nation embroiled in demonstrations over police brutality. Last year was record-setting for wildfires in California, costing 33 lives and $12 billion in damages. But yeah, the environment is just fine.

Those fires weren’t just watched on television and the internet; people living in those areas obviously witnessed these disasters in real time, one of those being Shantel Amundson, whose Illudium has returned with their second record “Ash of the Womb” that directly was inspired by the blazes. She watched her home state turn into a strange murk while events in her own life also were simmering in tension, and it will come as no surprise that the songs on this album are darker and more foreboding than what was on debut “Septem,” sometimes making it feel like you’re working your way through a blanket of smoke. On these songs—she was joined on the record by bassist Josef Hossain-Kay and drummer Gregory Wesenfeld (who has since been replaced by Trevor Deschryver)—she weaves in tales and personal reflection that are heavy both musically and emotionally and also add to the gaze and gothic underpinnings of many dark music pools from which she extensively drinks.  

“Aster” slowly dawns as cold, dark waters flow, while Amundson’s voice floats above everything, bringing heavy shadows. The power kicks in as the ice slowly melts, creating tributaries that stretch into gaze, more bursts, and ethereal vocals that soothe the mind. “Sempervirens” starts nestled in nature as quiet guitars and numbing bass awaken, then a propulsive pace arrives and shakes things up, buzzing and bubbling before pounding. A sense of tranquility arrives as Amundson’s voice flutters, and then the tempo unloads as the force increases, only to give way to softer guitars and a never-ending haze. “Soma Sema” releases inky patterns and then some heavier blows as the vocals hypnotize, and a steely, reverberating ambiance takes over. The push and pull continues as the band plays with soft and hard areas before they thrash, sparking jolts and unleashing mesmerizing clouds cover quiver and dissolve.

“Ātopa” runs 9:06 and enters with guitars driving and Amundson’s voice putting you in a trance, feeling like it’s letting you work your way down a stream before the thunder strikes. The power lets the song spread its wings, lightly storming, remaining fluid and washing up everything with it. The mist really mounts later as the vocals begin to crush hearts, the emotional waves touch down, and everything bleeds into the periphery. “Madrigal” is 9:02 and lets clean guitars collect before the aggression ignites, and even if the singing can be delicate, it definitely leaves a dent in your side. The vocals quivers and your senses go off on their own into the night, roars make your nerves react, and the final moments push off into the sea. “Where Death and Dreams Do Manifest” closes the record and starts gently before the guitars work into your brain, and the playing feels more animalistic. The singing again aligns with your bloodstream, warming your bones as some final fires are agitated, and the guitars gush into time.

Not only are Illudium ridiculously at home on the Prophecy roster, they’re quickly becoming one of their more arresting bands, which “Ash of the Womb” steadily proves. Anyone who worships at the altars of Esben and the Witch, Cocteau Twins, Alcest, Marriages, and groups of that ilk will find themselves in a wonderful home awash in personal darkness. This is a powerful album that will have its way with your emotions and never let you forget that experience.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/illudiumband

To buy the album, go here: http://lnk.spkr.media/illudium-ash-of-the-womb

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/

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