German prog-death sojourners Disillusion tighten their morbid, stormy ways on excellent ‘Ayam’

Photo by Sergey Sivushkin

The pandemic had mostly negative impacts on people, and how could it not since it caused so much pain, isolation, and fear? But there were those who used the time to their advantage and tried to grow and change. Some took on new career paths, new interests, new hobbies and perhaps shaped their lives differently and expanded on their knowledge base.

As for German prog death/doom band Disillusion, they had their normal lives of being a touring band taken from them. Certainly, they were not alone in that category, so they used the time where touring wasn’t possible to work on their sound and used that to craft “Ayam,” their tremendous new record. For this album, the band—vocalist/guitarist Andy Schmidt, guitarist Ben Haugg, bassist/backing vocalist Robby Kranz, drummer Martin Schulz (Sebastian Hupfer also played guitar on the record)—is joined by other musicians in Birgit Horn (trumpet, flugelhorn), Clara Glas (cello), Frederic Ruckert (keyboard), and Marek Stefula (triangle) to flesh out these eight tracks and deliver some of the most atmospheric, emotional, and devastating of their run, which truly pays off the renewed focus they were awarded. This is a document that might not exist had it not been for that period of time, and it’s clear from the first visit with this record that the extra attention paid off.

“Am Abgrund” is the 11:21-long opener, dawning in mystical waters, clean warbled vocals meeting up with the crunch moments later. “From the top of the world to the end of the sea,” Schmidt calls as the guitars surge, and the stormy mood gets even more immersive. Acoustics sweep in, cutting into the energy, creaking through the murk as Schmidt wails, “I would like to believe I’m stronger than this,” as the guitars blaze. Gothy doom pumps as sounds liquify, the keys and quiet singing draining away. “Tormento” opens with gentle, breezy singing wafting as the playing jars, and maniacal vocals take over and drain blood. The playing punishes and sweeps, hitting new heights before briefly disappearing into shadows. A doomy push emerges, guttural hell erupts, and the smoke chokes out your lights. “Driftwood” swims in acoustics and delicate singing before gothy thunder strikes, and the melodies trudge and bloody mouths. Leads stretch as the guitars take control, gushing and pushing into dreamy sequences, numbing before slipping into the fog. “Abide the Storm” is the longest track, running 11:51 and churning and punishing right off the bat, the vocals defacing. Gruff shouts and building heat combine, horns pump, and softer playing and proggy thunder take hold, Schmidt wondering, “Where do we belong?” Repeat calls of, “The calm before the storm,” churn in your mind, the playing chugs, and everything comes to a disruptive end.

“Longhope” opens in keys and guitars digging into the ground, Schmidt’s vocals sending cool breezes and strange vibes. The emotion sweeps as the track tears open, the cloud cover thickens, and Schmidt reasons, “We are what we see,” just as the fires are stoked more heavily. The vocals punch, the playing busts, and everything slips into cold waters. “Nine Days” is moody and brings aching guitars, clean singing making the mist in front of you thicken. “You shall never reach the open sea,” Schmidt warns as the electricity jolts, and danger builds, and Schmidt finishes with, “No one knows my dreams tonight.” “From the Embers” slips in with quiet keys that entrance before the explosive pressure breaks, dark singing making the spirits around you come to life. Water laps as soulful calls chill, the guitars taking over and making energy charge through you, soaring with emotions and soothing energy that drains away. Closer “The Brook” wells up and makes blood rush to your face, moving delicately through dark waters and mystical wonders. Later, the playing engulfs, energy spitting fire, the power surging, and then the singing swells all over again. The playing takes jabs at your chest, ghostly echoes penetrate, and everything dissolves into the background.

Disillusion continue to progress a quarter century into their run, once again finding ways to devastate and compel on “Ayam,” one of their most full-bodied records so far. It’s emotional and moody for sure, and the heaviness and thorny playing make for more explosive elements that can torch your flesh and psyche at the same time. The strange mysteries built into the music keep your mind working, your curiosity peaking, and your inhibitions satisfied even if you’re not quite sure how that happened.

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