Arwen - Illusions
Arise Records
Progressive Power Metal
13 songs (55:58)
Release year: 2004
Arwen, Arise Records
Reviewed by Jay

Spain’s Arwen return with their sophomore effort. Their debut, Memories of a Dream, did not impress me much but the band certainly had potential. While not much has changed in their sound musically since then, they have not really progressed their sound at all. It is clearly a shame since there is some collective talent in the eight band members.

Their sound is the typical prog power sound that everyone seems to be trying to play these days. Moments of this album are ripped from Symphony X, Alkemyst and Sonata Arctica. One aspect that is particularly irking is the backing vocals. Each time the singers chime in, it sounds so artificial, so saccharine and just upsets the music. It’s not that they’re not talented, which they clearly are. It’s quite poor songwriting and abhorable mixing. Each song on this disc is so formulaic, it becomes impossible to enjoy them individually. The shortest song is 3:59 and the longest 5:01. They all seem to fit a pattern and are approximately the same length. Honestly, after repeated listens, it is all but impossible to differentiate between the songs. An album can only have the guitar and double bass hits synchronized so many times before it stops being an effective tool. In fact, it seems as though this band tries to string together memorable elements without writing any interleaving material. The result is a convoluted mess with no direction, balance or sense of coherence.

In terms of improvements, the recording is much more professional. Unlike the last disc, time was spent in the capturing of the sounds to disc. The mix is a crapshoot that mostly hits crap. Separate instruments often fail to find unity and the resulting sound is quite contrived. Solos seem to float over the background music in a sublime way with a volume significantly louder than necessary. Chorus parts sound horribly disjointed and forced. A perfect example of all that is wrong with the mix is the auditory abortion that is "Lullaby." While trying to be a ballad it merely ends up as bland. Other songs sport many progressive elements for no apparent reason. Instead of trying to build on their strengths such as their heavy use of traditional instruments, they throw in a Dream Theater part for no discernable purpose quite often. Why not try to combine it in a creative way? Angra just showed the amazing things that can be done by combining traditional and progressive elements and produced one of the best genre albums of the year.

Monotony does take a brief vacation on the track "Infinity." This is the hidden gem of the album. While the riff is rather stock, the band manages to build a creative and aggressive track thanks to some spectacular drum and keyboard work. Much of this album is mellowed out prog power. When the band tries (possibly inadvertently) to be more forceful, the result is excellent. Quizzically, the breakdown reminds me of a weird union between Guns N’ Roses and Dream Theater complete with the Axl Rose style grunts. Possibly a future sound to explore? Another nagging and irksome element is female vocalist M. Carmen Castaño. Maybe it’s personal preference, but her voice is simply discordant to my ears. "Riding Alone" is a trifecta from hell; Castaño on lead vocals, slipshod mixing and a keyboard intro that sounds lifted from the Final Fantasy video game series.

This album and sound has been done markedly better by other bands. Ignore this one and maybe it will go away.

Killing Songs :
Jay quoted 46 / 100
Other albums by Arwen that we have reviewed:
Arwen - Memories Of A Dream reviewed by Marty and quoted 78 / 100
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