ISLE OF THE CROSS - Excelsis (Album Review)

Isle Of The Cross: Album Cover

As Much Info As I Could Find:

Isle Of The Cross seem to be primarily the brainchild of one man Je Schneider who is a “multi-instrumentalist and composer”. Having done some research I came up with very little about him or the band. There is another guitarist Eric Gillette (who also plays with the Neal Morse Band) on the album and 2 other named singers in Diane Lee and Eric Castiglia the latter being an Italian session singer (the female lead I couldn’t find anything about online sadly).

Yes, It’s A Concept:

The album is a concept about 2 lovers which involves betrayal, murder, death and the attempts to reconcile in the afterlife! To be honest, I found it hard to follow the story, possibly due to some of it being in another language and the male growlings not being clear enough for me to work out the words at points. Musically it kind of flits around a bit. It is part technical/progressive death metal and at other points symphonic power metal with electronica and pan pipes thrown in for good measure! (It certainly sounds like pan pipes but as I only have a stream to work with I could be mistaken). There are 12 tracks with the last 3 really being one piece in 3 parts. There are no complaints about the standard of musicianship and creativity going on with this concept album. My only problem/complaint was that I found it difficult to follow, making it feel disjointed, however, those holding a physical copy with lyric sheets or possible story captions may find that is not a problem.

All About The Songs:

The first couple of songs are more of the prog death with touches of symphonic. Plenty of heavy riffage, weird time signatures, and drum fills along with growled lyrics. “Tartarus” is a song or piece that goes off on a right tangent. I never thought I would listen to a metal album and remark how something reminds me of Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains mixed with Shakira’s “Whenever Whatever”. It is strange as it is a reasonably uplifting style of music normally but the track is about the deep abyss of torment in Greek mythology. The synths when they come in add a different dimension sounding quite dark and evil. The song finishes with the cries of “I was betrayed” said in anger and frustration.

Excelsis” has a more symphonic feel with firstly a female choir and later something more like chanting from a male choir (I could picture monks in an abbey with their hoods up looking scary), and an organ which is played exactly as you would expect in a large cathedral. There is some great drum fills along with guitar and synth solos. I rather liked the construction of this song, very atmospheric and even visual in that you can see or picture scenes to match. There are 2 parts to “The Wolf” the first “Invocation” is a short intro with tribal drumming and spoken word which leads into “Sanctuary” which made me think of “Roots” era Sepultura, which also came to mind on the very last song “Inferno”. It is quite a progressive styled piece with time changes and a mad breakdown with screaming going on. Despite that, it is quite accessible to those who don’t handle more extreme metal. It does go quite melodic with clean lyrics nearer the end after the guitar solo. It finishes with the words “abandon your sanctuary, make amends, it’s not too late” which is the lead into the ballad of the album “Stars”. It has quite a pleasant melody running through it with a touch of Dream Theater in the solo. I would have liked a different vocal on this, maybe more clean and less high pitched, but it is a nice enough track.

Of course, it heads back into heavy territory with “Empyrean” which drifts into Ayreon and Avantasia territory. Plenty of melody and with a sweet riff and clean vocal this is also quite theatrical in style. I rather liked this one quite a bit.

Isle Of The Cross: The Players

Isle Of The Cross: The Players

This is where things change again with “Paradigm” having a touch of electronic and reminding me of early Korn. It gets stranger with the next song “Breatheia” which made me think of Eloy! I must say I liked the sound of the latter especially, very atmospheric with some very nice light touches on the drumming front. When the guitar solo comes in it is under the electronic sounds, more like background music which is an interesting touch. Apart from some opening spoken words (“I’ve been waiting for you” whispered by the male), this is an instrumental.

The last 3 songs are really one piece called “The 9th Circle” followed by 1 to 3. Of course, being a story about betrayal this is the part of hell reserved for those guilty of that sin. Part 1 “Judecca” (one of the rivers of Hades) is basically spoken word and sounds like the scene or trailer of a horror movie. Part 2 “Caina” is a choir led doom-laden classical piece with males chanting. All very cinematic. Both of these are lead-ups to the main track “Inferno” which brings back the metal riffs and growled vocals along with speedy guitar soloing. There are moments of almost Epica symphonic musings and one moment of Primus in the quirky bass run at the breakdown. It floats between that brutal tech metal and choir driven melodic metal.

Concluding Thoughts:

The only problem I can see is that it might be too death metal for some and too much symphonic and odd for those who like their music to pulverize them throughout. Whether others will make more sense of it than myself it is hard to say, however, if you have a wide enough palette and are not afraid of music that some might call “self-indulgent” then without a doubt you will get much enjoyment out of the challenge of it all. I suggest giving this a go, even if confusing it is an enjoyable romp with multiple styles going on for those brave enough to listen!

Out on Rockshots Records Friday, February 21

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