Written by Espi Kvlt
Vivid Illusion – Vivid Illusion
Released on October 29, 2021
If you were disappointed by Deafheaven’s latest album, look no further than the new record from Vivid Illusion to scratch that post-black metal itch. Blackgaze being my favorite subgenre of my favorite genre (black metal, obviously), it’s not very hard to get me into something but it is hard for something to stand out as much as this did. It’s rare that I’ll listen to post-black metal and get the exact same feeling as I did when first heard Dream House. In fact, the only other time that’s happened was when I first heard Lascar. Other than that, a lot of this genre unfortunately bleeds together. But not this self-titled beauty. This is a history maker.
It’s been six years since the last Vivid Illusion album, and though I was a fan of that previous album as well as their others, this album stands out among the pack. Instead of feeling like I was having a journey narrated to me, as is often the case when I listen to any blackgaze, this felt like I was the one taking the journey. Weaving between soft, acoustic sections and raw black metal shrieking over heavy guitars, this feels less like an album with a collection of songs and more like a concept that even without the lyrics, you can understand exactly what is going on in this music. Not that the lyrics should be ignored entirely. Mesmerizing lines like “it was a self-made habitat / where the parasite of desperation found a way to cultivate inside” allow you into the mind of these musicians to feel that final gut punch after being pummelled relentlessly by the music for its nearly hour-long running time.
This album welcomes you into its arms gently, like an old friend. Opening with the track “Goldenrod,” it’s a dreamlike soundscape that, while listening to it, I envisioned myself floating along clouds in an endless sky. But that calm cannot last forever. In the most Deafheaven-sounding song on the record (and I do mean that as a serious compliment), the second track, “Tarnished Memories,” brings us into the thick of it, with the pounding of loud drums, the strumming of fast guitars, and the incredible harsh vocals performed by Aki McCullough. The song gives you plenty of room to breathe, however, transitioning effortlessly between the fast and harsh and the smooth and mellow. This song alone could tell an entire story.
We are then greeted to another soundscape, this time noisy and distorted, as though the first track were opening us up to the first chapter of a book and this one is opening us up to the second. This second soundscape reminded me of Everywhere at the End of Time, a haunting and vivid art piece about what it’s like to live with dementia, and it brought me right back to the same melancholy distress I felt when I listened to that. That staticky sound continues on into the next song, which welcomes us with stunning clean vocals from Ant Taboada before returning to Aki’s incredible screeches. These two artists complement each other incredibly on this album, to the point where I didn’t realize it wasn’t just one person doing both vocal parts until I checked the credits.
The next soundscape is a gentle affair which brings us into “Beacon,” a very much not gentle affair. This song captivated me with its ear worm riffs and drumbeats. Not only was this my favorite performance on the record in terms of instrumentation, but I was floored by both Aki and Ant’s vocals on this track in particular. Aki’s harshes reach new levels of pummelling darkness and in direct opposition to this, Ant’s cleans are the most lovely on this piece. The track is an 11 minute affair that manages to go from some of the heaviest sections I’ve ever heard in black metal to quiet acoustic parts and none of it sounds out of place. It is amazing what this duo has managed to create on this single track alone, and I think it stands out as the best on the record and the one I will relisten to the most.
This brings us to the last chapter of the album, and unlike the other soundscapes that preceded the longer tracks on this effort, “First Time Seeing With My Eyes Closed” has Ant greeting us with their mesmerizing voice. They sound like a siren tempting me to crash into the rocks while at sea, and if I heard this voice while I was captaining a ship, I know for a fact I would fall right into the trap. This brings us into the closing track, “Saguaro” (a word I had to Google that is a species of cactus, if you were wondering). The enchanting feeling of the previous track continues into this one, actually getting softer and slower as it goes and lulling you into a false sense of serenity before building up to something more harsh and distorted and then fully pummelling you into the ground at the six minute mark with Aki’s intense vocal performance. She sounds truly demonic on this song, and I pictured myself being chased through a desert by a horrifying monster while I listened to it. It does have a happy (or perhaps bittersweet) ending, however, closing on the same gentle sounds it began with.
The Bottom Line:
All in all, this is a perfect blackgaze record, and I do not say that lightly. The only thing that even comes close is, as I have previously mentioned, Sunbather by Deafheaven. The fact that this made me think about that so much is again, high praise, as that album got me through the darkest times of my life, and the next time I go through a tenacious experience, I will have Vivid Illusion’s self-titled playing in my headset, reminding me why I live, why I breathe, and why it’s worth it to keep going.