Illuminae – Dark Horizons: Album Review

Ian Jones and Agnieszka Swita are Illuminae. A new project for two musicians who have healthy CVs and a special guest list to die for. Let a little Illuminae in…

Release date: 12th February 2021

Label: Gonzo Multimedia

Format: DL / CD

Ian Jones has a knack for teaming up with quality singers. His past associations in various bands have set the bar high. I’d wager that Illuminae has arguably given that bar more than just a gentle nudge. More like a hefty shoulder charge from an uncompromising Italian defender. Nevermind the fact that the contributors include Steve Hackett (we”ll try to avoid putting ex-Genesis), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Troy Donockley (Nightwish), Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett band), Luke Machin (Machine and The Tangent) and Gonzalo Carrera. It’s the Jones/Swista combo of songwriting and dramatic arrangements that cause the chills that come with Dark Horizons.

Given the duo’s musical journeys around the symphonic, progressive and Celtic genres plus their talents for crafting good old-fashioned melodies, it’s safe to expect symphonies, lullabies and above all a sackfull of melodies. Not to mention plenty of light and shade and a vein of passion that runs through the whole hour or so.

Blood On Your Hands has been a perfect teaser/single/choice for the lead track. The location seems set somewhere in the expansive and battle-scarred landscapes of Westeros and has Agnieszka alternating between spitting out or caressing the lyric. All via a swirling Eastern flavoured backdrop. The lush chorus might take many back to the best of Mr Jones’ early days. She’s got all the credentials for being ideally suited to carry the symphonic power. Misty and mysterious, It’s simply a tremendous track and highlights the album themes both lyrically and musically that contrast light and dark, life and death, solitude and hope.

There’s actually a nice little piece by video creator Chris Lavelle on how he delivered the fantasy worlds on the video here.

And having whet the appetite (and wet our pants) with Blood On Your Hands there’s the question of the rest of the album and if it’s going to match these heights. There’s a similar sweeping drama to Edge Of Darkness. One that shifts into an increasingly desperate driving force following a tense intro. For a more condensed version check out more ethnic and Eastern promise in the guise of Heretics & Prophecy (“every step I take, I’m closer to my fate” gives a hint of the direction). However, attention inevitably falls on two extended pieces that might class as epics; or at least bigger scale pieces.

The icing on the cake on Horizons sees Luke Machin playing what’s possibly the best solo I’ve heard from him. Not quite sure who inspired who but the Illuminae/Machin combo reaches parts rarely touched. An exercise in feel and wringing emotion from that neck. I can imagine Luke, he’s a humble guy, playing that break and asking “is that ok?” – you must be kidding. It ranks highly amongst he album’s ‘worth the admission price’ moments. It’s the centrepiece of an ever-developing musical travelogue. Reaching out, raging storms, the desire for freedom and the overarching presence of dark horizons all add to the general cinematic air.

No less an iconic figure than Steve Hackett plays on The Lighthouse. If you didn’t know, you’d recognise his tones almost immediately. He picks up the reins following a string-led path and paves the way for another goosebump moment as the vocal returns on a wave of souls drifting in the night, seeking guidance. Hackett throws in another few tasty morsels, duelling with the vocal lines to bring us home on a stunning arrangement.

Never far from a hook or a rush of warmth, flowing jazzy sax and cool moods provide the occasional interlude to an album that flows with waves of swelling peaks. Sweeps of ethereality add haunting or reflective moods and Troy Donockley puts in a shift leading on Lullaby. His pipes magically transforming into a searing lead guitar part. There needs to be a vote of thanks as Dark Horizons suggests something ominous, yet sheds and shares the light. We’re left with the apt parting words (should you considering taking in Dark Horizons) to take a journey beyond the rainbow. There’s no need to think twice.

Listen to Blood On Your Hands:

Illuminae online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

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