MAY ALBUM OF THE MONTH
There’s an unprecedented amount of new music released every week – but there’s not that much that’s truly jaw-dropping on first listen. This is where Twisted Illusion come in. To this day, I remember very clearly the listener reaction to the band during our Wellbeing Festival last August. A hot summer weekend, people listening to three-days of band sets in their gardens: there were many great bands but time stood still when Twisted Illusion were unleashed out of the blue. So many listeners fed back about the jaw-dropping, double-take moment they experienced when they first heard Twisted Illusion that weekend. A musical explosion of bright colours, uncompromising in its intensity, unbridled in its passion and effervescing in its melody. For a lot of people, it was a 15-minute set that changed everything.
If you like the sophisticated musical arrangements of Rush and Toto, the cinematic soundscapes of Yes or Marillion and the melodic brilliance of Boston, then you’re going to absolutely love Twisted Illusion’s debut album ‘Temple of Artifice.’ The album gives a nod to many influences, although Twisted Illusion avoid the classic rock parody that can often be a trap for new bands. In this album you get a clear sense of sonic influences but the outcome is the band’s own sound. The seamless interplay of measured prog passages with explosive heavy guitar fireworks isn’t something many could pull off. Some may call this music prog, I would call it intelligent rock. The influences of Rush and Toto play out in the arrangements and there is supreme technical talent in the playing that further continues the link to these two great bands.
This is the first ‘Album of the Month’ review that I wrote while listening to a vinyl copy of the album. It works as ‘two sides’ of music; the album has a clear start, middle and end, the order of the tracks matters and, importantly, the album is not too long – an art that was lost with the era of extended playing-time CDs and the fruit salad of commoditised ‘tunes’ that followed in the age of streaming. Matt Jones is himself an avid collector of physical music and, from the perspective of a music fan, it is so nice to get an album from an artist who is also passionate about physical products. It kind of makes Matt one of us – a music-buying, record-shop-supporting music fan – and that makes you want to support an artist even more. In the grassroots scene today, there’s a lot of saturation-bombing of people selling stuff but there’s a simple truth and authenticity about buying physical music from an artist who is also a physical music fan himself – and for whom the excitement of releasing a vinyl has almost spiritual significance.
‘Imitate Me’ opens this opus of an album with clever composition and structure that reminded me of magic moments from Toto with Rush. The song has a meaningful lyrical narrative, midst the emotive drama this is music testifying – art with a purpose and something to say. Throughout, the structure and technical prowess are first class: The album opener sets out that this is not just a collection of tracks with catchy riffs and familiar chords – this album is more a universe of sound with movements, textures and layers.
‘Freedom To Fail’ evokes wonderful, contrasting light and shade and delivers a great vocal performance. Like Marillion favourites, here’s a song of sections or movements. The song is a journey in widescreen and the quality of the musicianship will draw you in.
Before people overuse the word prog, ‘Hatred Is A Virtue’ reminds the listener that Twisted Illusion can rock out as hard as a best of them. This song ferociously charges into the night with beaming lights showing the way: It’s a song for arena shows.
Side two opens with ‘Apocalypse’ – a song we gave an early spin to some months ago on the Friday rockshow. A song that builds into something big and, once again, the guitar work showcases the technical excellence and talent within this band.
By this stage of the album you have a sense that with Twisted Illusion the ideas effortlessly come. From another age, you think of Mozart and a canon of music that was effortlessly melodic, where the brilliance was in the spontaneity. Matt Jones spoke to me some months ago about never suffering from writer’s block and you get the sense with this album that the music and the arrangements just came. Music that naturally comes together feels different from songs that are the result of bits being glued together or that work to a formula. Here on ‘Temple of Artifice’ there is a natural fluency and freedom to the music. Whether it is to someone’s personal taste or not is irrelevant: The natural creative talent and the quality of the playing on this record remind you that some people have just got it. Throughout there is an artistic value and quality that makes ‘Temple of Artifice’ worthy of universal respect.
‘Online And In Line’ has a radio-friendly opening, catchy and uplifting in its mood with a crisp, emotive vocal. There is some 1970s lineage in the song but the point about music done well is it doesn’t feel like a parody. It’s more an evolution. This is followed by ‘A Moment Of Lucidity’, one of my faves from the album and a song with a guitar solo as good as any you’ll hear this year.
The album closes with ‘Imitate Me part 2’ – and has a dream-like Floyd / Comfortably Numb mood to the opening verses, which juxtaposes well with the soaring, full-attack chorus lines that finish the album on the perfect high note. It’s a song that captures well the unique position this band holds. There’s the intricacy and thoughtfulness of mid-pace classic prog, yet it seamlessly fuses with furious, hard-rock melodic guitar work that is alien to prog and in its own right is best in class.
‘Temple of Artifice’ is a masterful album and is the first of four album releases from Twisted Illusion in the next 12-months. And here lies another important point. During a year of lockdown when many artists have flocked to social media and focused on building brand awareness, Matt and his band have focused 110% on song writing. Despite the limitations and obstacles, the band has focused on creating at an almost impossible time – and the band has grown as a result. Consciously or not, this is music for our times – it is music to inspire, it vents anger and protest – but the underlying intensity of passion, hunger for excellence and devotion to art results in music that is both a masterclass and a celebration.
Matt Jones is too humble to have his music compared to Rush and Toto, but Twisted Illusion do exactly what these bands did in their prime. For a new age, Twisted Illusion take rock beyond ballads and bangers and are perhaps the new benchmark rock band when it comes to raising the bar on arrangement, technique and invention.
‘Temple of Artifice’ is released on Friday 28th May
The album is available in a number of formats and editions
Order the album
Album and merch from https://twistedillusion.bigcartel.com
Follow Twisted Illusion online
Thanks to TI fans Wayne and Julie for re-reconnecting me with the band’s music last Summer.