Throwback Thursday: DISILLUSION Back to the Times of Splendor
Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. So sit back, relax, and grab a stein of dunkelweizen, because we're going on a journey in search of modern albums that have primed the canvas of today's metal music scene.
The contemporary albums in this series serve as tributaries that have, for better or worse, altered the course of the flowing blackness that is the metal steam of life. For this, the fourth edition of this series, I reveal to you a rarity. A superb delicacy for the ears, this album is one that may have somehow slid under your radar. A band with a little over 5,000 likes on Facebook, and even less monthly listeners on Spotify, this band created one of the best and interesting albums of the 21st century and most people haven't even heard of it.
DISILLUSION Back to the Times of Splendor
Release Date: April 6, 2004
Record Label: Metal Blade Records
Story Time! When I started my research on Back to the Times of Splendor album for TBT, I was surprised when my sleuthing didn't reveal the kind of content I was searching for. Even Disillusion's Wikipedia is pretty scarce. I was dumbfounded, because it didn't occur to me that this band might not be a big deal. Back to the Times of Splendor is a spectacular album whose history intrigues me in the same way a ghost story does. Listening to this epic feels like walking into a haunted mansion and wondering what the floor boards would say if they could talk. Surely, with an album so clearly special, I could easily uncover the colorful, sensational past which would explain how a band could compose such a piece.
When my queries left me fruitless, I went straight to the horses mouth. I got in contact with Andy Schmidt, founding member of Disillusion to help give me the answers I have been searching for since I first laid my ears upon Back to the Times of Splendor. I have to say, Andy was a gracious guy who answered every question of mine fully. What a pleasure to talk to someone so fourth coming and amicable. It's pretty cool to know that a band you have a lot of respect for is made up of cool humans, too.
Let's start with the brass tacks. Disillusion is a band hailing from Leipzig, Germany. The band formed in 1994/1995 with friends from school and the group solidified their first lineup in 2000. In 2001, their first official joint EP Three Neuron Kings dropped, followed by 2002's EP The Porter. It was then they caught the attention of Metal Blade and started recording Back to the Times of Splendor with Andy as the driving creative force. But, as Andy quipped, "without the comrades, of course, things do not work out, then as now."
My impression of Back to the Times of Splendor is that it was not just a mere collection of songs from a group of ambitious young lads. It is tough to place Disillusion and Back to the Times of Splendor into any one particular genre. When I asked what Andy where he would group the band, he responded,
"Oh, this is more than difficult and really no fluff when I say I do not pigeonhole when it comes to Disillusion. Theoretically, everything is possible. Anyway, for Back to the Times of Splendor the label used was "An album in cinemascope and widescreen.""
A listen to opening track "And the Mirror Cracked" reveals exactly what Andy meant by that description.
The song unfolds, starting out with appropriate metal-esque tension, readying you for the progressive/thrashy, syncopated drums. What speaks to me the most about this song, and the subsequent album, is that while the elements aren't supremely technical; they're arranged in a way which fools you into thinking they are. The changes in texture don't feel gimmicky, the tempo changes aren't implemented to artificially infuse the song with presence, and the sound effects aren't presented to bamboozle the listener into thinking that the song has a meaning that the music didn't bother to express. Rather, these notables are used as story telling mechanisms. Back to the Times of Splendor is a tale, and it makes me want to listen for what happens next. I was convinced it was written as a concept album, that is, until I spoke with Andy.
"I am very impressed by good storytelling in movies paired with a good score. The dynamics that can be achieved in movies inspire me far more than three or four great songs in a 4-minute format. It is hard for us all to go back in time and claim that we had a plan. There was none really. So I do not actually use the label concept album because it sounds to me as if it already had a concept from start or at least during the making. Maybe there was, but more on an emotional or spiritual level."
I was surprised, and almost crestfallen at this answer. Listen to the grandeur of "Alone I Stand in Fires" and tell me that you don't see yourself in that haunted mansion, exploring the ghosts of a deeply emotional story:
First of all, let's talk about the vocals. They range from something experimental, to something almost pleading. At times, inflections of something Serj Tankian-like fade into something profoundly bursting and gravely. My expectations, rooted in a world I created from the moments and lyrics in Back to the Times of Splendor, are something I thought for sure was a great guess at what the album meant. Andy goes on to say this, however,
"The music on BTTOS begins to evade the real world from a certain point on and is then going out into something free, broad, great – so do the lyrics. They kind of circulate this development and the music and form words and content around the music. Some topics are certainly very private and part of my life, part of my identity, but the story of the record is rather fictional and I hesitate to explain the setting of the lyrics in detail, because it is not necessary. It is not literature but rather part of the emotional world of music and the time. And so it is all about love, unfortunate love, fear, longing, anger, conventions, wanting to break out and wanting to be yourself, taking new paths and having the courage to get to know and accept yourself , and somehow always about insight and awareness."
It seems as though I may have not been that far off, after all. I think the take away here is to reflect on the music through your own human experience. If you want to experience this album and the swath of emotions these story-spinners created in Back to the Times of Splendor, one needs not go any further than listening to the BEST song, and title track from the album:
This. Song. This SONG, you guys. Did you listen to it? This is a masterpiece. My only critique here, is that I would like to hear a remastered version with intro hook played on violin, complete with more aching intention and expression. Here is an excerpt of the opening lyrics:
I was halfway through the wheat, my golden foe
With his itching ears in the scorching heat.
The weight of summer, a torment to my hands
Armed with a sickle I am out for his beguiling glance.
Thought I heard a mare neighing from the creek
Where in every hour spared we anxiously would meet.
Drunken whispers no one could hear
'til the day when hordes of wasps
Poisoned every hour so passed.
How often are lyrics in metal music often a main point of discourse? I can admit that as a metal fan and a musician of over 20 years, I am brought into the sound of a song far before I take a moment to evaluate what in the hell these bands are singing about. This was not the case in title track "Back to the Times of Splendor". Over the course of this 14-minute plus song, you really do feel as if you are watching a great drama unfold before your eyes. Or, ears in this case. There is an onslaught of imagery, capped with a pensive chorus. A change in direction is marked with a energy-mounting instrumental, which feels like seeing something beautiful which was somehow not meant to be seen. The instrumental ends in this: The song layers slowly into a chaotic racket that dissolves into a soft exhale, as if a tragedy has ended the tension. And that all happens before minute 5.
After the release of Back to the Times of Splendor, Disillusion followed up with their less successful effort Gloria in 2006. Andy describes this album as "David Lynch on metal". After Gloria, the band released no new work, and Schmidt cites that the members, "lost themselves". However, in 2015 Disillusion was surprised by an invitation to come to Vienna to play Back to the Times of Splendor in its entirety live. This injection of public interest, plus Metal Blade re-releasing Back to the Times of Splendor on vinyl has lead to Disillusion touring once again in Europe, primarily in Germany. This calls for a comeback song, which they did record in 2016. "ALEA" is their newest effort which you can check out HERE. Currently, Disillusion are recording a whole new album and touring with Back to the Times of Splendor. And, according to Schmidt, yes they are planning on making it to America! YOU HAD BETTER!
Back to the Times of Splendor is an album which is not meant to be listened to as a set of individual songs, really. Ending track "The Sleep of Restless Hours" feels like the 6th act to a play, crushingly optimistic, and yet still torrid and twisted. Schmidt reflects that while in a rut writing this album, he was invited to a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. This experience allowed him to come back and get lost in the world this record creates. Andy reflects, "after about 20 minutes in to the record it becomes so incredibly dense and for the next half an hour the listener is really kind of living in the world of the record." And that is exactly how Back to the Times of Splendor makes the listener feel. Part melodic, part death, part progressive, part thrash, part rock, part folk, Back to the Times of Splendor is a gem in a sea of metal, glinting with all the value of the rare specimen that it is. This is one of the best albums in my entire collection. It will lift you up, tear you down, and ask you to come back time and time again as you find something new each time to focus on. For an album I've had for over a decade I am constantly going back to investigate it's rabbit roles, excited to get lost in their depths.
Get lost with us and give Back to the Times of Splendor a listen, and see what your record collection has been missing all these years.
If you're interested in reading the interview with Andy Schmidt in it's entirety, please sound off below. Thanks again to Andy Schmidt for talking with me! And to my readers thank you for stopping by and as always I want to hear what albums made a huge difference to you. Thanks for reading and I will see you all next week!