Book Of Illusions: Chapter III
~reviewed by Matthew Heilman
VLE (Virtual Listening Experience) is a solo home studio project that takes elements of Gothic Metal and experimentation to unique atmospheric heights. And especially for an unsigned DIY artist, to peak levels of quality seldom ever reached. I reviewed a previous ‘chapter’ of VLE’s Book Of Illusions a few years ago at StarVox, so the name might be familiar to some readers. Whatever the case, it is a name that is deserving of much more recognition, and it is somewhat perplexing that this artist’s primary vehicle for sharing his music is via MP3.com, when so many other mediocre artists are scoring record deals left and right. This third release is without question his finest yet, and I am hoping it is only a matter of time before more dark music fans stumble upon his mature and visionary work.
VLE places a heavy emphasis on improvisation, which is by no means a new technique. Especially when it comes to noise or ambient coldwave type music. However, this kind of experimentation and improvisation is rarely employed with this particular style of dark metal based music. The result is surprisingly impressive, and by removing the traditional pop music structures, the characteristic sounds, deeply emotional moods, and opaque atmospheres of the genre rightfully become the main focus. Basically, all the clichéd trappings are removed, and the heartfelt intensity of this lone soul’s vision is proudly laid bare for listeners to become wholly absorbed and pleasantly enthralled. Truthfully, it is hard to really tell that the music is being improvised, because the songs are very strong, well executed, and do follow a recognizable pattern of accessibility and catchiness. All ten of the songs on this release stand apart from one another, each possessing its own memorable characteristics. As a whole they present an hours worth of sonic bliss, running an entire gamut of conflicted emotion, from pensive melancholia to frantic chaos; from somber romanticism to a tranquil sense of hope and possibility.
This gentlemen has a knack for melody, as both his guitar playing and vocal work seems to channel these unforgettable tear-drenched melodies that either soar majestically above the swirling mist of keyboards or ring out drearily above darker less comforting pastures. Many of the sounds and arrangements on the disc recall some of the best Gothic and dark Metal bands of recent years. I can imagine that fans of Saturnus, early Katatonia, Anathema, Bethlehem, Agalloch, and Opeth would genuinely appreciate the various ghostly vocal styles, the reverb drenched tone of the guitar riffs and the finesse of well-placed acoustic passages that appear throughout the album.
VLE includes several disclaimers regarding the loose and somewhat unorthodox arrangement of these songs, and for the supposed production shortcomings that he claims appear throughout. However, barring a few instances, the production is surprisingly very clear and encompassing, yielding an unmistakably warm and inviting tone to the music on the disc. The instruments are balanced well in the mix. My only minute gripe is that the syncopation between the drums and guitars/synths on the first track is a bit loose and slightly off. The first time I heard it, it was glaringly apparent to my musician’s ear, but on repeated listens, it became less distracting. What’s ironic is that “Kano” is the only song on the whole CD with live drums. The rest of the percussion VLE taps out with the drum pad of his keyboard – and they are tighter! What more, is they sound surprisingly authentic. Many bands could take lessons from this guy. VLE sells himself far too short with his disclaimers. As a very jaded critic and highly selective fan of atmospheric metal, I give this guy a proud thumbs up on all accounts.
While the melancholy and mature sense of sadness of this disc is utterly pervasive, there is still a remarkable amount of diversity. “The Arrival” is a lucid dream inducing song, propelled along with strong acoustic strums and seasoned with eerie modulated guitar feedback and pleading layers of soft vocal harmonies. The nightmarish shift into the next track, “Crimson” is a veritable torrent of anguish and vehement chaotic noise, showcasing VLE’s ability to let loose and tap into his more primal and raw black metal influences. Though most of the disc is lulling and can be described as starkly beautiful, VLE keeps listeners on their toes with the occasional foray into more aggressive pastures as on this track and also on “The Surest Path” and the climactic chorus of songs like “Now You Cry.” “Of Woods & Water” is a gorgeous expression of crisp and passionate melodic Doom/Death styles. The deeply affective guitar harmonies in this track recall the early years of Katatonia and Bethlehem. The vocals volley between sweet layers of harmonization to gravel throated growls.
The hypnotic masterpiece “Ancient Song Set Ablaze” is where I drew my Saturnus comparisons, with the light acoustic strums, soft-spoken words, and deep cello-like synth passages underlying it all. Some well-placed monstrous exclamations give the song an unexpected spice, while the phrase “It’s a long way home” is repeated in a ghostly swirl of vocal layers and choir like harmonization. “Diana’s Rebirth” and “Fornever” both mark returns to darker and heavier pastures, the former a strong track with a galloping rhythmic drive, an echoing gloom to the guitars and wide array of vocal styles, while the latter utilizes a dynamic pairing of softer acoustic verses that crescendo into a sweeping riff heavy chorus. The entire epic is brought to a close with “I Will Return,” a mesmerizing and poignant piano instrumental that hopefully is an assurance from the artist that he will indeed continue to work on music.
Though I have attempted to describe the music contained on this well-crafted release, it cannot at all compare to the experience of hearing the music unfold before you. As VLE himself suggests, “Play it loud with headphones in the dark while candles burn…then close your eyes.” Indeed, a fine suggestion. But you have to BUY the CD first, and in order to do that, you need to visit his Mp3 site or contact him at the email address below. Strongly recommended.
All Music & Performances:
VLE – Official Mp3 Site:
VLE – Official Web Site: