Illuminaut’s self-titled EP doesn’t start with a lot of fireworks, but instead an insistent beat soon joined by a brittle but undisputedly pristine vocal that comes in strong contrast to its instrumental backdrop. Blaze Powers is owning the verses with a delicate command in “The Grey,” but her counterpart in Ben Taylor – who initially started this project as an instrumental, ahead of the pandemic and meeting Powers – is determined to put as much oomph into the groove here as possible, starting with the muddy bassline at the bottom of the mix. Like quicksand beneath our feet, we inevitably find ourselves sinking into the sludge beside Illuminaut, with their heavenly harmonies and gnarled guitars serving as the ultimate weights to drag us asunder.
“Dead Messenger” takes just as long to find its artistic center as “The Grey” does, but it doesn’t use as much brute force as its tracklist neighbors do. The guitars are still fat and the riffs are righteous for sure, but they’re not crammed between the bottom-end from the bassline and the kick of the drums at all – the exact opposite. Illuminaut is not trying to recreate the metallic melodic whim of metal acts now a generation removed from the current alternative prog movement but looking to chart new territory, with this lovely lead vocal acting as the beacon of light leading us through even the darkest of tempos and tones. There’s an autumnal vibe to this November-released record, but its appeal seems to be year-round.
“Native Alien” clocks two minutes less than “Dead Messenger” does and almost a full sixty seconds under “The Grey,” but for what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in substance. This is the point of the EP where Illuminaut really gets invested in the idea of impressing us with their anti-virtuosic approach to heavy music, and from my perspective, they do a good job of flexing serious muscle without having to put a lot of push behind the riffing. This is a collective effort supported by layers of melodicism and dark, visceral electric grooving, and rather than falling back on the singular themes of their peers, this is a duo intrigued by following their own path into the spotlight over someone else’s.
We come full circle with the closing track “Two Wolves,” a roughly six-minute juggernaut that feels like the most carefully rehearsed single-worthy song on the record, and when it’s over, I can honestly say that this EP concludes with the mystique of a full-length concept album. This makes me quite interested in hearing what this band is going to do with a complete tracklist, mostly because of the bases they’re able to cover in this piece without having to sacrifice anything to the gods of rock n’ roll. Progressive outfits usually take a pretty long time to find their niche in the studio, but as of this moment in 2022, Illuminaut is not among those bands. They’ve arrived, and that’s what this disc celebrates.