A blend of two dubiously-termed styles—post-rock, emo—has been the bread and butter of Kansas-hailing brainiacs The Appleseed Cast since the late ‘90s. If you’ve never heard them, you might be surprised to hear how broadly that blend can be pushed. With each release, they redefine. Remaining true to form, Illumination Ritual all but abandons the droning structures and sweeping arrangements of 2009’s Sagarmartha for what hits like a return to the lively, visceral Mare Vitalis with the free-flowing creativity of the Low Level Owl discs in mind. In theory, that should be great. It is.
You could get away with calling this album the opposite of their underrated LP Peregrine—if that disc was a sad, scatterbrained golem of eclecticism, Illumination Ritual represents lightness, concision, and, especially, unity. “Great Lake Derelict,” “Barrier Islands (Do We Remain),” and “Clearing Life” remind very much of Mare Vitalis in terms of energy and mood, but come sans the overt angst. In fact, the whole affair is something of a warm, peaceful listen.Chris Crisci contributes a mellow vocal performance and steps a bit further behind the band’s racket, while drummer Nathan Wilder takes focus with racing, intricate riffs, heavy on rim-clicks and ride-bells. Pop code is a non-issue as usual—hooks and structure often give way to washes of texture and sharp turns. In context, diversions like “Branches On The Arrow Peak Revelation” or “Simple Forms” add so much, and can’t be skipped. And my personal fave, “Adriatic To Black Sea,” is a meditative opener that puts me in a state of bliss. That track sets a strong tone, one of a band successfully wrangling its urge for mountainous theatre into something shaped sort of like their own private vision of post-punk. Enjoy the sound of gurus getting a bit wiser and having lots of fun.