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I adore albums that reveal hidden depths over time, with each new listen. ‘Lotus Graveyard’ by Israeli band Tillian is one such record. Ostensibly prog-metal in a fairly generic sense of the label - prog-by-numbers, if you will; generic rather than genuinely progressive - the eleven cuts on this album have actually been loaded with all kinds of nuances, depths, and layers that seem to only become apparent on repeated listens. ‘Lotus Graveyard’ offers much more than is initially apparent. This isn’t the generic prog outing that, at first, it seems to be. A few listens through and this becomes obvious.

According to the press blurb, Tillian is the brainchild of the super talented Leah Marcu, who wrote and composed ‘Lotus Graveyard’ in its entirety, before hand-picking musicians to help bring her vision to life. And it’s been brought to life in the most engaging of ways, even if this isn’t initially apparent (but albums that are growers are the ones that stand the test of time, right?). The songs here have a narrative feel to them, much in the same way as the melodrama inherent in some of Leprous’ earlier work (tracks like 'White' from 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' et al). It’s music that reflects the conceptual themes of the songs, which is said to be centred around “alchemical transformations of the self”, whereby Marcu “explored a cycle of inner progressions: Love to pain, pain to beauty, beauty to spirit and spirit to love.”

What is initially apparent, and the tracks that affected me with a profound emotional immediacy are those that haven’t been coloured with genre prominence (ie. prog metal). The more minimalist pieces, free from genre filters, are where ‘Lotus Graveyard’ initially lured me in. ‘Earth Walker’, for example, is an utterly sublime song, with an emotionally powerful blend of cello, piano and Marcu’s beautiful voice, that all forge some truly captivating melodies and melancholically graceful sounds. The same can be said of ‘Moonlight Dancer’ and ‘The Beggar’. However, tracks where metal elements have been introduced, these are the growers; the ones where the layers and depths only start to become apparent after multiple listens. And that, for me, is a plus point.

And the heavier tracks are not all about relentless heaviness. There’s much light and shade throughout. Songs carve ever-intriguing paths that see them diverge into all kinds of different styles and moods; rather befitting for a concept that’s to do with transformations of the self and progressions from love to pain, etc. Instruments have been used to suggest different emotions - some beautiful cello (courtesy of Alexandra Marcu), for example, adorns and contraposes heavy guitars with nicely affecting provocations that conjure all manner of emotionally profound shifts. Likewise for the compositions themselves, which incorporate Western and Middle-Eastern sounding elements to great effect. To my ears, it sounds like Phrygian and Persian scales have been used here, to colour the more Western prog motifs with an engaging Eastern exoticism. This isn’t new, of course. Fellow Israelis, Orphaned Land, have been doing this sort of thing for years. But Marcu and co. have achieved a perfectly reified and refined balance of Western/Middle-Eastern motifs in their music.

A few growled vocals feature here and there (in ‘Love or Heaven’ by Shachar Bieber), but the album is, at heart, Marcu’s baby and it shows. Her vocal performance sounds 100% emotionally sincere and passionate, through conventionally sung parts and all kinds of eccentric singing delights and odd, yet delightfully deranged vocal intrusions (such as towards the end of ‘Touched’). This talented lady has quite the range of expression at her disposal. And a wide-ranging voice in tonality terms, too.

The production, by Erez Yohanan (who’s previously worked with Orphaned Land on various bits and pieces, including a musical collaboration on ‘Kna'an’) has provided Tillian with a great sound here. And Inbar Kassavi is the woman responsible for the fantastic album art. This is the full package. If Leah Marcu doesn’t become a big name within the scene, then I shall eat my own pants (along with every one of my socks that I’ve already promised to devour if Devin Townsend’s ‘Empath’ doesn’t win a whole load of end of year accolades).
Review by Mark Holmes
20th April 2019
1) Reborn
2) Touched
3) Frozen Sun
4) I'm Too Close
5) Monster
6) Moonlight Dancer
7) Black Holes
8) Caught in Your Slough
9) The Beggar
10) Love or Heaven
11) Earth Walker
"...the eleven cuts on this album have actually been loaded with all kinds of nuances, depths, and layers that seem to only become apparent on repeated listens. ‘Lotus Graveyard’ offers much more than is initially apparent."