(Massacre Records, 1995)
Obvious-stating time: 2017 is a fantastic time to be a metalhead. The sheer plethora of great-to-good new metal bands and albums these days provides us fans with limitless listening choices. Of course, these hundreds and thousands of options than can also be ultra-challenging to keep up with (that’s why I leave most of the current underground expertise to my fellow TML cohorts, ha). But too much of a good thing is still a good thing when all is said and done. Oh, how the scenario has changed over the past 20 years.
Back in the barren metallic landscape of the mid-1990s, the situation in the U.S. was bleak. New releases in the traditional/progressive/melodic genres of metal were few and far between, and the few that existed were über-obscure and/or ridiculously expensive imports. Discovering new bands was usually a matter of happenstance, which absolutely was the case when I came across an eight-track demo tape from my (then) home state of Colorado. Somehow, I don’t recall how, I ended up on the mailing list for Krystal-Rose Music News. Krystal-Rose Music News was a small, black-and-white pamphlet that was based out of the East Coast, I believe. KRMN’s pages were filled only with ads for dozens of independent rock and metal releases. While thumbing through the odd publication, a photo of five well-dressed longhairs from Colorado Springs grabbed my attention.
Psÿco Drama’s ad described themselves as progressive, melodic heavy metal with clean, high-ranging vocals. Oh man, I was so there, dude. I paid the three-to-four bucks and waited the obligatory four-to-six weeks for my package to arrive. When it finally did show up in my mailbox, I was blown away by the refreshing sounds emanating from my speakers. This was the catchy, high-energy metal that I love dearly, but presented with a distinctly modern twist. It sounded as if Psÿco Drama tossed a full cup of ‘80s Maiden or Queensrÿche (apparently there’s a lot of “Y” umlauts today, folks) into a blender with a healthy teaspoon of modern, ‘90s-style groove metal, ala a more-restrained Pantera. The result worked, and The Illusion quickly led the wolf pack of a then-burgeoning Colorado melodic metal scene.
This 1995 Massacre Records CD release includes the original The Illusion demo, capped with three promising new tracks. Psÿco Drama’s sound focused on a few main centerpieces, the most obvious being the remarkable vocals of singer and band co-founder Corey Brown. Perhaps Brown (and, by extension, Psÿco Drama in general) represented an anachronism of sorts with his completely clean and gorgeous vocal stylings. He could easily hit the piercing high notes of a Dickinson or Geoff Tate, but his voice also possessed the comfortable warmth and accessibility of a Steve Perry. In short, his singing marked a clear shift away from the guttural screams and the nasally whines of the ‘90s metal and grunge scenes.
Another crucial component of the band’s sound was the strong dual guitarwork of Hercules J. Castro and Mackenzie Kerr. Not only did these two employ the fleet-fingered melodicism and progressive touches of their ‘80s counterparts, but they also invoked the ‘90s scene with some unadulterated Pantera worship. The thrashy and warm rhythm-guitar tone is 95 percent Dimebag Darrell, while Castro and Kerr’s staccato and groove-oriented riffs also recall the late Pantera guitarist. Even the screeching, resonant “Dimebar” squeals on “Longtime Forgotten” are eerily reminiscent of Dimebag’s playing, to the extent that one could regard this aspect of Psÿco Drama’s music as quite derivative. Regardless, at the time of release the combination of these disparate elements felt exciting and new, as well as pleasantly nostalgic.
It’s the quality of the songs that counts most, after all, and The Illusion delivers on that front. “Dreams to Sorrow,” Psÿco Drama’s catchy, mid-tempo anthem of optimism, is one of the album’s standout cuts. The accented, groove-based main riff contains rests that allow the music breathing space, while the speedy instrumental interlude showcases the band’s more progressive tendencies. “Eyes of a Child” is an up-tempo groove-rocker whose main riff sounds like Pantera doing Maiden gallops. Plus, the vocal harmonies in the chorus sure are pretty. The dynamic pseudo-ballad “Longtime Forgotten” is perhaps the album’s centerpiece, though in retrospect the chord progression, guitar melodies, and overall song structure are perhaps too similar to Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates” or “This Love.” “Flames” is a fun and speedy galloper; “Castle in the Sky,” by contrast, is a pensive and uplifting power ballad that is perhaps the most unique-sounding tune on the album. The original album-length demo concludes with the technical and invigorating “World Gone Mad,” an infectious track that most-directly harkens back to all the Maidens, Fates Warnings, and Dream Theaters of the ‘80s prog-metal world.
Of the three new songs on display: “Jigowatt,” “From Here,” and “Shadow of Silence,” let’s just say that they continue in a similar vein of the original The Illusion tracks, spiced with some more original stylings. I’ll leave that to the listener to seek out this album and hear these great tunes for yourself. As for Psÿco Drama, they reformed in late 2015 and reportedly have a new album on the way/in the books. That’s a reason for excitement, but so is revisiting The Illusion – a rare beam of sunshine amid the dark ages of metal.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot