April 1 2014 07:19 PM

Band's first record in eight years makes up for lost time

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Ilya
In Blood (Self-released)

Last October, when Ilya announced their return to performing and recording after a hiatus of more than two years, they suggested that their upcoming third album would be "heavier and darker" than anything they'd previously released. This is a noteworthy claim, given the darkness and heaviness of the material they'd put out before. 

Their debut album, 2002's Poise is the Greater Architect, carried a sinister, albeit atmospheric, groove à la Portishead or Blonde Redhead. And though 2006's Leaving Sans-Souci sounded perhaps a little more ethereal, it did so with a greater emphasis on the band's creepier aspects, in its best moments approximating the house band at a haunted manor.

Third album In Blood—an album eight years in the making—is indeed dark and pretty damn heavy. The ominous crawl of standout dirge "Sanctuary" is the most dense and claustrophobic Ilya has ever sounded—like Sigur Rós getting an assist from Swans. But even pushed to this level, Matthew Baker's Rhodes piano and Blanca Fowler's vocals are such recognizable elements that this could have only been created by Ilya.

Yet, true to the band they've always been, Ilya never write a song so bleak that their sense of melody doesn't shine through, and amid the shadows that lurk on In Blood, there are plenty of great melodies. Their ability to balance these extremes can best be heard in "Isabel," one of a few tracks that could be a single. It begins with a slow, gothic, dream-pop haze but gradually builds from there, hitting a soaring climax around the 2:30 mark. It's here where Ilya turn eerie into heroic.

By contrast, "Machine" takes its time to get where it needs to go, Fowler's emotional delivery the only thing grounding a noisy, ambient arrangement. Three minutes in, drummer Geoff Hill breaks the tension with the beat of a tom tom, though the song would've been just as good had it continued floating along as it was. 

As adept as Ilya are at gloom, they never go so far into it that they lose the qualities that make them unique. In Blood might be dark and heavy, but it's also unmistakably Ilya.

Want to see Ilya play live? They'll be at The Irenic in North Park on Saturday, April 5.


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jefft@sdcitybeat.com or follow him at @1000TimesJeff

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