May 5, 2023

This is an excellent album, full of the sort of infectiously positive music that is rare these days in the world of prog. Twisted Illusion certainly have plenty of reasons to be optimistic…

Listening to the music of Twisted Illusion, you would be tempted to guess they are from North America. Their brand of music certainly seems to be influenced by the North American form of prog rock, first and foremost Rush, but also Styx and Toto amongst others. And they are from Manchester, but not from Manchester, New Hampshire, but the one in the United Kingdom. I guess that is globalisation for you. Despite Twisted Illusion not being signed up to a record label, or maybe because of it, they have issued a flurry of self-released albums in the last couple of years. That includes an entire trilogy, and instrumental/acoustic versions of albums too. They’ve also paid great attention to producing videos which give a very professional sheen to their YouTube presence. The band were actually formed a decade ago, but the trigger for the recent surge of creativity was when guitarist Saxon Davids joined founder (and also guitarist) Matt Jones. This burst of activity continues unabated with the release of their latest opus, Upstairs To Optimism. It’s a complete prog package including the excellent cover depiction of the escalator leading up to some bright future. Let’s go up the escalator then and see what there is to be optimistic about….

The group lay out their prog stall straight away with the ten-minute opener, Analyse And Incentivise. The song opens gently and acoustically with the vocal harmonies bringing to mind both Yes and Styx. This soon changes to a faster hard-rocking mode. There’s plenty of singing, which at this speed reminded me of the brashness and energy of Meatloaf. It’s an excellent start to the album and you and sense that this is a band brimming with confidence.

Next up is Gone Tomorrow (Crash Bandicoot’s Lament). The subtitle gives away that it’s about the vintage PlayStation game, so there’s no need to get all maudlin about the line ‘I sacrifice myself so I can save the world’! It’s another quite fast rocker, and the influence of Rush in the song structure, chord progressions, and singing is very evident.  It’s the sort of track that Rush were making around the Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures period. As if to acknowledge that musical debt, there’s an explicit tip of the hat to the Moving Pictures song Limelight in the track Spotlight (not Limelight), both in the title and I think in the opening riff. The song doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but then the brilliant chorus comes in and rollocks along like a runaway (Rush) train. It’s guaranteed to have your fists pumping the air. The last clearly Rush-influenced track is the album closer, Totality, which is good but perhaps the least successful of this group of songs.  

At the other end of the scale from those four hard rocking numbers is the acoustic ballad, Tired. It opens cheerfully – all West Coast acoustic guitars and harmonies – but then there’s a key change as an ominous synth chord replaces the guitars and a single voice sings longingly ’I’m tired of being here; and moving in a state of fear’. That’ll get you listening to the lyrics for sure and you’ll soon realise that it’s a song about a suicide wish (accomplished or not is not given away). So, it’s not such a cheerful song after all, and much closer to being a compact prog masterpiece than some wishy-washy ballad.  Unfortunately, there is time for a genuine wishy-washy ballad in the form of We Tried To Make It which meanders along with a repetitive and uninspired chorus line.  The other track that doesn’t work for me is Identity which is an ambitious prog piece but a little fragmented as it flits between a ballad, discordant rockier parts, and Floydian soloing.

Last, but not least, is the gorgeously constructed power ballad, Stay Your Course. It opens with acoustic guitar (is there another tip of the hat to Rush here in the similarity to Tears from 2112?), and then a capella harmonies leading to an enjoyably rhythmic verse. What makes the song exceptional is the wonderful surging and anthemic chorus. If this had been written in the mid-80’s, it would have been on heavy rotation on MTV and number one in the charts for sure. This is an excellent album, full of the sort of infectiously positive music that is rare these days in the world of prog. Twisted Illusion certainly have plenty of reasons to be optimistic and I’d be surprised if they don’t get snapped up by some savvy label soon.