Album review: Willow Wisp – Delusion of Grandeur (A Gathering of Heretics) (1999)

It was quite difficult for me to get into black metal when I was younger. The combination of harsh vocals, raw production, and pulse-pounding guitar riffs made me avoid the genre like the plague. However, my mindset on black metal––and extreme metal as a whole––changed when I first listened to Cradle of Filth. As a huge gothic rock fan, Cradle’s blend of black metal and gothic influences was a strange and enthralling thing for me. Thanks to the band, I was able to get into black metal. Many years passed and I eventually found hundreds of black metal artists, but my adoration for Cradle of Filth’s music has not decreased. In fact, it has grown after seeing how they influenced several bands in the genre.

During the 90s, there were several black metal artists, who took Cradle’s style and either emulated it or used it as an influence to create their own distinct music. The band that I will be covering today––Willow Wisp––is an example of the latter. Willow Wisp was a gothic metal band from California. Musically, the band plays a bizarre fusion of black metal, industrial, and gothic rock. Imagine throwing Cradle of Filth, Marilyn Manson, and Bauhaus into a blender, then you have Willow Wisp. Though the band had a revolving lineup, its two most iconic members were Toe Knee (drums, vocals) and Air-Rik (vocals, guitars).

Delusion of Grandeur (A Gathering of Heretics) is Willow Wisp’s second full-length album. The record was released in 1999 by the legendary Full Moon Productions. While their first album, The Building Up and Breaking Down of Matter, was focused on Willow Wisp’s gothic rock side; the band shifted to a more metal sound for Delusion of Grandeur. On this album, Toe Knee and Air-Rik are accompanied by Raven (guitars) and Air-Rik’s brother, GLAD (bass, keyboards). By combining their musical talents, the band created something truly special.

The album presents over one hour of fun, over-the-top gothic black metal. This is evident when the first track, “As They Age, They Engage,” begins. The song starts with rising keyboards, which signify “the calm before the storm.” Then, the listener is suddenly greeted with catchy guitar riffs and drums. Soon Air-Rik’s clean singing comes into play, while occasional screams from himself and Toe Knee erupt afterward. At first, the musical structure of this song seems chaotic and random. However, there is an appeal to this peculiar style for me. What makes this song even better is its chorus. Bouncy keyboards and Air-Rik’s great singing allows the track to have an invigorating tone.

Another highlight is “God(?) Has Abandoned Us.” At the beginning of this song, Toe Knee assumes the role of a mock church pastor. He invites his “audience” to take part in “a chant of holy evil.” Moments, like this, show how the guys behind Willow Wisp do not take themselves seriously. Instead, they want to have fun and show off their tongue-in-cheek humor. At the end of this intro, Toe Knee lets out a raging death growl to “Satan.” A barrage of screams and instruments instantly appears. Similar to “As They Age, They Engage,” clean vocals are spliced between each section of screams. This choice adds a sense of chaos to “God(?) Has Abandoned Us,” as well.

Bands will always have a “signature song” that not only represents the apex of their discography, but also represents the band in general. In my opinion, Willow Wisp’s signature song is “Your Children Shall Take Me as Lord.” When looking back at the band’s material on The Building Up and Breaking Down of Matter, there are mainly two styles present: the melodic gothic rock tracks and the energetic black metal songs. In Delusion of Grandeur, the band tries to mix their different styles into various tracks. “Your Children Shall Take Me as Lord” presents the best of both worlds. After some samples, pulsating keyboards kick in. Then, the rest of the instruments follow in an aggressive fashion. When Air-Rik and Toe Knee’s vocals come in, Willow Wisp’s metal side is powerfully showcased. By combining clean singing, harsh screams, and catchy music, the start of “Your Children Shall Take Me as Lord” seems like an unstoppable musical assault. The middle of the song takes on a slower and more emotive tone when Air-Rik’s excellent vocals are brought to the forefront. After an amazing guitar solo, the band concludes this track by going back to its initial aggressive tone.

However, Delusion of Grandeur is not a perfect album. “The Hills Will Be My Burial Shroud” and “Bastard” lack the dynamic flair that previous tracks have. The two songs hearken back to the classic gothic rock sound that The Building Up and Breaking Down of Matter has. While “The Hills Will Be My Burial Shroud” and “Bastard” are far from terrible songs, they are not as memorable as “As They Age, They Engage” and “Your Children Shall Take Me as Lord.” “Oldest Joke in the Book” is the weirdest track on the album because it includes hip-hop elements. Admittedly, that style of music is not my cup of tea. So, naturally, this song does not click with me.

Delusion of Grandeur (A Gathering of Heretics) is an interesting and fun relic from the gothic and black metal genres. By utilizing ideas––which were unconventional at the time––Willow Wisp was able to have a musical identity of its own. Even today, where the boundaries in metal have been vastly pushed, the band still sounds unique to me. Though some may be put off by their chaotic and strange style, definitely give Delusion of Grandeur a try if you are a fan of black metal, gothic rock, or industrial.

For Fans Of: Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Marilyn Manson, and Deathstars.

Standout Tracks: “As They Age, They Engage,” “God(?) Has Abandoned Us,” “7~8~69~?,” “Your Children Shall Take Me as Lord,” and “A New Ice Age Approaches.”

Rating: 8/10

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