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REVIEW: Borealis – “The Offering”

Power metal, as a musical idiom, tends towards extroverted self-awareness. The most famous power metal bands have no problem with people knowing who and what they are. Canada’s Borealis are not quite like that. While melodic, they are a bit too meaty to qualify as pure power metal. Matt Marinelli’s baritone vocals and lack of “aaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!” histrionics help in this way. That, and a certain technicality also take them a bit further out of the “power metal” puddle and closer to their self-assigned “melodic metal” genre label.

Borealis cite Evergrey, Symphony X, Sonata Arctica, and even Nightwish as influences. The Evergrey shows on The Offering in a big way. This becomes immediately apparently with the use of keyboards to play guiding melodic motifs over the chuggy riffs in songs like the album’s closer “The Ghosts of Innocence” and the single “Sign of No Return.”

The Offering differs from Borealis’s previous, uhm, offerings, Purgatory (2015) and Fall from Grace (2011), in being generally heavier, dialing back the melodies a bit. The Orangeville, ON natives chose to take a more “epic” sound on The Offering. Their riffs are expansive, being played at a pace calculated to build tension with periodic crescendos and cadences, using the constant crescend-ing and cadencing to create sort of a meta-rhythm within each song. The Offering feels big. If nothing else can be said about this album, its bigness must be spoken of, however “bigly” one might manage to do so.

Big-ness has a price. The Offering’s has production problems that make listening to it a bit difficult. Put bluntly, this album is compressed to death, or to Death Magnetic levels if a popular reference might help. This gets compounded by the copious double-bass drumming and the rather bottom-heavy guitars. Add in that Marinelli’s vocals, one of Borealis’s most distinctive and appealing characteristics, were dialed back in the mix. Most gravely of all, the bass is barely audible when one can hear it at all. Founding bassist Jamie Smith left the band before they started recording The Offering, and maybe they decided to “do a Newstead” on new bassist Trevor McBride. This results in an album that could have sounded so much better, one that could have given its stronger songs so much more impact.

Borealis

This also shows in the writing. Again, every riff seems to build toward a crescendo to the point of seeming like one measure of buildup immediately followed by another measure of big chord crescendo. “The Second Son” is a particularly grating example of this. Since everything in every song is an unending resolution to a tension that took mere seconds to build, The Offering has no catharsis. How can it when literally everything is a catharsis?

The Offering redeems itself when Borealis stray from this formula. The ballads “The Devil’s Hand” and the more pensive “Into the Light” have a more ‘breathable’ sound to them, and their cadence drop moments actually have impact as a result. Both of these songs also have audible basslines, and this reveals a secret to heaviness in production and in the layering of textures: making the guitars responsible for an album’s bottom end actually makes it less heavy! Give people more to listen to during a particular moment and the full sonic assault can be felt more acutely. If only Borealis did this on every song and not just these two, or “River.”

One could say Borealis made The Offering a flawed one, but not fatally so. The passion and emotionality in their performances permeate this album, and production aside, their general lack of power metal histrionics make them a lot more listenable than typical bands in that genre.

 

Score: 6.5/10

Notable Tracks: “The Sign of Not Return”; “River”; “The Devil’s Hand”; “Into the Light”

FFO: Evergrey, Sonata Arctica, Symphony X

The Offering will be released on March 23, 2018 on AFM Records (web shop and streaming links are at the label’s site). Follow Borealis on Facebook.

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