REVIEW: BOREALIS – “The Offering”
There are somethings in life that just can’t be fixed, but a band’s sound isn’t one of them. When Borealis hit my review queue last time they were around in 2015 with ‘Purgatory’, all I could hear was some Evergrey-wannabees with little to be salvaged from their first (and, to that date, only decent) album who just wanted to force some emotional and commercial nonsense down your throat.
In what seems to be a miracle or an irony of time, Matt Marinelli (vocals, guitars) and crew rise from the ashes (of the bonfire that they built from themselves to start with) and fix the mess that was ‘Purgatory’ with ‘The Offering’, fourth studio album by the Canadians. Oh, and this also marks the death of Marinelli’s Nickelback-esque schizophrenic vocals, which is a huge win by itself.
This time around, instead of riding in the carriage of bland and meaningless music towards the land where prestige dies – which they rode VERY fast last time -, Borealis got their good ideas together and transitioned to a more mature, organic and less pretentious place, where things usually work out.
Relying on the modern prog/power mechanics and a decent crystal-clear production – courtesy once again of drummer Sean Dowell – the album tells a story about “the creation, rise and ultimate demise of a cult who practices human, more specifically child sacrifice. They believe this method of belief, sacrifice and devotion will bring an end to the suffering of humanity, as well as bring back the innocence of mankind that was lost to greed and industrialism.”, according to the band. As cheesy and uninventive as this may sound, when diluted between the songs it’s actually pretty fun.
When “The Fire Between Us” kicks in, it becomes more evident than ever that these dudes are fans of Evergrey. The riffing and overall instrumental are strongly derived from the Swedish veterans and this continues until the end as the main go-to melodic approach. The Canadians also add doses of theatrical and denser elements of which reminded me of Kamelot and a sense of aggressiveness and dystopia – mainly in the choruses of songs like “Sign of No Return” – of bands like Pyramaze. This works fine and makes the experience enjoyable and all, but there’s the problem that they end up without a proper identity.
My favorite song of the bunch, the title-track, is a fine example of these different experiments combined; while the emotional atmosphere and overall aggressiveness are there, the leads and bridge have Evergrey written all over them, and the melodic chorus proves to be one of their best elements, breaking some of the pretentiousness of the story.
The use of keyboards and background elements is constant, but thanks to the good production and mixing it doesn’t turn the tracks into a noise-fest. “River” and “Second Son” are heavily armed with these, and while they’re not masterpieces in any way, both manage to stand on their own and provide a decent mid-album atmosphere to link the better songs between them. If I had to choose the low point of the album, it would be the direct follow-up to these tunes, as “Into the Light” and “Scarlet Angel” are clearly inferior to the rest, especially the latter, cheesier than a Bryan Adams’ song (ok, I’ve gone too far, but you got the picture).
“The Awakening”, “The Path”, “Forever Lost” and the very good “The Ghosts of Innocence” form the climax of the album, but only the closer manages to truly compel and satisfy the band’s desire to be deep and meaningful. The song, however, is more than enough to do so, as its almost 9 minutes are all beautifully crafted, being catchy and staggering at the right times.
‘The Offering’ is a HUGE improvement over ‘Purgatory’, as it shows a band that’s more mature and less lost about what paths to take in their rendition of modern prog/power metal. Borealis has its flaws, but they’re a young band and actually did what most bands are afraid or too stubborn to do, which is take a few steps back in order to be better. All in all, it’s a fun and accessible album which fans of Evergrey, Kamelot, Pyramaze and such should check out without fear of falling into the trap that was their last output.