REVIEW: BORN OF OSIRIS – “Angel Or Alien”
SumerianCore, a microgenre of progressive metalcore known to a few of the newer crop of “-core” listeners and fondly remembered by a small number of older fans of the genre. The microgenre was championed by Sumerian Records signed bands like Periphery, After the Burial, Veil of Maya, I The Breather, and Chicago-based Born of Osiris.
Born of Osiris arguably hit their peak along with the apex of SumerianCore itself, with 2011’s The Discovery. The record was a set of expertly crafted progressive metalcore, with djent-infused breakdowns, Phrygian-dominant scale runs giving tracks its “Egyptian” feel, backed with strong keyboard and synth arrangements. It was the strong off-kilter chugs, Phrygian runs, and blistering solos that carried The Discovery and thereby Born of Osiris to the head of the game, in large part due to the songwriting and solos by guitar virtuoso Jason Richardson. The controversial departure of Richardson after The Discovery saw a steep decline in quality and the subsequent record, Tomorrow We Die Alive was largely underwhelming, lacking the intricacies that two guitarists brought to the microgenre and the classic BoO songwriting style. Admittedly, I didn’t give more than a passing listen to Soul Sphere and more recently 2019’s The Simulation. However, with the release of the first single “White Nile” off 2021’s Angel or Alien¸ I can freely admit that I am excited to listen to Born of Osiris for the first time since The Discovery.
Angel or Alien kicks off without any faffy intro that many metalcore bands are wont to do. “Poster Child” opens with the classic “wooping” keyboard arrangement leading into the syncopated chugs and we’re dropkicked by everything older BoO fans have been missing for many years. Following the album opener, are the two singles, “White Nile” and the title track “Angel or Alien”. “White Nile” has a single riff around which the entire track is built, which when coupled by the keyboards is an instant Egyptian earworm, or rather an ear-scarab that burrows itself into the listener’s brain and stays there for weeks: bouncy, energetic, groovy, and exquisitely layered. In comparison, the title track “Angel or Alien”, a strong track in its own regard is not nearly as catchy or memorable as “White Nile”. However, this track is special because it is the first (or showcases an extremely rare use) of clean vocals, something Born of Osiris has stayed away from throughout their catalog. Unlike the whiney auto-tuned or over-processed clean vocals that are often a maligned cliché of the genre, these vocal arrangements on “Angel or Alien” (and strewn about the rest of the record) are well placed, serve their purpose of contrasting the harsh vocals and recedes before it overstays its welcome.
Angel or Alien is full of bangers, with every track hitting oh-so-hard yet oh-so-good. Listing every single enjoyable section would be a fool’s errand and would rob the listener of stumbling upon the goodies themselves. However, some of my personal favorite sections are the “saxwave” (saxophone toned synthwave) outro to opener “Poster Child”, the central riff of “White Nile”, the Lamb of God-esque intro to “Threat Of Your Presence” and the one-two punch of the chugs and the ambient keys closing out “Love Story”. As a personal favorite, “Crossface” opens with enough extended-range downtuned “skronk” to make the lads in After the Burial wisely nod their heads. The use of octave chords with slower ambient keys is a deep throwback to The Discovery making it an instant win. By this point, any BoO fan familiar with their past catalog knows that they specialize in high-tempo intricately structured chugs. However, the buildup and surprising slow-down lead in by a simple-yet-catchy heavy-delay-reverb-laden ambient lead carried by a mid-paced breakdown is disgustingly enjoyable. At my first listen, this section gave me an instant-stank face. On my thirtieth listen, while writing this review, this section gives me an instant-stank face. So much so that the lyric “Now it’s time to DISEN….GAGE” kicking off the breakdown gives me goosebumps!
Born of Osiris is known for its lengthy records and long runtimes, and Angel or Alien is no exception. At fourteen tracks nearing an hour of runtime, this is a cumbersome record to consume. The second half of the record contains strong tracks yet I found it difficult to give these tracks their due praise merely due to sensory fatigue. For example, “You Are The Narrative” has sections that could easily have been written for The Discovery or even The New Reign, aka it is old-school BoO, yet it isn’t as memorable as the tracks mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, not because it isn’t a stellar track, but because listeners will have begun to phase out as the album reaches the twelfth track. The same can be said for “Echobreather” “In For the Kill” or “Truth or Denial”! Album closer “Shadowmourne” suffers a similar fate, an exceptionally strong track losing shine due to listener exhaustion, even though the central “brassy” keyboard arrangement adds a unique flavor to the trademark BoO sound as the record closes out with more tasty “saxwave” keyboard arrangements. “Too Much Of A Good Thing!” is rarely a knock on an album, but it does take away from the overall appeal of the package and is a slight shortcoming! As an extremely minor quibble, track names like “Oathbreaker”, “Echobreather”, and “Shadowmourne”, while being references and/or homages to videogames, movies, or books, come off as a wee bit infantile, but this is just an admittedly jaded view and is a personal grouse. The tracks themselves stand strong!
The musicianship displayed by every member in Born of Osiris has never been as feverishly good as on Angel or Alien since The Discovery. There is a sense of energetic density, an urgency, and fervor that is immediately noticeable as soon as “Poster Child” kicks off. There is no filler here, even the weaker tracks would stand taller than most of Tomorrow We Die Alive, Soul Sphere, or The Simulation and that is high praise for the boys. The dual vocal punch of vocalist Ronnie Canizaro and vocalist/keyboardist Joe Buras do what is expected of them and what we expect BoO to do with their vocals. The clean vocals are a cool new addition, yet more innovation is sorely required as their vocal ranges continue to blur into each other and aren’t fully utilizing the power of having two strong vocalists. The drummer and co-songwriter Cameron Losch continues to be an underappreciated stalwart of the genre, and is the only founding member and IS Born of Osiris. Keyboardist Joe Buras has tried to toy with more experimental tones and arrangements, and frankly, the tracks that feature his more off-beat arrangements are the most memorable on the record. Guitarist Lee McKinney is often given a hard time because of his efforts to hold down the fort since the departure of Jason Richardson leaving canyon-sized shoes to fill. It is clear through his solo records and his work on Angel or Alien that McKinney is no slouch behind the strings and he deserves more credit than he has been given. The move of Nick Rossi from bass to guitars is also probably why the songwriting on Angel or Alien is the strongest since the last time BoO were a dual-guitar band. Rossi is clearly a killer guitarist and an expert songwriter. One hopes that he is allowed more creative license in future BoO releases because he is now a proven winning asset to the crew. Since there is no bass player, the bass parts were probably recorded by the guitarists and do nothing out of the ordinary. The departure of bassist David Darocha is missed, but he was always a controversial figure on the BoO roster, and his leaving and the introduction of Nick may be a blessing in disguise!
Born of Osiris have a near slam-dunk with Angel or Alien. An aggressive mix of progressive metalcore, Phrygian-dominant-infused “djent”, coupled with their signature ambience, and hard-hitting breakdowns; this is their strongest effort since The Discovery! A must listen and a stellar comeback!