Album Title: The Offering
Label: AFM Records
Date Of Release: 23 March 2018
“…I am thoroughly smitten and would recommend this band to anyone…who likes heavy metal with gusto, plenty of melody, a hint of prog and a healthy symphonic edge. ‘World of Silence MMXVII’ has thoroughly whetted my appetite for Borealis and I will definitely be awaiting the new album later in the year with eager anticipation.”
This was the conclusion to my 2017 review of ‘World of Silence MMXVII’, a re-recorded and re-mixed version of the band’s 2008 debut and my first foray into the world of Borealis. And whilst the Canadian’s new album didn’t surface at the end of last year as I had hoped, I have remained as interested as ever to hear the result.
Bearing in mind the positive impact ‘World of Silence MMXXVII’ had on me, I had high hopes for the new album. I knew that it would be good and well worth spending some time with. What I didn’t expect and wasn’t fully prepared for, was just how good it would be. In fact, ‘good’ is far too underwhelming a word to use in the context of album number four, a concept disc entitled ‘The Offering’. I can’t emphasise enough just how superb this album is. It has completely side-swiped me and has come from nowhere to stake a claim as my favourite album of 2018. There are bound to be other contenders throughout the year, but ‘The Offering’ will be right up there at the end of the year and will be tough to beat.
Unusually for me, I want to start with the negatives, just so I can get them out of the way early on. Firstly, I am not the biggest fan of the production. This is only a minor thing, because the material is perfectly listenable and there’s plenty of clarity and punch to proceedings. But for some reason, listening to this album for long periods, particularly on headphones, is a little tiring. I’m not technically-minded in this respect, but I’ve heard all the arguments surrounding the ‘loudness wars’ and I wonder whether the production, handled by drummer Sean Dowell could have been tweaked ever so slightly to be less intense.
Then there’s the length of ‘The Offering’. At comfortably over an hour long, spread over 12 tracks, I can’t help but think the record could have been trimmed a little. Personally, I’d ditch ‘The Path’ and ‘Forever Lost’, simply because they don’t strike me in the same way as the rest of the material. But that’s just personal opinion and taste, as is my general distaste for fade-outs which are a factor quite a few times on this record.
But forget the previous two paragraphs and instead join me on a journey where I describe to you why we should applaud vocalist/guitarist Matt Marinelli, drummer Sean Dowell, keyboardist Sean Werlick, guitarist Ken Fober and bassist Trevor McBride for ‘The Offering’. For it is, overall, one hell of an album.
Being the Evergrey whore that I am, I can’t quite bring myself to say that ‘The Offering’ out Evergrey’s Evergrey. But it’s close, and the Swedes had better bring their ‘A’ game with their new album in 2019. That isn’t to say that Borealis are a clone of Evergrey, as they do have enough of their own identity. But I’d be a fool not to recognise that there are several similarities. There are also hints of bands like Pyramaze and even Darkwater in there too, due largely to Borealis’ chosen path.
On ‘The Offering’, we are treated to heavy riffs, progressive elements, huge hooks, even bigger choruses and plenty of symphonics. This is majestic, bombastic music of the highest order; it’s the kind of music that touches a nerve with me and fills me with a warm, happy glow.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the opening one-two of ‘The Fire Between Us’ and ‘Sign of No Return’ are two of the best prog/power tracks I’ve heard for some time.
‘The Fire Between Us’ opens with a gentle melody before swathes of orchestral keys from Sean Werlick join the party alongside the drums. The building of tension is fantastic and so when the song fully kicks into gear and takes flight, it’s a glorious thing to hear. The symphonic keys are an ever-present companion, regardless of whether the band are in all-out attack mode or varying the tempo and intensity with quieter passages. The chunky guitar tones and delivery do harken back to recent Evergrey but there’s a hint of Kamelot within some of the rich bombast too. I also like the expressive lead guitar lines and the way that, at times, the riffing, the bass of Trevor McBride and the drumming follow each other exactly to deliver an aggressive edge. But it’s during the chorus where the magic really happens. I can’t get enough of it – Matt Marinelli, who has an impressive set of pipes, sings his heart out atop a melodic, hook-laden affair that makes me want to throw my head back and exclaim to the Gods, whilst singing along.
Equally magnificent is ‘Sign of No Return’, which again starts off quietly before exploding with an urgent beat and more prominent lead guitar melodies overlaying the synths. This time however, the chorus dials the symphonics up to eleven and the result is mesmerising and infectious as all hell. I have goosebumps pretty much every time I hear it, especially when the guitar solos hit and the drums of Sean Dowell significantly pick up the pace to nudge into double-pedal territory. Matt Marinelli has a hint of Tom Englund in his delivery which fits the output perfectly and the whole song is so well written and performed that it’s an utter joy.
I love the hefty guitar riff that ushers in the title track, which then leads into a rousing, chugging mid-tempo affair. The chorus is another bona-fide cracker, hugely melodic and memorable. Once again, the Evergrey-isms come to the fore mainly through the guitars but I also hear a smidge of Russell Allen in Marinelli’s more aggressive vocal performance. And then, at the breakdown at around the three-minute mark, Borealis pay tribute to the djent scene but with a healthy dose of Voyager for good measure, before a classic power metal glow bathes the section before the final reprise of the chorus.
The on-off near blastbeat that features within ‘River’ is a nice touch, as is the expansive chorus that has a slightly more saccharine edge to it, whilst ‘The Second Son’ reinforces the symphonic credentials of the Canadians if such reinforcement was required. It also provides one of the best choruses on the record, a chorus which is a huge, ballad-like affair led by some surprisingly emotion-sounding vocals.
By track six, ‘The Devil’s Hand’, we get a brief respite from the intense bombardment thanks to a song that’s acoustic guitar-led for the vast majority before erupting in the final minute or so. I’m also a fan of ‘Scarlet Angel’ which, despite being borderline cheesy in its tone, wins me over with irresistible melodies and another great, powerful chorus.
And, for the sake of brevity alone, I will turn my attention to the other stand-out track, the closing monster that’s ‘The Ghosts of Innocence’. It is a monster both in terms of its near nine-minute length but also because of its sheer grandiosity. Like other tracks on this record, it begins quietly with layers of keys, both atmospheric and prominent supporting some passionate vocals before it bursts into life with real intent. It then varies in pace and tone frequently throughout, from quiet and introspective to all-out bombast. The song has a triumphant, almost euphoric feel as it marches purposefully to a close, aided by the introduction of a female voice in the latter stages. I cannot describe just how powerful the song becomes at this point, with layer upon layer of glorious sound and every performance dialled up to eleven and beyond. The resultant crescendo is pompous and grandiose, but it is so wonderfully life-affirming and forceful, ending this hugely impressive album in exactly the right manner.
I’ll also keep the conclusion brief: if you’re a fan of progressive power metal with melody and plenty of symphonic intent, then you need to add Borealis’ ‘The Offering’ to your collection immediately.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse