OU – One – Album Review

Artist: OU

Album Title: One

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 6 May 2022

There’s a reason I’m slightly late with this review, and that’s because I have had the hardest time deciding what I think about it. ‘It’ is the international debut full-length release from the Chinese progressive rock/metal band called OU. Entitled ‘One’, the album is the creation of four musicians from Beijing, brought together by drummer Anthony Vanacore. He is joined in OU by vocalist Lynn Wu, guitarist Zhang Jing, and bassist Chris Cui who, together, are possibly the very first Chinese-based band to be signed to a record label in the West. That in itself is worthy of some kudos, surely?

But that’s the easy bit, because now, I have to turn my attention to the music that features on ‘One’, and I’m not entirely sure where to begin if I’m honest. On paper, citing influences that range from Devin Townsend to Radiohead to The Gathering, it would seem like a relatively straightforward task, given that I am familiar with each of these named artists. However, press play, and there’s a strong argument to suggest that we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.

On the one hand, each of these references bears fruit. But this tells only a fraction of the story, because OU sound like no-one else that I’ve ever heard. You can easily add names like Haken, Frank Zappa, and Dream Theater to the list as well as genre descriptors like psychedelic, djent, math rock, and alternative. There’s even a big synth element to much of the music that brings an air of anime to the party. In fact, whilst OU are labelled as a ‘prog’ band, there’s a fairly decent case to be made to refer to the quartet as avant-garde, or jazz metal, simply because I get the sense that anything goes here, and it leads to an intense and original final product.

I think, having grappled with the music a lot over the last little while, that one of the most important elements is the voice and vocal delivery of Lynn Wu. As technical as the music is around her, Wu’s style is such that it feels a bit like a stream of consciousness at times; she goes wherever she wants, whether or not it entirely goes with the music within the confines of the songs. Within some of the tracks, barely a second goes by without her voice being present, even if, on occasion, Wu isn’t even singing any lyrics at all. This is not a criticism at all though, because Wu has a beautifully smooth, ethereal voice that also has a childlike quality to it at times. She can shout and scream with the best of them when the mood takes her too, but generally, her approach is much more reserved, quiet, and mellifluous.

Opening track, ‘Travel 穿’ is big on the odd synth sounds that call to mind the anime and psychedelic stylings, but it’s also a bold and strong song elsewhere. The musicianship of the quartet is incredibly high, with plenty of complexity delivered without seemingly breaking a sweat. The composition is tight and precise, one of the heaviest on ‘One’ with some djent leanings to the guitar sounds, drawing those vague Devin Townsend comparisions. As the song draws to a close, it opens out a little too, offering one of the closest approximations of genuine catchy melody. Admittedly there’s a charm about the song that gets under the skin the more you listen, but it’s the final stages, preceded by some breakneck drumming that is my personal highlight here.

The vocals that accompany what would otherwise be a standard modern prog intro to ‘Farewell 夔’ are, frankly, bizarre, and at odds with the music, leading me to bring up the ‘avant-garde’ tag; there’s nothing straightforward about OU, as this song ably demonstrates. ‘Mountain 山’ is arguably my favourite track on the album, as the prog is strong here, with the occasional Haken-ism, as well as a stand-out performance from bassist Chris Cui who, just like Lynn Wu, never stops, forever embellishing the song with barely a breath taken throughout.

From there, things take a bit of an unexpected turn, with the progressive rock/metal trappings taking more of a back seat as the album continues. ‘Ghost 灵’ is a three-and-a-half-minute quiet, largely instrumental affair, dominated by sombre synths, accented by acoustic guitars and bass notes. Wu does appear later on, with a truly ethereal performance, but it is definitely the bold synths that make the biggest impression. I’m not entirely sure that I like it still.

The quieter delivery continues with the seven-minute ‘Euphoria 兴’, although the opening couple of minutes are quite vibrant and fast-paced with acoustic guitars, bass, Wu’s gentle, smooth vocals, and stunning drumming from Anthony Vanacore. However, the longer the song goes on, the more the synths come to dominate, and the more the track starts to slowly unravel, become more and more ominous in tone, as well as more and more minimalist, eventually becoming a full-on ambient affair before fading to nothing.

The juxtaposition between ‘Euphoria 兴’ and ‘Prejudice 豸’ is stark and powerful, as Wu offers some of her most angst-ridden vocals to accompany a blast of all-out heavy prog. However, despite the heaviness, intensity, and the amazing performances of all concerned, the song fails to fully grab me. It’s a decent song, with a lovely clean guitar sequence at the three-quarter mark, but despite this and some killer bass towards the end, the song as a whole is not one that I want to listen to over and over again.

And the same is broadly true of the final two songs, ‘Dark 暗’ and ‘Light 光’. Again, the musicianship is out of the top drawer, but the music fails to fully ignite my enthusiasm. IT may only be a little over 41 minutes in length, but the sheer intensity and complexity of the music begins to wear me down towards the end I think. I’m dying for Lynn Wu to sing what I consider to be a ‘normal’ vocal line just once, but it never materialises which, for me, is a slight disappointment. I guess though, this isn’t the OU way, and neither should it be if they don’t want it to be.

And there we are – after intently listening to ‘One’ for a number of days, I am no closer to being able to say whether or not I like the music on the album. There are a handful of tracks that have begun to work their charms on me, primarily the opening trio, and I have no doubt that with more time, I might get closer to a decision. But I fear that’ll be six months or a year down the line, if I stick with it for that long, truth be told. Do not let my comments distract from the truth about the music though, because on that score, there is nothing but admiration from me. The complexity, the originality, and the sheer focus that is involved to bring this record to fruition is staggering. If you have a more open mind than I have, or you are a musician yourself, I suspect you will lap this album up and consider it to be one of the best things you’ve ever heard. I’m still on the fence though…I can’t decide whether I like it or not and that’s maddening.

The Score of Much Metal: 80%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

One thought

  1. Love the review I like how you struggled to place the music in a genre because so did I lol. I guess you have to truly appreciate music to even tap into this album. Thank you for doing a review on this band and album as it’s been impossible to find out any info about them. I hope someone translates the music because I want to know what she is saying.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s