Borealis – Purgatory – Album Review

Borealis_Cover

I first ran into Borealis back in 2012 when they were on tour supporting Saxon on the “Call To Arms” tour and was immediately impressed by their progressive-leaning, symphonic power metal. Call me a “newbie” if you like, but this genre of meal isn’t really one that has been in my wheelhouse up until quite recently, so forgive me for my simple observation-based review. I am currently catching up on my homework with healthy doses of Symphony X, Evergrey and a few others.

So what do I know about Borealis… well, not much more than you could write on the back of a relatively small envelope. First off they are Canadian, so that immediately puts them in some good company, eh? They hail from Orangeville, Ontario and formed back in 2005, and originally were fronted by a female, delivering “opera-style” vocals… I can’t claim to have heard this line-up (there is a demo out there apparently). With the departure of their front-woman in 2007, Matt Marinelli took over the lead vocal, along with his original role on guitar, leaving them to operate as a four piece, the remaining three members being Jamie Smith on bass, Sean Werlick on keys and Sean Dowell on drums.

These four remain as the foundation of the band to this day, taking them past their 10 year anniversary. A second guitarist, Ken Fobert, was added back in 2009, who remained until mid-2011, to be replaced by current-day member, Michael Briguglio. I think the second guitar was an important step in establishing the band’s sound live, since without this, the band would have a hard time replicating the depth and power they bring to their recorded offerings.

So turning now to the album in question, “Purgatory”, is the third offering from the band and from what I can discern from some (admittedly brief) listens to the earlier works, it would seem that the band has found it’s groove and shows a nice progression from the previous album ,“Fall From Grace”, released in 2011. The album opens with what seems to be the obligatory intro-piece, which an atmospheric piece that appears to center around a heart monitor, that seems to signify the end of a life, which leads logically to “Past The Veil”. This is a majestic track and sets the scene for what’s to come. I will note that from the get-go Matt Marinelli delivers a great vocal performance acress the entire album.

As the opener gives way to “From The Ashes” you begin to sense the strong power metal foundation that the band uses to build on, and despite the various textures, this is a solid heavy metal recording. “From The Ashes” also brings a little twist to the mix in the form a very nicely executed male-female duet, with a guest vocalist going by the name Sarah Dee. Something else to note are the very nicely delivered lead guitar solos, which are never excessive but contribute significantly to the melodic edge the album carries through the 12 tracks contained here.

The fourth track, “Destiny” opens with a crushingly heavy riff, which gives why to an even heavier riff… but there is still texture here, and this perhaps something that has matured with this album, versus those that came before. The “Darkest Sin” is a nice contrast to the speed of the opening tracks, and gives the listener a chance to catch their breath. I was aware of a touch of auto-tune on the vocal, which is perhaps de rigor for all recordings these days, but just a bit of a distraction. The auto-tune is a little more obvious on “Rest My Child” another slower mostly acoustic number that comes later. Personally I doubt that Marinelli needs this treatment, so perhaps this is the one minor negative the band might consider when it comes to production treatments for the next album.

I would remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent drumming throughout the entire record from Sean Dowell, who also carried out all duties related to engineering the record. The album has a very crisp tight production feel to it and is a credit to Sean for his obvious attention to detail. I could have probably handled a little more bottom end to the overall mix, but this is a good sounding record from start to finish.

Most of the time my true litmus test is whether I can handle hearing the album from start to finish, played many times over while I write these reviews. Since this isn’t my day gig, it can take a lot of days to get a review done and this was no different – I am still happy to hear this record from the first track to the last! In fact after hearing this record I am now hoping to see the band out on the road with Evergrey in the next couple of weeks – Baltimore Soundstage – you have been warned! My score for the album is a healthy 8.5/10

  • Neil Waterman August 2015
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