Borealis – Escape from RealityTuesday, 18th October 2022
When it comes to versatility within the power/progressive metal landscape, those hungry for a younger act creating addictive material, look no further than Canada’s Borealis to fill that need. Their latest album Illusions continues the exploration of melody, hooks, heaviness balanced against superior orchestration, supplementary female vocals, and this calm confidence when choosing to incorporate lighter moments. We reached out to vocalist/ guitarist Matt Marinelli for the difference making aspects to this record, working with Vikram Shankar and his important orchestration touch that made the songs that much stronger, the challenges moving up the ranks, lots of music talk from AOR to melodic death metal, plus handling the ups and downs relating to the pregnancy/birth of his first son.
Dead Rhetoric: Illusions is the fifth studio album for Borealis, your first in four years. You were able to spend extra time on the finer details due to the prolonged global pandemic situation – how do you assess the material, songwriting, and performances this time around? Where do you think the extra time and attention went to that was beneficial to a stronger, more satisfying final outcome for the record?
Matt Marinelli: Having the extra time helped us focus more. When you get into writing music, you can find these structures that are hard to get out of. You start writing the same thing, and sometimes you get the time pressure that stops you from going any further into trying something different. We took each song, decided where it was going, and what’s the best outcome. Some of these songs were written shortly after The Offering came out, so we had that many years to listen to it and think about what sounds right. It really helped us create songs that maybe have a slightly more advanced formula and sound. It also allowed us to get Vikram who did the orchestrations, and that was a huge benefit to this new album.
Dead Rhetoric: The lyrical content is a continuation from the previous album The Offering – can you elaborate on the main components and viewpoints for this record, and do you enjoy the challenges of putting a front to back concept in the right shape/context with the musical components you display track to track?
Marinelli: This one is more loosely based, whereas The Offering was very hand it to you – this is what The Offering is about. The cover art showed that too. With this one we wanted to be able to create different emotional feelings through each song. Our idea was to take the surviving children of The Offering, and years later have their experience on how they are handling what they witnessed and what they experienced in the past. The idea around it is each song is a different take on The Offering. Some of them wanted to be sacrificed, some of them are upset that they didn’t get to have that, some of them are very aware of their surroundings, some are stuck in that reality, and they can’t get away from what they witnessed. It was giving us an outlet to write a bunch of different feelings. Some were more positive and uplifting, feeling reborn, and other songs were like this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, a roller coaster through different feelings.
We’ve always liked concept albums. I think it’s fun to create a world or a universe and go in there. Reality is so depressing enough, so sometimes I just like to escape, and this is my way of doing it.
Dead Rhetoric: For the cover art, you went with Remedy Art Design, which is different than the previous work with Stan Decker. Why did you decide to switch things up – and how do you feel about the cover art this time around?
Marinelli: We love the cover art. Really the only reason why we switched, it had nothing to do with Stan, I love his artwork and hope to work with him again. We just thought that Purgatory and The Offering as far as artwork were very similar. To the point where I don’t want to see a new album and think we are doing the same old thing. It may just be more forgettable. We thought it was a good idea to have a new artist to give things a new look. New sound, new look, it’s a brand-new album, we wanted people to see it visually as well as hear it.
We love what Giannis did. We gave him full control, here’s the concept of the album, and we liked what he did. You can take this album cover for many different things. You wouldn’t know immediately what the album is about looking at that cover. There are many different interpretations that people can take from this, which I think is pretty cool.
Dead Rhetoric: Which is more of a challenge to you – delivering shorter, more direct songs, or the effort to keep epic arrangements like “My Fortress” or closer “The Phantom Silence” interesting enough to engage listeners for the long haul?
Marinelli: They’re both difficult. For the longest time, before The Offering and Illusions, we were afraid of long songs. We did them on our debut album, and our concern was people are going to get bored. That’s why when Fall from Grace came out, you notice that it’s a short album, there are shorter songs on there because we couldn’t pass this time frame. Now we’ve been a band for quite a while, we can start going more into longer songs. Sometimes a shorter song can be harder, because you are taking a ton of information and compressing it down into something a lot shorter, trying to get everything you want into the song without being repetitive or overplayed. The longer song “The Phantom Silence” on this album, I think Vikram helped a lot. We had big ideas before it, Vikram gave the instrumental section, especially at the end, interesting ideas the whole time. If we didn’t have the orchestration, it would have been a stale moment. We put so much music and emotion into it, it’s an unbelievable thing what he was able to do. They are both tough sometimes.
Dead Rhetoric: You sought out renowned composer/multi-instrumentalist Vikram Shankar of Silent Skies/Redemption to develop synth elements and orchestra components this time around. How did you come to this decision, and where do you see the importance of his work in putting a distinctive stamp on what Borealis accomplished this time around?
Marinelli: It’s funny, because originally, he was only supposed to do one song. Knowing him prior just through the industry, it’s a small kind of world where everybody just knows each other. We asked him if he could do “Light of the Sun”, (and) he said no problem. He sends us the song, and we knew we couldn’t just have the one song. It was so much better with his touch on this, we needed him to do the whole album, because it would take a drop otherwise. He wanted to do it, and the other reason we like him so much is he understands our sound, and what we are trying to accomplish emotion-wise with feeling our sound. Because he understands it so well, we didn’t have to say too much to him. Hopefully in the future we have discussed stuff that he may stick around for certain things to keep him around in the Borealis family for the future.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about the special guest appearances this time around for the opening title intro and “Burning Tears” – and how you feel about the textures and colors they provide to make these songs more special? Are there ever any dream/bucket list guest spots you would like to see take place on future records with specific musicians down the line?
Marinelli: These two, let’s start with Christine Hals. I always wanted a specific voice in our intro, we have always had this idea to have this in an intro, but never had the time or money to do it. I was listening to these trailer compilations things on Spotify, and I heard this one. I knew this was the person I wanted. I looked it up on the internet, not realizing what she’s accomplished. When I emailed her regarding this, that’s when I realized the things she has accomplished, and maybe this wouldn’t be something she wanted to do. But she has been absolutely phenomenal since day one, she’s familiar with the metal genre, it wasn’t too new for her at all. She nailed it, we sent her the song and let her do herself. She took full control of the melody, and sent back what she does, it was exactly what we were looking for. We are honored to have her on the album, which is why we also put it in the video. I know a lot of intro songs do get skipped, I wanted to make a point and get people to hear this. It is an impactful little piece of music.
The next guest… it’s funny when you say bucket list, because even though she’s not a lot in terms of popularity, but Lynsey Ward is someone who has been my favorite female singer since the debut album with Exploring Birdsong, her main band. There is just something about her voice that I loved so much. I kept listening, and I wanted her on a song. We originally had a different slow song written, very acoustic, and then I wrote a different one. The more atmospheric, orchestral song. She agreed, and that’s why we went that route for “Burning Tears”. To me that’s the style she is more familiar with and that I’ve always heard her sing. I sent her the tracks with my singing, she did all the harmonies, I said nothing. Again, we couldn’t be happier than with what she handed us.
Of course, I guess for me vocally it would be having someone like Jorn Lande or Russell Allen – those guys to sing with us. I have had the privilege to already sing with Tom from Evergrey, so that’s already been checked off as well.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the production this time – having an asset like Sean in the band working behind the scenes, what do you consider his growth and skill set on this record?
Marinelli: Sean worked his ass off for Illusions, mixing this thing. It was a beast of an album. Moreso because of the orchestrations that we had. There is a video coming out soon where Vikram shows what he is doing. The final song “The Phantom Silence” almost had 400 tracks of orchestra on top of the many tracks of drums, vocals, bass, guitar, lead. Trying to get the mix where everything sits right, I can’t even imagine getting everything to balance itself out because there are so many things happening all the time. Sean has improved – every album he gets better, and I think Illusions is the best sounding album that we have. For the amount he had to take on, and how clear he made everything, it’s pretty phenomenal. It’s a huge asset, he spends a lot of time on this because it’s his project as well. He wants this to be as good as possible.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges or obstacles Borealis currently faces in moving up the ranks to establish more of a presence and foothold with your work in the scene?
Marinelli: I feel like it’s getting harder, and I don’t think it’s just for us in general but for every band, with social media. It’s fantastic for a lot of things, but it also makes it very difficult because there are so many bands doing this, it’s hard to stand out and you are competing every day with someone else putting out a new song. For us the social media link is difficult, we are trying to do what we can but sometimes things get lost in the mix.
Sometimes it just comes down to money as well. Not to say that AFM isn’t doing the right promotion, but we have so many things in Canada for instance. We are a Canadian band, and the majority of people here have no idea who we are. It’s more of a US, European based fanbase that we have. For us, we want to get on radio, the Spotify lists, it’s a gamble. Even with Spotify, we can get on that main list, and it would be a huge thing for us – but to get on that list, we have to compete with thousands of other bands. It’s a luck of the draw, really.
Dead Rhetoric: How has fatherhood changed and shaped your outlook as a person – especially considering the long journey it took with fertility treatment, miscarriages, etc. with your wife? How did you and your wife work through not just the physical issues that take place, but the mental health and emotional components behind this?
Marinelli: It was definitely a long road, and a tough road for sure. It was pretty much… we pretty much accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to happen. And then I think the reason why it did happen is because we thought it wasn’t going to happen. The way it’s changed me, it’s hard to explain. They are everything to you. It’s something I’ve never felt before when it’s just pure love and protection of this person. He’s made me happier; he gives you that purpose that I’ve been wanting. I love him to death, and it’s been such a fantastic ride with him, I couldn’t be happier.
Dead Rhetoric: Did people reach out to you when you did post about your journey on social media? As you detailed a lot of the minor things that take place that a lot of people don’t consider when it comes to the treatments, the ups and downs?
Marinelli: There were a few people who did contact me. I think people are surprised how many people are actually going through this. And it wasn’t supposed to be a post of pity us, it was more here’s what’s going on with us, and it’s okay. As tough as it is, so many people go through this, going to these fertility clinics, it’s mind blowing to see how busy these places are. It’s packed all the time, so many people are going through this. A lot of the messages, some were condolences, some were going through the same thing, asking how we went through this, how did we handle that. It definitely makes your skin a lot thicker, you start looking at things differently.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you pick up any new hobbies, interests, or passions during the pandemic? And do you believe society will be more appreciative of entertainment-related activities now that things are returning to a level of normalcy in that regard?
Marinelli: Not any new hobbies. For me the pandemic, I was busier than anything else. Where I am, we supply things for hospitals and such, it was the opposite. I was working longer hours. I think it’s a mixed bag, but the majority of people want things to go back to normal. I’m one of them. I feel like we’ve hit a point where there’s not much more we can really do, and we just have to accept the fact that it’s here and do what we can to have masks be optional. If you want to wear it, wear it – if you don’t, don’t, and let’s just try and move on. We can’t live in a shell forever. There are more people depressed now than ever. The majority of people, watching some friends of mine finally go back on tour, it seems like the shows are more packed than they ever have been. Let’s do this, let’s live, we want to engage in this again. It’s beginning to look like things are going back to normal. For bands like us, its tough to book a tour, you don’t know. If three months later it’s cancelled, for a bigger band it’s probably okay – but for a band like us, we just spent all this money to get things together, and it’s gone. It can be nerve wracking to know what to do – maybe we will do more in the spring of 2023. People seem to get sick more in the winter months, some places may get nervous and scared.
Dead Rhetoric: In our last discussion, you mentioned deep dives into the discographies of Amorphis and Katatonia. What has been capturing your headspace for bands, musicians, records as of late over the past couple of years?
Marinelli: I’ve been all over the map. I had a phase of AOR bands – I still love Eclipse, Work of Art, One Desire. And then I love The Halo Effect – I love hearing the old In Flames style. My typical go to’s include Soilwork, Evergrey, Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum. And then I will go to a Two Steps from Hell orchestra thing, just to relax. I am all over. The new Amorphis album too. I have my old school things with Symphony X, Nightwish, all those bands, and branches from AOR to the melodic death metal.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had the chance to develop a high school or college level course curriculum outside of the field of music, what subject matter would you like to teach and discuss why you feel this particular subject matter is important to learn?
Marinelli: I have never even thought about that. My other passion is film, but I don’t know anything about it to teach. But if I did have that background, I’m very interested in how films are made, not the acting side but more the directing side. The process they do to get to the end result. In a perfect world that would be what I would do. Horror is a bit of an obsession for me, especially 80’s horror. It’s just something that when I was very young, it’s nostalgia, really. I remember having such a great time experiencing those movies, and it’s just never left. With all these different movie companies that are coming out – they take these old movies and give them this 4K treatment, redoing and remastering to the point where it’s like you are watching the movie for the first time. It’s pretty insane.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Borealis over the next year or so to support the record?
Marinelli: 2023 will be one where we are going to start playing. We are hoping to go on a tour, we are in contact with some different festivals to get on that circuit. We already have other songs for the next album, we are focused on different riffs and ideas coming in. We always say it’s not going to be another four years between albums, but time moves quick. Even when we don’t want to, life gets in the way. We have some new songs already in the works.