Borealis – The Offering (AFM Records)

Sunday, 25th March 2018
Rating: 9/10

Once establishing a style, the hope in power/progressive metal is to continual challenge or refine dimensions so that every release contains songwriting that excites or commands listener attention. That energy transference appears paramount on the latest record The Offering from Canada’s Borealis. Taking on another intriguing conceptual theme lyrically with the creation, rise, and demise of a cult that practice child sacrifice (part horror driven, part dark fantasy), the quintet key in on this twisted subject matter to become a touch heavier and atmospheric throughout these twelve cuts.

Guitarists Matt Marinelli and Ken Fobert unfurl a steady stream of crunchy rhythms and supplementary harmony aspects – injecting their constructs with the necessary circular twists that make “Sign of No Return” and “The Second Son” two instantly appealing songs, the melodic aspects taking on some Sentenced/Amorphis-like qualities to their tried and true established power/progressive base. Acoustic instrumentation and haunting keyboard orchestration sets up “The Devil’s Hand” – the beginning very AOR-ish in a “Come Again”/Damn Yankees way, Matt channeling his inner Tom Englund/Tommy Shaw phrasing and tone vocally while the latter half of the ballad goes from electric intensity back to softer tranquility. You can even sense a bit of that Canadian throwback influence for my favorite song “Into the Light” – Triumph especially – against the surging guitars, solid Sean Dowell drum mechanics, and the uplifting, sing-a-long oriented chorus that keeps Borealis at the front of the pack just like their heroes in Evergrey and Kamelot.

Even as the band present these songs in a mixture of mid-tempo, heavy, or ballad veneers, there’s a strength to the riffing, transitions, and hooks that makes logical sense – the progressive parts aren’t technical for showing off but serve a proper purpose to set the mood and storyline forward. Guest vocalist Sarah Dee (of Solarus) appears as a supplemental vocal contrast to Matt’s natural gritty, deeper Russell Allen/Tom Englund-like delivery, giving that beauty and dynamic ability to flesh out “Scarlet Angel” and the closing, epic 8:45 “The Ghosts of Innocence”. It’s also thrilling to have Borealis deliver a shorter ‘metal’ instrumental in “The Path”, combining the wonder of Joe Satriani in an almost Gary Moore-like arrangement. The Offering balances out what listeners have come to expect from Borealis through Fall from Grace and Purgatory with an added attention to atmospheric nuances – widening the aural prism for a deeper, more satisfying effort through each successive airing.

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