One style of metal that Canada truly excels at is power metal. Yet for all the years I’ve listened to this subgenre, no Canadian band has even approached the brilliance of Orangeville group Borealis. Their debut album “World of Silence” was probably my most listened to album throughout high school, and the follow-up record, “Fall From Grace”, while stylistically quite different, was almost just as great. The shift between the two records was from a more traditional power metal sound in the vein of Stratovarius or Sonata Arctica to something heavier and more progressive like Evergrey or Symphony X. Personally, I’m not really a fan of the latter bands, but “Fall From Grace” was still an incredible record. For that reason, the band’s third record, “Purgatory”, was definitely one that worried me. The transformation of this band is largely complete, as they’ve completely dropped most of the elements of their older sound, and the result is actually much better than I expected.
Part of the reason why Borealis pulls off this sound so well is due to the development of vocalist Matt Marinelli. He’s always been a good singer, but there were a couple of moments on the debut that felt a bit awkward vocally. Throughout the years, he has been able to project his voice a lot better and ends up sounding far more confident than he used to as a singer. Although he can hit some high notes, his voice is on the lower end when it comes to power or progressive metal singers, which is a refreshing change.
Aside from the vocals, “Purgatory” is especially effective in creating an intense atmosphere. This is due in large part to keyboard player Sean Werlick. He occasionally stands out with melodies of his own, but he excels when playing chords to support the rest of the band. This is something he has done well throughout every Borealis record (in fact, I didn’t even like keyboards in metal until hearing “World of Silence” for the first time). Sometimes bands in this style of music get off the tracks when they lose sight of the fact that metal is usually guitar-driven, but that doesn’t really happen on “Purgatory”. This means that both the aforementioned Marinelli and other guitarist Michael Briguglio are always delivering great riffs. The band sounds like they’re playing in a lower tuning than the old days, but the result sounds incredibly heavy. There is plenty of chugging on this album (though not as many blatant breakdowns as in the past), but Borealis still offers fantastic riffs as well. The solos are a little more difficult to judge; on the one hand, they’re well-composed and fit the music perfectly, but the old solos were so mindblowing that it is a slight letdown (“The Afterlife” and “Forgotten Forever” are two that come to mind).
The changes on “Purgatory” are not really what make it a better or worse album than the band’s previous work. This new sound fits Borealis perfectly. The reason why this album doesn’t hold up as well as the first two for me is that the songwriting isn’t as strong or consistent throughout. The first issue is that there are 12 songs on the album, and they can be hard to differentiate at times. The first 6 songs are all up there with anything the band has done in the past, as is “Revelation”, but on the second half of the album, it feels like the band is just continuing to explore already-trodden territory. Filler might be a harsh term, but some of these songs are the only ones in Borealis’ catalogue where even after numerous listens, I can’t pick them out by the title.
With that said, it’s worth delving into some of the other songs because they show the band’s talent well. “Revelation” is the band’s most epic moment, and the perfect track to end the album with (the feelings it conjures definitely remind one of the previous album’s closing track “Forgotten Forever”). “From The Ashes” continues the band’s theme of bringing in guest vocalists, as this song features local singer Sarah Dee quite prominently. She actually compliments Marinelli really well, and this makes the song stand out considerably. “My Peace” was the first song released from the album, and is definitely among the stronger tracks, due in large part to the emotional chorus driven by a fantastic vocal performance.
Overall, “Purgatory” is another stellar effort. This review might seem a little negative, but it’s incredibly difficult to judge a band that has had as big of an impact on me as Borealis has. You know a record is good when it’s in a style where you don’t like any other bands that are similar, yet it’s an album of the year contender. It seems unlikely the band will ever move back to a standard power metal direction, but they don’t really need to. If this record were a few songs shorter, it would be even better, but either way, it is still an essential listen!
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"From The Ashes"
"The Chosen One"
4.75/5 or 95%.
Written by Scott