Sunday, February 12, 2017

Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII

Re-recording albums is almost always a bad idea. There isn’t a single example that even comes to mind as surpassing, or even matching the original record. But with Borealis’ “World of Silence”, it actually made sense to re-record it. While the album boasted the group’s best songwriting by far, it was also their weakest record in terms of production quality and lead singer Matt Marinelli’s vocal skills. Both of those elements have improved exponentially on the two subsequent releases, so creating “World of Silence MMXVII” actually seemed like it could work.

Before going further with this review, it’s worth mentioning that this is probably the most difficult review I’ve ever had to do. “World of Silence” was practically the soundtrack to high school for me. I listened to it more than any other album, so re-recording it is a risky proposition, even if the band had the potential to make things better. After listening to the 2017 version of this album, it is immediately clear why re-recordings are so hated. This album may feature the same songs as the original did 9 years ago, but it is vastly different in its approach.

It’s best to start with the two elements I was excited about. Something seems to have gone wrong with Matt’s vocals. He rarely goes into a high register on this record, as though he’s scared of trying to hit those notes. When he does make that effort, such as in the chorus to “Eyes of a Dream”, he’s clearly straining his voice, despite how good it sounds. The problem is that his lower voice on this record sounds much more monotone and uninteresting than any of his other performances. It's as though he has sung these songs too many times before and just wants to move onto something new. In a vocally-driven song like “From The Fading Screams”, Matt constantly sounds uncomfortable, almost like he’s aware that he can’t pull this song off anymore.

This is something that is concerning far beyond the re-recording: I don’t know if the band can continue on if Matt’s vocals have deteriorated so substantially. Given the band’s descent from power metal gods to prog metal apathy over the years, the vocals were the last thing left truly saving them. Matt’s vocals on the original version of this album may not have matched “Fall From Grace” or “Purgatory”, but they were much better than they are here.

And then there’s the production. This album does have a modern metal sound to it, but the problem is that the guitars are downtuned too much. Borealis can pull it off on their more progressive material because the music is designed to chug along, but these songs were written to be played in a more normal tuning. The rhythm guitars are often too heavy and sound cluttered. Even the keyboards don’t sound right on this record. Perhaps this is an instance of my extreme bias towards the original, but before hearing the keyboards on the 2008 version of this album, I hated listening to keyboards in metal. Sean Werlick's playing on that record completely changed my perspective of how the instrument could be used successfully. Similar to Matt’s vocals, the production on the original “World of Silence” wasn’t even that bad; it was just that the band improved on it over the next two records. “World of Silence MMXVII” once again marks a step backwards for Borealis.

To the band’s credit, a re-recording does provide opportunity for doing things differently, and there are a couple of opportunities where the band capitalizes on that. The opening guitar lines in “Midnight City” are now harmonized much more effectively, and a track like “The Dawning Light” is still killer no matter how much the band tries to darken the atmosphere. Unfortunately, it is this bleaker approach that ruins tracks like “World of Silence” or “The Afterlife”. Compared to the originals, they are sad efforts that show the band’s current path into prog metal.

At this point, I wonder if I’m just being overly picky on an album that changed my life. Borealis are clearly better musicians (vocals aside) in 2017 than they were in 2008, but even the solos on this album sound sloppy compared to the original. Shred-heavy songs like “World of Silence” and especially “The Dawning Light” featured incredible climaxes with their guitar solos, and now it sounds like the band can’t even play them as cleanly as they once did. 

It’s not really worth piling onto this album further than I already have. It’s not an awful record; after all, it features some of the best songwriting of all-time. But as a longtime fan of the band, it’s a very difficult listen, particularly if you don’t like the direction they’ve taken in recent years. It’s now clearer than ever to me why re-recordings are so universally hated, as one of my favourite bands managed to take an album I still worship, and tear it apart. All “World of Silence MMXVII” has done is made me want to relisten to the original. I may spin this record once in a while, but 99 times out of 100, it will be the 2008 version that is getting played.

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"Midnight City"
"Eyes of a Dream"
"The Dawning Light"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott

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