Blindly dipping into the promo pool presents a risk vs reward dilemma that can have sizable benefits, but is fraught with the danger of winding up with a tedious listening experience, or even worse, a complete train-wreck of an album. I dived in optimistically with the independent second release of unsung Texan trio Of the Sun, entitled Before a Human Path. While modern recording and distribution strategies create are more realistic and accessible platforms for bands to release their music with or without label backing, the extra challenge is finding a voice and standing out from the crowded pack in the modern metal field. Self-proclaiming their music as ‘southern progressive metal’ sounds interesting on paper, bringing up imaginative scenarios, such as combining a dose of burly Down-styled metal with the adventure and bombast of prog. A number of similar scenarios whipped through my brain before settling in to jam Before a Human Path to find out whether Of the Sun are yet another cookie cutter modern metal band to avoid, or the real deal.
Despite comprising only five tracks, Before a Human Path packs plenty of weight within the reasonably hefty time capsules. Decent technical chops and amped-up aggression defines the early throes of opener “The Tightrope Mile,” as it settles into a thrashy gallop complete with angry vocals and a technical edge. Oddly, the song takes quite the unexpected detour into airy post-rock clean singing and proggy atmospherics that musically errs a little far on the repetitious side of things. But wait, the surprises continue unfolding; busy drumming and knotty guitar lines give way to some bass-heavy nu-metal grooving, a pointless ambient breakdown, and scattershot mixture of all that has come before during its climax. Mish-mashing varied styles into a grinder, Of the Sun’s strange formula runs the gamut from groove metal, mathcore, post-rock, nu-metal and loosely defined progressive metal.
This all but the kitchen sink song-writing mentality is ambitious but ultimately disjointed and seriously deficient in structural composition and cohesion. Although none of the songs really come together as a whole, perhaps the worst offender is fourth track “A Soliloquy.” Beginning with an atmospheric, flatly sung passage, the song quickly descends into completely boneheaded, groove-driven nu-metal, featuring weak Corey Taylor-esque vocals and terribly juvenile lyrics (“Fuck the bullshit/I’m fuckin’ sick of it/I feel it’s time to tear this motherfucker down!”). The song goes on for far too long and when it’s not pumping out wallet chain swinging grooves and nu-metal buffoonery, some decent and oddly out-of-place technical jamming takes place, adding another ‘what the fuck?’ element to proceedings. Elsewhere, the remaining songs are littered with similar misfires, awkward twists and questionable stylistic choices, locked within clunky song structures.”The Limbless God” sounds like a generic mix of cast-off Pantera riffs and Lamb of God aggression, full of groove metal clichés. Further damaging their cause, the songs are unable to justify their five-seven minute plus lengths.
Beyond the patchy song-writing and ill-advised stylistic elements, Of the Sun possess some impressive instrumental chops, exemplified in short snippets, such as parts of the melancholic prog and post-rock meanderings and winding guitar work on “Cantos,” and the more complex segments of “The Tightrope Mile.” Unfortunately Of the Sun lack the compositional skills to make their oddball combination work. Further compounding Before a Human Path’s fundamental flaws, is their inability to pen a memorable tune, and the compressed recording is simultaneously flat and excessively loud.
I’m certainly not opposed to weird and adventurous bands genre-bending their hearts out. However, it needs to be executed with a degree of finesse and fluency. Of the Sun fall well short of writing a cohesive record or leaving a lasting impression. In fairness, for all my misgivings about Of the Sun’s scattershot brand of modern metal, not all the music on Before a Human Path outright blows quite like “A Soliloquy.” Nor is their anything remotely well executed and developed enough to justify returning or recommending this release. Of the Sun’s questionable genre splicing and haphazard song-writing overrides the occasional redeemable quality and makes for a bizarre and frustrating experience that falls well short of the mark. Perhaps it’s time for the band to reevaluate their goals, focus on their strengths and head back to the drawing board.