I’ll be straight with you: there’s been a lot of shit going on in the World of Grier. Some of it has resulted in a big sigh of relief, while the rest of it is shit. Like, pure shit. Festering, fucking stuff that no toilet can flush. So, Borealis‘ newest release, coming as it does during these dark days, is a true blessing. There’re always dark times for us all, and when the shit hits the fan, it’s stuff like this that helps get me through. Since 2015, Borealis‘ Purgatory and Evergrey‘s The Storm Within have been my personal safe places against all the day-in, day-out poo, but Borealis is back with the follow-up to Purgatory. And, as one might expect, it’s big, it’s epic, and it’s shrouded in a black coat of melody. But, is this another Purgatory or another Fall from Grace? Or have these consistent, melodic power-metallers dipped their toes into the streams of mediocrity?
It’s safe to say, Borealis has never and will never be mediocre. No matter what you think of any of their albums. But, we all knew that a follow-up to 2011’s Fall from Grace would be tough. Though not perfect, Purgatory did a damn fine job. Which means there’s even more hype and anxiety going into 2018’s The Offering. But, unfortunately, 2018’s newest opus ain’t the follow-up I’d hoped for. Does that mean The Offering is a steaming pile of proggy, power-metal feces, filled with corn-shaped chunks of Evergrey and Symphony X? Well, of course not. That’s just silly. Like all their releases, The Offering still… um, offers… bombastic riffs, vocals, and orchestrations—filling every void of its hour-long journey with catchy licks, hooking choruses, and soaring solo work. It’s still the same great quintet from Canada. Unfortunately, it’s not the same caliber of material as Purgatory.
Case in point: “Sign of No Return” and “Forever Lost.” Neither track is bad but I, somehow, keep passing over the former ditty without realizing it. “Forever Lost” is more of a victim of placement—coming as it does after ten tracks and fifty solid minutes of big, melodic, atmospheric power metal. At that point, especially following the pointless, two-minute instrumental “The Path,” I’m ready for the end. Some of the issues of length have to do with the predictability of the album. Half of the songs end by fading away (which gnaws on me, for some reason) and songs are grouped into categories. After starting off strong with “The Fire Between Us,” the back-to-back title track and “River” follow with a cruising pace that, at times, sounds like one long song. After that, we have three back-to-back-to-back ballady pieces. “The Devil’s Hand” and “Scarlet Angel” are more ballady than “Into the Light,” while the latter emerges from the thick sap to crush everything with its Evergrey chugs and soaring, Symphony X-like vocal arrangements.
But, apart from the filler tracks and the clumped pieces, “The Devil’s Hand” is one of the best tracks on the album. It opens with beautiful acoustic guitars and strings that build and explode into an epic chorus-driven finale. Right behind it is the beautiful “Scarlet Angel.” A song centered around one of the best choruses of the record and an ascension that results in a heartfelt male-female duet. On the far end of things, “River” has one catchy Symphony X groove, good solo work, and climaxing Evergrey-esque machine-gun fire. All are quality items on The Offering.
But, my three favorites are “The Second Son,” “The Awakening,” and nine-minute closer, “The Ghosts of Innocence.” All are of the epic, emotional type. All have massive riffs and tear at your heart-strings with the kind of vocal passion only Matt Marinelli and Tom Englund are capable of. Marinelli is by-far the highlight of “The Awakening.” The way he projects his voice and holds those high notes gets me every goddamn time. “The Second Son” is filled with haunting keys, a heart-wrenching chorus, and a transition to the most-crushing, headbangable riff on the disc. But, the best of the three, is the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink “The Ghosts of Innocence.” It has orchestrations that stretch from here to the moon, a chorus that trumps the rest of the album, piano interludes and female vocals, and a passion in the performances most other tracks lack. Though most of the album doesn’t stick as hard as Purgatory, “The Ghosts of Innocence” is the closer it needed.
In a nutshell, The Offering is good, but not as good as Purgatory (or Fall from Grace). It feels far more compressed than the previous records, many of the songs aren’t as passionate and convincing as those of its predecessors, and it’s a long journey that starts to lose its steam after “The Awakening.” That said, the album has grown on me, though it’s taken many spins. Yet, The Offering is another solid release from a solid group of musicians. I just wish it topped Purgatory.