Osukaru – Starbound Review

Alarm bells tend to ring when, after randomly picked an album for review, that album is one of several for a band you’ve never heard previously. It usually signifies a group toiling in mediocrity, never having sufficiently impressed a critical mass to start developing a reputation. In the case of Sweden’s Osukaru, I suspect it may be a consequence of their style. The target demographic of their sixth release, Starbound, stopped listening to new music in 1992 with the last good Def Leppard record, the stratification of a variety of extreme metal sub-genres and the advent of grunge as the most popular form of rock. In the intervening 3 decades, such listeners scarcely strayed from their pre-90s tastes1 This means that bands like Osukaru struggle to escape obscurity – but miss this at your peril.

There were dozens of bands in the 80s doing almost exactly what’s done here. Starbound falls into that nebulous crossover of glam metal, album-oriented rock and hard rock, sounding closer to Pyromania-era Leppard than anything else.2 Its surprisingly nifty leads, huge choruses and confident vocal harmonies land it close to those Sheffielders. 3 verses, 3 choruses, vocal harmonization, guitar solos and underlying keyboard melodies are all that’s required by each track to forge the album. There’s nothing here which is shocking or novel, but it’s neatly, compellingly executed. It represents the sweet, sweet sound of leotards, headbands and positivity, resulting in a record that feels half as long as it’s 39 minutes. Starbound is a testament to sharp, direct song-writing which doesn’t mess around with atmosphere, technicality or tone.

It’s also a record marked with curious dichotomies. Starbound is not blessed with articulate, subtle artwork. And the promo version of the album has a bit rate of just 192 kbps, leaving a relatively meager sound. The mix and master are otherwise bland too. The result is a distinctly lo-fi production, something which sounds (and probably was) cobbled together by individuals who were more enthusiastic than professional. And yet the song-writing is so precise and direct that while it feels lo-fi, it’s far from sloppy. It’s laser-focused on collating songs which are individually distinct but collectively alike. Similarly, while Osukaru hardly attempt to escape the confines of the traditional glam sound, there are small fragments of dynamism on a few of the songs. In particular, “Rise of the Underdog” switches between rolling drums and driving guitars in its introduction, leaning on loud keyboards in its verse, before stripping most back to make a clearing for the clean, high-pitched singing in the chorus. This contrast between heavy and light makes for engaging listening when it arises.

But most of all, it’s how the record makes me feel that elevates it. You ultimately identify with music that makes you feel something; here, it’s joy. I accept this is not an emotion ordinarily associated with rock and metal music but it’s just so damn uplifting. And why not? It’s been a universally shitty 18 months. The opening title track and “Go for the Legends” exemplify this quality, inspiring its listener with lyrics like “Reach out and take it… This is your time to shine!” It’s impossible for me to hear songs like this and not smile, and the huge choruses are just irresistible. I’m also a dizzy fool for 80s rock ballads3 and the ones here are no exception. While “Somewhere Sometime Somehow” lands a schmaltzy guitar and sax solo, the true gem is “Within the Depths of Love”. It has a rocking guitar and keyboard core to its verse, but the awesome vocal harmonizations in the chorus seal the deal. It presents a protagonist who is wonderfully wistful and damaged and I totally buy in.

My thoughts about Starbound and Osukaru are almost entirely positive on the basis of this release. But it would take something truly special to get beyond a 3.5 for something so formulaic, predictable and derivative, and they don’t quite have that edge. Were this released in 1982 it may have been regarded as a classic in its field but in actuality, there’s plenty which came before achieving the same thing. And yet I still find it hard to criticize. My heart swells and my face grins and all Starbound’s generic traits are forgiven. I urge those who enjoy strong melodies and concise songwriting to listen, as well as dad rockers who have had their fingers in their ears for 30 years.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps MP3
Label: AOR Heaven
Websites: osukaruonline.com | facebook.com/osukaru
Releases worldwide: October 22nd, 2021

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Forgive my assumptions; I’m just describing my dad.
  2. The industry term is “hair metal,” you underage weenie. – Steel
  3. This might be the greatest album ever.
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