Ov Sulfur – The Burden Ov Faith Review

I’m sure it was cool once, and it can be funny sometimes, but the whole using “v”s instead of “f”s thing is a pet peeve of mine and it really hinders my ability to take a band seriously. I would have been more forgiving had the artwork been less…questionable. As an album that purports to quite seriously tackle the corruptions and injustices of organized religion, one can only hope that the contents of the package are deeper and more rewarding than their wrapper. Ov Sulfur play blackened deathcore that overall reminds me of a less bombastic A Wake in Providence, but played with a strongly melodic, riff-focused approach that blends the accessibility of Enterprise Earth with the catchiness of Shadow of Intent. With clean vocals carrying the frequently-repeating choruses with a plaintive ardor, there’s a not-inconsiderable whiff of metalcore that brings both the best and worst aspects of the subgenre.

The Burden Ov Faith has the makings of a brilliant album, and it has its overt melodicism to thank. This is spearheaded by Ricky Hoover’s powerful cleans that stay on the right side of the metalcore croon, but the guitars play just as key a role, leading songs into mournful apexes with fluttering solos and wailing bridges. These melodies hammer home the clearly intended sense of emotion of the recurring refrains and infuse the surrounding brutality with purpose and passion. At the record’s best moments, this comes together into rock-solid, stirring extreme music that will demand that you sing along, or do some heavy lifting to.1 The one issue dragging this brilliance back is just how far and how fast these songs cross from dramatic, anthemic assertiveness, to formulaic. With a few exceptions, lines that begin cutting grow blunt, while the proximity of dynamic and genuinely beautiful instrumentation increases the frustration.

What makes Ov Sulfur’s music compelling is passion. To an extent, this warrants the repetition which grows to excess at its extremes. The melancholy cries of often a single line (“Earthen,” “I, Apostate,” title track), while they may become tired, are consistently pathos-filled. Compounding their feeling is the sense of closeness the singer has to what is sung. “What kind of god would test a child?” (“Earthen”) becomes doubly affecting with the knowledge that the song channels Ricky’s grief and anger at the death of his nephew to cancer in the sight of a supposedly loving deity. Sometimes this emotion is carried just as well wordlessly, in the aforementioned wailing and yearning of guitars that either rise up solo (“Earthen” “The Inglorious Archetype”) or conspire with railing vocals towards impassioned climaxes (“Stained in Rot,” “I, Apostate”). It’s also felt in the album’s turns towards the dramatic, which combine all the above with synths and emphatic beats (“A Path to Salvation,” “I, Apostate,” title track).

The inclusion of so many guest vocalists is both impressive and confusing. With two band members already contributing clean and harsh vocals, the features are frequently hard to parse from those of the staples—with the obvious exception of ex-Cradle of Filth Lindsay Schoolcraft. So while the fact that Slaughter to Prevail’s Alex Terrible and Light the Torch’s Howard Jones signed on is cool, one is hard-pressed to identify the parts they’re actually performing. That might be on me as someone unfamiliar with this new band and their vocal styles, but it’s noticeable. Regardless of who is behind the mic, the main thrust of every song is aided by Ov Sulfur’s refusal to rely on breakdowns and emphasize instead the main melody with riffs and singing, which makes the best cuts engaging as well as heavy (“Stained in Rot,” “I, Apostate”) and makes the rare breakdowns that much more brutal (“Befouler”). Here we come to the final problem: The Burden…features almost identical melodies throughout. Structure and lyrics allow songs to be told apart, but it still feels possible to paste the chorus of one onto another without it being jarring. It’s a good theme, but considering how dynamic and capable the guitarwork is, it’s a shame it wasn’t turned to broader motifs.

The things that hold The Burden…back point to what could make Ov Sulfur great. The slide into the formulaic is softened by how powerful the repeated refrains are, and lack of broad melodic variation is ameliorated by the technical, impassioned performances all around. As a debut, it’s a strong offering. Only time will tell if Ov Sulfur can rise to the heights they hint at.

Rating: Good
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: ovsulfur.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ovsulfur
Releases Worldwide: March 24th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. I’ve done both, though I wouldn’t recommend trying them at the same time.
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