Born of Osiris – Angel or Alien (Album Review)

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Artists like Born of Osiris don’t come around often. When they do, it’s hard to stay as energetic and relevant as when they first became well known in the scene. Nearly 15 years after their debut album “The New Reign”, Born of Osiris are still one of the most influential bands in the metal scene, and they still possess this sense of perpetuity about them, as if they haven’t aged a day since their inception in 2003. This isn’t to say, however, that they haven’t developed of course.

The 5-piece heavy hitters have grown from their deathhore roots, taking elements from a great mix of different styles. Ultimately, they’ve become so revered due to their ability to put a special spin on the metalcore, prog-metal, and deathcore themes that permeate their sound. Born of Osiris build on their songwriting through every record, and this doesn’t just relate to their development as musicians. Even things as little as the transition from section to section in each track have been mastered and refined to a point where it sounds effortless for them.

“Angel or Alien” is their eighth full-length release, a monumental effort for a metal band, let alone any artist out there. This album is a bit of a diversion from their previous few albums, something I welcomed with open arms. When the band released “The Discovery” in 2011, I was gobsmacked. It was a perfect album, as far as I was concerned. It was diverse, painfully heavy and technical, and absolutely beautiful in some moments (the intro to “Two Worlds of Design” still grooves to this day. It was unfortunately too perfect, for I couldn’t get into the subsequent albums the band released over the years. But fast forward 10 years, and what has been crafted is an excellent display of the band’s ability to compose some intelligent and decimating tracks, tracks that feel as fun and engaging as the ones on “The Discovery”.

The technical mastery possessed by all members of this band is nothing short of what I expected from them. These tracks aren’t written, they’re composed. Incredibly varied, Born of Osiris know when to make some pretty moments, and then completely shatter the ground beneath your feet. There is an especially evil section in “You Are the Narrative” that takes me back to the “Clients” era of The Red Chord, even.

The tracks are complex, catchy, expertly performed, but not mind-boggling in their structure or time signature. That’s what makes them accessible to so many listeners, I think. Someone who can’t get behind such technical insanity as something like Animals As Leaders can get behind this. It’s still complex, but it’s fun. That’s definitely something that this band has held onto after all this time. Some sections from this album just had me smiling like an idiot, because they’re highly enjoyable! We’ll talk about this more, but the saxophone section in “Shadowmourne”, the end track for this album, put me in a top mood. I was hootin’ and hollerin’ like an over-excited dad at their kid’s first jazz recital.

The transitions and introductions for new sequences throughout the tracks are diverse and well-refined; you’d come to expect this after a band has been active for as long as Born of Osiris. It can be an immediate explosion of sound, straight into a breakdown, or a super smooth transition that almost catches you out. One of the last heavy sections in “Love Story” begins with a groovy drum fill and accompanying guitar riff which could take you anywhere, but you’re lured straight into a bear trap of a breakdown.

Speaking of breakdowns, “Crossface” is obscenely aggressive, but “Truth and Denial” is a dangerous song to play in the car. The end breakdown will have you trying to drive upside down like Will Smith and Tommy Lee-Jones in the original Men in Black film. You probably won’t even need to push the red button (don’t get the reference? Treat yourself, go watch Men in Black).

As mentioned, it’s not all heavy, it’s wonderfully varied. We need to talk about that tenor saxophone. Multi-instrumentalist Adrián Terrazas-González, who you might recognize from The Mars Volta, has lent his woodwind skills to this record, and what an addition it is. The sax sneakily appears in the tailpiece to “Poster Child”, gently imitating the vocal melody that floats around at the same time; it’s a pretty little serenade. As soon as it was introduced, I couldn’t wait to hear more saxophone being integrated into the album. It was a shame that I had to wait until the last track to hear it again, but it was worth the wait.

“Angel or Alien” Album Artwork

“Shadowmourne” is undoubtedly the standout track for me on “Angel or Alien”. I have a huge soft spot for heavy tracks that are undeniably beautiful. Think tracks like “/” from Structures or “The Night Does Not Belong to God” from Sleep Token. The intro gave me goosebumps almost straight away, with that same waltzing beauty that we were once treated to in the form of “My Curse” by Killswitch Engage. They share a similar glimmering melody in the beginning that hits you on a deep level, and despite its obvious distinction from the rest of the tracks on “Angel or Alien”, it still ties in well with the overall theme. I kept going back to this track though, throwing it on repeat and waiting for that perfectly fitting saxophone solo. It’s not in your face, nor does it come off as over-extravagant. It’s simple, modest and plays off the already high level of atmospheric energy that has been keeping us engaged this whole time. I could easily see this performance appearing on something like a Bon Iver record, due to its abstract and ethereal personality.

The rough vocals from Ronnie Canizaro, an original member, are seemingly ageless. Some vocalists over the span of 15 years will change their style, or lose their once formidable skills and have to resort to a less aggressive or taxing vocal style. Not Canizaro, though. He has gotten to a point where the vocals just couldn’t be any more optimized for his style, and the formula is reliable, powerful, and diverse to a good degree. It’s clear that throughout the life of the band, he has taken the time to take care of his voice the same way that any musician would keep their instrument in good condition. Some sequences are diabolical from him, especially in “Threat of Your Presence”, where he lashes us with the words “the damages and recklessness that you perceive”.

The singing and pitched screams are littered throughout the album and brings a great deal of contrast to the already colourful musicality. Joe Buras is behind these, and competently puts forward some stuck-in-your-head melodies. The more harsh singing is similar in some parts to the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, undoubtedly a pioneer in that sound, and they are placed well in so many instances. Buras seems to be able to turn the distortion up and down in his voice, for lack of a better description. Super gritty melodies in “Love Story” are traded for a mellowed out version for “Echo Breather”.

The clean vocals are just as important in adding that extra diversity to “Angel or Alien”. Clean vocals aren’t exactly new to the band, with songs like “A Solution” back in 2011 giving us a nice taste of what the band was capable of in that regard. The vocals in the latest release don’t stick to one tone or texture, but morph and change depending on the distinct personality of the song. “Echobreather” has a hauntingly alien motif hidden in there, immediately reminding me of The Contortionist during the “Intrinsic” era while other tracks like “Waves” hold a short but smooth serenade.

Cameron Losch hasn’t received enough praise for his drum work throughout the life of this band. Another founding member, he has developed just in the same way the rest of the band has. His personality blasts through the technical patterns that are performed through this album and all the others. There is a feeling of such ease about the way he plays, as if he has been performing these songs since he was born. The little fills and extra kicks he throws in during particular moments proves his professional skill as a musician, as he doesn’t stick purely to the same rhythm that’s played by the guitars or the keyboard. It’s hard to pick out a point in the album as an example, because it’s essentially throughout the whole album that he plays in this incredible way. “You Are The Narrative” has some insane drum sections, but the end breakdown to “Truth and Denial” shows how comfortable he is making variations on a pattern.

There is a huge level of intellect on the part of the guitarists Lee McKinney and Nick Rossi. It’s clear that their skills do nothing but increase, record after record. McKinney has been with the band since the debut album in 2007, whilst Rossi has only recently joined in 2018. Despite the short time, the guitarists are like two peas in a pod, playing off of each other’s technical skills and making great work of the tracks.

The solo work is not only professional, but so full of a comfortable energy that only comes with experience and confidence in one’s craft. The solos can take the form of a center-stage performance, then morph seamlessly into a harmonious cascade of notes that flutter through the soundscape. This is well displayed towards the end of title track “Angel or Alien”. Even the solo in “White Nile” is a fun little thing. It really sounds like the guitarists are just enjoying making this record. There’s this very transcendent view of what a solo can be, and this is the kind of musical insight that has allowed for Born of Osiris to become the illustrious group that they are today.

I do, however, miss the bass guitar in this album. The bass follows some of the technical rhythms and melodies played by the guitar, and it would have been nice to hear these a bit more in the mix. Once again going back to “The Discovery”, the bass guitar was more easily heard on that, so one could really enjoy and appreciate the bass work, which is impressive in its own right.

The level of symbiosis between the guitars and the keyboard is just as great as ever. It’s engaging and feels like the listener is privy to a private yet incredibly entertaining conversation between two good friends. The guitars and keyboard run parallel at times, playing the same melodies and harmonies, and then diverge to compliment each other, or call and respond. The beginning of “Lost Souls” is like this. The guitar races through the same melody that’s being jabbed at by the keyboard. It happens again in the end of “Angel or Alien” when the guitar lets the keyboard breathe during the sequence, but then moves to replicate the keyboard’s notes perfectly to add some extra thickness in the sound, as well as unity in the band.

When it comes to synth and keyboard work, the culprit is Buras. A founding member of the band, he’s come to understand exactly what sounds make this band work. The integration of keyboard layers into the band doesn’t ever get old. Buras seems to continue to improve his abilities, and the result is a refreshing and catchy component that feels just as integral as the guitars. Whether it’s in the foreground, like “Angel or Alien” which begins with an huge symphony of synth, a synthony… if you will, or it’s adding a different texture to the atmosphere altogether, it’s always interesting to hear what Buras offers us next.

Well, I’ve gone on long enough. As you can see, there is a lot to unpack in Born of Osiris’ latest record, “Angel or Alien”. It’s full to the brim of incredible musicianship, and convinces the listener that the band doesn’t feel like slowing down or packing away their instruments just yet. The songs are memorable by themselves, and there’s no wasted moment. Every song is full of intent and conscious composition from start to finish. This album deserves multiple listens to properly digest and understand everything that’s going on. The band is not just sticking to their roots, but watering them too, and the result is the blossoming of different themes and styles that are new, but undeniably still hold the heart of the band deep within them.

Released On: July 2nd, 2021
Released By: Sumerian Records
Genre: Death Metal / Progressive Metal / Metalcore

Musicians:

  • Ronnie Canizaro / Vocals
  • Lee McKinney / Guitar
  • Nick Rossi / Guitar
  • Cameron Losch / Drums
  • Joe Buras / Keyboard/Synth/Vocals

“Angel or Alien” Tracklist:

  1. Poster Child
  2. White Nile
  3. Angel or Alien
  4. Waves
  5. Oathbreaker
  6. Threat of Your Presence
  7. Love Story
  8. Crossface
  9. Echobreather
  10. Lost Souls
  11. In For the Kill
  12. You Are the Narrative
  13. Truth and Denial
  14. Shadowmourne

8.5 Excellent

Angel or Alien is Born of Osiris' best album since The Discovery, hands down. It's an insanely catchy listen from start to finish, and has something for every fan, new and old. It's heavy, powerful, technical, beautiful, but most importantly, it's just so much fun to listen to. It feels like the band put absolutely everything that had inside them into this release, and more. I don't know how much higher the bar can be set for Born of Osiris, but I'm confident that they'll keep raising it.

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8
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