SONIC UNIVERSE – It Is What It Is (Album Review)

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The rocking universe gets funky.

Standing out from the pack might seem like a fool’s gamble with seemingly every nook and cranny of the rock and metal genres explored in the past 50 years. Then again, some artists can’t help but have a different take on things by virtue of simply doing their thing, and a few noteworthy members of this bunch have now attached themselves to a new project dubbed Sonic Universe.

Led by the dual personalities of virtuoso axe-shredder and former mastermind behind the now sadly defunct Adrenaline Mob, Mike Orlando, and highly charismatic front man of funk metal icons Living Colour, namely Corey Glover; it goes without saying that the auditory blend this fold has in store is far from a typical one. Add in a formidable rhythm section consisting of bassist extraordinaire Booker King, who has backed up the likes of Paul Simon and Santana on the road, and Sworn Enemy drummer Taykwuan Jackson, and one wouldn’t be far off in predicting that this fold’s debut outing “It Is What It Is” presents a sound bursting with character and pizzazz.

Pinning down what specific genre emerges in this 10 part presentation of eclecticism is a difficult prospect, lending arguably the most credence to the idea of the label alternative metal being a catch-all meant to refer to anything outside of the usual progressive approach since Faith No More’s “The Real Thing.” Indeed, between Orlando’s numerous references to funk, jazz, rock and metal stylings and the busy blend of free-flowing jams and tight yet busy grooves of King and Jackson, the sonic template that emerges is a bit elaborate and adventurous to really fit into an early 90s retro funk metal box.

Further complicating any efforts at pigeon-holing this opus is a far more flamboyant and gymnastic display out of Glover, who often abandons his signature soulful wail for high-pitched shrieks and nasally snarls that would make the likes of Roger Daltrey proud, though a more apt comparison would be the more captivating performances that might be heard from Mike Patton.

At every point, this album seems bent on hitting the listener with something new, often stopping just shy of trailing off into avant-garde randomness. Even when focusing upon the generally compact and formally straightforward material represented in the two leading singles “I Am” and “Higher”, one can’t help but notice the vast array of moving parts accompanying the infectious melodic hooks tossed out like candy by Glover’s verse and chorus lines, the former feeling like chaotic take on a modern blues rock ode while the latter could almost sound like a driving, metallic take on a Lenny Kravitz tune were said retro rocker packing a backup band capable of trading technical blows with Symphony X.

“It Is What It Is” Album Artwork

The 3rd single and more drawn out foray of a title anthem “It Is What It Is” lays on the funky vibes with a vengeance, and often exhibits the sonic darkness and effects-driven guitar fodder one might associate with Rage Against The Machine or A Perfect Circle, but lands close to a King’s X vibe when Glover’s soulful vocal delivery and rich harmonies enter the equation.

With such an impressive tip of the iceberg already established between the trifecta of entries to precede the main course, it thus logically follows that the remaining lion’s share of this album ups the uniqueness ante even further. Among the more accessible fair to, nevertheless, take even greater risks in blending styles is the flashy display of instrumental virtuosity caught in an ultra-catchy bottle “Turn A Blind Eye”, which contains one of the sickest yet shortest solos out of Orlando’s massive arsenal and a correspondingly insane drum display out of Jackson.

On the other side of the coin is the extended jazzy jam with a lighter touch “Whisper To A Scream”, which sees one noodling guitar line after the next matched by an equally busy bass display out of King, whom has otherwise proved to be the most measured and calculating cog in this 4-piece engine. But when it comes to just plain old rocking hard and heavy while also throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the listener, the closing cruiser “Beautiful Disunity” takes the proverbial cake.

The question that naturally arises, who would be the target audience of this stew of sonic excess: fans of Living Colour, Sworn Enemy, Adrenaline Mob, or any of the aforementioned bands that exhibited similarly unconventional styles in the past? The answers is basically all of them, though perhaps some in the older alternative metal camp might be taken aback by the sheer technical craziness that accompanies every sing-along moment, which would then open the door to those who like their rock and metal to shred mercilessly.

That might just be this project’s greatest appeal, the fact that every player in this fold is a bona fide musician’s musician. It’s the sort of music that takes a few listens before it is fully grasped, so the initial impact might be blunted for some by all the peripheral elements painting over the otherwise symmetrical songwriting approach. But if nothing else, “It Is What It Is” stands as the sort of album that would never be mistaken for anything else.

Released By: earMusic
Release Date: May, 10th 2024
Genre: Funk Hard Rock

Musicians:

  • Mike Orlando / Guitars
  • Corey Glover / Vocals
  • Booker King / Bass
  • Taykwuan Jackson / Drums

It Is What It Is” Track List:

  1. I Am
  2. It Is What It Is
  3. Turn A Blind Eye
  4. My Desire
  5. Whisper To A Scream
  6. Higher
  7. Life
  8. Come What May
  9. I Want It All
  10. Beautiful Disunity

Order It Is What It IsHERE

8.5 Excellent

Super groups come in all shapes and sizes, and among the latest and most unique of the bunch, Sonic Universe, opts for a blend of late 80s funky alternative metal and a jazzy jamming approach to making waves on their debut outing “It Is What It Is”

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