Sound — 3
"Soul Sphere" is the fifth album by American something-or-other-core band Born of Osiris, giving us the follow up to 2013's "Tomorrow We Die Alive." Thankfully there's no obnoxious triangles this time around.
Where to begin. Around 2008/2009, along with Veil of Maya, The Faceless and a couple of others, BoO popularized a trend in progressive/technical deathcore. It's a trend that's defined much of what the current "sumeriancore" scene looks like now, but whereas the previously mentioned bands (Veil of Maya and The Faceless and even a couple of the others) are examples of some rather fancy progression and evolution, BoO is undoubtedly an example of slow stagnation.
If this album could be summed up in one public service proclamation, "all the songs are 'Machine' but with more synths and less sweeps" would be fairly accurate. It's not even possible for that to be a generalization at this point: out of the 12 tracks on this album (all between 3 and 5 minutes in length), they're all at more-or-less the same tempo, same structure and take from the same pool of grooves. Melodic styles vary from that one overused Middle Eastern scale that absolutely every metalcore band sticks to and the phrygian mode that, again, every metalcore band uses. Very, very occasionally, there will be a dip into a progression that would not be out of place in a Capcom video game soundtrack, but keeping track of what song features said progression in one sitting is like pinpointing a bottles worth of Coca Cola in a sea of brown paint.
So there's one song that's vaguely similar to all of their work before "The Discovery" and that'd be "Goddess of the Dawn." Shock horror, it actually has some kind of variation in its sections and movements, even if it barely breaches the 3 minute mark in length. One would hope that it's a "fortunate derailing" if such a thing could exist, but no, it's the only instance where a song tries to differentiate itself in some major way.
Going back to the original proclamation, personally there is no reason a band shouldn't experiment or even indulge in adding electronics to metal music (The Algorithm made it "cool"), but while having them permanently take up all the space in between the other instruments has worked before (see Circle of Contempt's "Entwine the Threads"), any attempt at atmosphere is forced into superfluousness as all that happens is that the rather mundane harmonic ideas are filtered into basic synth presets layered onto equally mundane instrumental sections. The only time the electronic layers really come alive, have their moment and make an impact is at the end of the final track "The Composer" and is only a result of the band having stopped playing.
What makes this whole experience even worse is how unbelievable and mechanical this album sounds. Single notes recorded and organized into entire riffs, harsh editing amplifying this effect (most egregiously on "Free Fall" where the notes have absolutely no room to breathe at all), quantized synthesis matching up perfectly to each drum hit... maybe it'd be a "good" thing if it actually sounded good but it really doesn't, it makes all the instruments sound choppy (and the bass irrelevant).
Apparently there's some argument that justifies this lifeless approach to production in that it's supposed to be a "perfect rendition" of a recording but it's just inauthentic and reinforces the formulaic and streamlined feel of it all. It almost seems like some sort of dystopian future-product.
"The second DLC pack for The Discovery™, now in pill form!"
Lyrics — 4
Long time vocalist Ronnie Canizaro is basically him as he always has been since "A Higher Place." Same with Joe Buras' clean contributions.
?Is that all there is to it?
Well, ok, the vocals do not suffer from the unfortunate production treatment that every other musical aspect has. Although unrealistically layered to hell at every instance, vocal effects are either minimalist or not present at all. However, not having a negative isn't much of a positive in this instance as vocals alone do not improve upon such a lacklustre instrumental base. If anything, they just blend into the expectancy that comes with anything self-styled as "core" these days.
Lyrically, again, it's just what is expected in this genre: Feel good, subtly masochistic/cathartic phrasing where there's a vague "us vs. them" mentality that is always, always, always metaphorical and lacking in focus. In every single song.
An example from "Throw Me in the Jungle":
"I'll leave my blood in the city
Throw me in the jungle
I can finally say I'm ready
Throw me in the jungle
Just let my lungs fill with smoke
Leave only my skin a match and a stone"
If there's a world where any of that makes sense, I don't think we're living on it.
Overall Impression — 3
This album is perhaps a worrying trend in what counts as "content" from record labels. "Content" being the nebulous term for formula-driven, digitally shared media these days, "Soul Sphere" is a musical incarnation of exactly that: an expected, uninteresting musical venture that has been slaved over in the editing department, letting us end up with some sort of yardstick for internet pillocks like me to get cynical over.
Songs to look out for: The Algorithm's remix of "Machine," cuz it's way better than the original song... and even the album it's not even on.