Review: Ov Sulfur gives melody to blackened core on The Burden ov Faith


Ov Sulfur can’t simply release a symphonic blackened ‘core album… at least, not with more and more bands copying Lorna Shore. The advent of deathcore and metalcore bands leaning into atmospheric orchestrations has been well established. And while it’s great to see inhuman vocals, over-the-top breakdowns and wall-of-sound keyboards become normalized in the scene, it also means Ov Sulfur needs to do more than cross genres to stand out. What they have that others don’t is a respect for catchiness. Where the oft-dubbed “Lorna-core” bands opt to cycle through blast beats, tremolo-picking, spooky keyboards and pant-soiling mosh parts, The Burden ov Faith finds Ov Sulfur adding hooks to the blackened school.

To Ov Sulfur’s credit, they waste no time with symphonic intros before smashing listeners in the face with the blast beats and gutturals of “Stained In Rot.” These guys aren’t here to one up anyone, as much as they want to write solid songs. Considering how naturally this song transitions from stirring melodic choruses to bludgeoning breakdowns, they’re off to a great start. Ricky Hoover’s screams have a solid range of wretched highs and disgusting lows, but not to the point where he sounds like he’s trying to bait YouTubers into over-reacting to his performances. Similarly, the metalcore influence keeps Ov Sulfur from getting too locked into pulverizing speed and hideous slowness (i.e. the folks who heard “Into the Hellfire” and frantically took notes).

It’s also telling that Ov Sulfur hired out for the heavier parts of “Befouler” and “Unravelling,” as the respective presence of Alex Terrible (Slaughter to Prevail) and Taylor Barber (Left to Suffer) draws a line in the sand between deathcore and metalcore elements. These distinctive quotients don’t conflict, due to the band’s impressive tightness. Leviathvn’s drumming brings extremity as well as groove, so that the blackened parts can hit as hard as the larger-than-life choruses. It also gives the symphonic bells and whistles more to work with than a wall of sound, as Chase Wilson’s guitar work brings accessible chord progressions to complement his syncopated chugs. Even better, the latter track gets away from the “final breakdown” cliche by putting the ultra-heavy part in the middle. They’re not just going through the motions, and it pays off.

The choice to use harsh vocals for the chorus of “Death Ov Circumstance” gives it a violent impact to keep the staccato string leads from getting overly campy. Ov Sulfur succeeds where Dimmu Borgir clones often fail, replacing enough of the faux-grandiosity with “punch your friend in the face” vibes to keep things menacing. This way, it’s actually welcome to hear Wilson’s singing give the final passage an anthemic push. In the same way, the forbidding leads of “Earthen” bolster the emotional heft of the song’s haunting singing, just as they set the band up to bottom out into a face-breaking mosh part. The “symphonic blackened” part of the equation isn’t there for show, but to enhance this album at its hookiest and most punishing.

Ov Sulfur values atmosphere as much as pumping adrenaline, so it’s worth acknowledging how effectively a simple interlude like “A Path to Salvation?” sets up “I, Apostate” with a spirited layering of screaming and singing and string arpeggios to boot. The latter cut also makes tasteful use of a three-count time signature to give the melodies more room to breath, and for breakdowns to play slower without switching up the groove too much. It’s also here where the band’s knack for reincorporating their more brutal ideas back into a grand soundscape, maintaining compelling songwriting chops within the bombastic flair.

It’s no surprise that Howard Jones’ operatic voice would mesh seamlessly with The Burden ov Faith’s neoclassical side, as his superhuman singing soars during the chorus of “Wide Open.” That, coupled with a great guitar solo and a nasty, groovy breakdown, more than earns its place as the album’s highlight. This isn’t to say “The Inglorious Archetype” can’t follow it up with some chaotic drum performances and dynamic shifts, but it’s relieving that Wilson embraces the nuances of his own voice instead of trying to go pound-for-pound with Jones. He can reach for the sky with his notes when the song calls for it, but he knows when to use a more reserved tone to flesh out the mood of down sections.

The Burden ov Faith owes much of its dynamic range to the production of Michael Montoya (who helped invent this entire style 15 years ago playing with Winds of Plague) and Josh Schroeder behind the mixing board (who made Lorna’s Pain Remains a festival-ready giant). They know how to make expanded instrumentation work in a ‘core context, which would explain why the concluding title track can incorporate additions from underrated goth/metal talent Lindsay Schoolcraft and Bodysnatcher’s Kyle Medina with equal greatness. The two embody the two poles Ov Sulfur operates in between: evocative melody and mosh-ready heaviness. The band builds bridges between these poles with tactful use of electrifying guitar solos to tasteful string arrangements.

It’s really heartening to see an album succeed on its own merits, even within a decidedly trendy style. Yes, Ov Sulfur will no doubt appeal to fans of Lorna Shore and Winds of Plague, but there’s more to The Burden ov Faith than a trendy cash-in. If blackened ‘core needs a sing-along band, Ov Sulfur has effectively taken that role.

Ov Sulfur’s The Burden Ov Faith comes out on March 24 and is currently available for preorder via Century Media Records.

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