Evergrey couldn’t have picked a more perfect tour partner for this summer. Canada’s Borealis is the perfect pair to Evergrey’s moody melodies, with a similar emotionally intense sound, but with more thunder and a touch of Kamelot-esque theatricality. Purgatory, the band’s third album (and their first with AFM Records) ups the angst and drama without losing the aggressive energy of Fall From Grace, while also having a tighter, more cohesive sound than their sophomore effort.
As the album title implies, Purgatory explores the theme of leaving this life, from the moment of death (depicted with the sound of an EKG flat-lining in the intro of the first song, “Past the Veil”) to visions of the afterlife and the meaning of the universe with the final songs “Purgatory” and “Revelation.” This isn’t exactly a new topic in metal music, but in Borealis’s hands, the theme doesn’t feel worn. Rather than dwelling on the sadness, violence, or meaninglessness often associated with death, what comes across most in these songs is a sense of struggle — with life, death, other people, the universe — giving the songs a human and personal quality that evokes the listener’s sympathy. To me, the most powerful example from the album is “My Peace.” After a few listens, the melody that starts it off gives me shivers – it’s wistful and yet determined, like the persona of the song. Given lines like “Mother (father) may I have this wish, my last effort to make my peace,” and the aching words spoken by a child in the middle of the song, not to mention the tragedies in the news constantly, I can’t help but hear this song as a young person’s suicide note. Musically, the song is a succession of contrasts; from that soul-squeezing melody, to hammering riffs, then anguished vocals, followed by a swell of symphonics during the chorus, and later a soulful guitar and keyboard bridge. The guitar melody is reprised after the spoken part, to tragic effect. Lyrically and musically, the song brings home the feeling of a losing struggle with life, with family that doesn’t understand. The other songs tell other stories, but the theme of struggle, of suffering through purgatory in the hope of something better, cries out in all of them.
The weighty theme doesn’t slow things down though. It’s impossible to stay still through the catchy headbangable riffs ranging from flights of melody to crunchy melodeath-like assaults and soaring synth-backed choruses. While not as heavy on melodeath flavor as Borealis’s previous album, Purgatory does venture into melodic death metal territory with some of the more aggressive parts, such as the hammering intro to “Destiny,” the charging riffs in the heavier parts of “My Peace,” and the churning maelstrom that starts “Place of Darkness.” Vocalist Matt Marinelli, meanwhile, combines grit and pathos in the style of Kamelot.
I’m not sure “enjoy” is the right word for this album, but it definitely leaves an auditory and emotional impact. I’m looking forward to seeing Borealis live and headbanging to their dramatic and driving music at the end of the summer – they’ll be hitting Baltimore Soundstage with Evergrey, Voyager, and Oceans of Slumber on September 5.