Album Review: ONI Ironshore
As I've recently spoken about other new progressive metal bands' releases, I feel that the common ground in influences has shifted. Where the obvious acts to name previously were Dream Theater or maybe Fates Warning, this new wave of the genre tends to lean more heavily on the likes of Between the Buried and Me for inspiration instead.
Oni, a group I would indicate as a prime example of this new wave of prog metal, has gathered attention quite quickly for this debut LP while touring along such bands as Children of Bodom or Max & Iggor Cavalera. With vocalist Jake Oni, guitarists Martin Andres and Brandon White, bassist Chase Bryant, drummer Joe Greulich, and xylosynth player Johnny D on board, the band gears up to release Ironshore via Blacklight Media, a subsidiary of Metal Blade Records.
The leading single "Eternal Recurrence" was certainly an attention-grabber as it bounced from The Contortionist heaviness to a Stone Sour level of radio-friendly territory on the chorus. Although the opener track, "Barn Burner," may have reached a smaller audience being the second single, I find it to be even harder and more direct, all while sharing a similar heavy vs. catchy dichotomy. Perhaps the most powerful selling point is the guest appearance from Lamb of God's Randy Blythe on "The Only Cure," which is also notable for Born of Osiris-like guitar. Just three songs in and Oni has proven their potential as these three songs are extremely likely to get stuck in your head.
Although I'm unsure if the length of the 11-minute piece titled "The Science" was utterly necessary, I was delightfully surprised and impressed in that the band was able to drag the track on for so long without becoming tedious. While a comparison to BTBAM wouldn't be fully accurate, I found many connections to the evolution of styles and dynamics within this song alike to a Parallax II track. I think this track also serves a divide between the more blatant catchy singles and the less chorus-driven pieces in the record. As the latter half of the album continued, I came to the conclusion that I'm not always on board with the clean melodic vocals as they sometimes sway to the whiny metalcore side of the spectrum. Debatably, they do provide unpredictability and a varied dynamic to these compositions, but I could understand it being divisive for others. Regardless, the youthful energy and spot-on production from Josh Wilbur made for quite an impactful debut front-to back.
And yes, I'll address the elephant in the room. When I caught Oni performing at Knotfest the other month, I found the individual playing what seemed to be a xylophone on stage almost laughable as it was clearly the least "metal" instrument to be included amongst double bass drums and guitar sweeps. But after listening to the album, I understand the significance of Johnny DeAngelis' contribution. A good chunk of songs on here will include brief synthy sweeps reminiscent to Jordan Rudess or Born of Osiris' Joe Buras. While not exactly a game-changer, the inclusion of the xylosynth provides something new to a subgenre that can feel uncomfortably stale.
Running off the momentum of the claim that modern metal subgenres are plagued by a lack of progression, I see Oni as a dim light at the end of the tunnel and inevitably a force to be reckoned with. Although there are many moments where the band wears their influences on their sleeves and includes stereotypical elements in their music, overall there is a unique identity present. The act has the ability to shape these compositions into a perfect blend of catchy and heavy without compromise. Most of all, I have gained much respect for this band as they proved to me that they are key figures in paving the way for a new wave of progressive metalcore.