Many thanks to Milo Rodríguez, Børeal's lead vocalist and lyricist, for sending me a copy of this, their debut EP. I believe my most surprising revelation from two years of diving deep into a rock and metal community that's become truly global is just how much great stuff is coming out of South America of late. This is my sixteenth review this year of a South American band and I've been stunned by the wild variety of styles and the consistent quality, not to forget just how many progressive elements feature across the genres.
It's a broad musical sweep from Argentina's Illutia to Peru's Necrofagore, via Brazil's Corona Nimbus and Chile's Lapsus Dei, but Columbia's Børeal introduce another angle with their odd combination of prog rock and modern metal. The former seems to me to be the band's priority because there are a lot of moments here where the production could have gone with crunchy guitars, a downtuned bass and a powerful drum sound but apparently chose not to. All the instruments are clearly audible, but they're more interested in the details of what they're doing than the punch of a thicker sound.
There are four songs here and they're all interesting in their way. The most interesting is Boreal, only because it's two minutes longer than the others and so has more time to do interesting things, right down to a harsh vocal from Rodríguez, who's been mostly clean throughout. It's no bad thing to start out a career with a release that doesn't have a single letdown track.
Origen starts things out in alternate metal territory, jangly and jarring but with commercial intent. I love the drums of Diego Vargas here, not just because of what they do but because of what they don't. Sure, he demonstrates both how fast and accurately he can hit those drums but also how effective not drumming at all can be. I'm used to the drums setting the pace and the guitars taking it up, but here the guitars set the pace and the drums are often colour and decoration over them. That's unusual, but very effective.
I think my favourite song may be Homo Homini Lupus, which kicks in with a heartbeat that's taken up seamlessly by those drums. The title is a Latin proverb to highlight that "Man is wolf to man" and the song is an agreeably predatory number with enthusiastic backing vocals. As you might imagine, there are points where Rodríguez goes harsh here, though he's clean for most of the song. It's a faster piece generally, but there's a really nice slowdown midway. Børeal are big Coheed and Cambria fans, so the dynamic play is as unsurprising as it's welcome.
I haven't translated the lyrics, but these songs do seem to play very closely to their titles. Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure (it was the original title of Woody Allen's Annie Hall) and Rodríguez is a lot sadder here, even though the drum runs over the guitar solo are joyous. An impressive riff perks him up halfway and highlights once more how the production could have been so much chunkier. That really is my only negative here and, given how audible the subtleties of songs like Boreal are, I'm very aware that bulking up the sound may spoil it completely.
Boreal gets theatrical. Some parts early on remind of Fish in the early days of Marillion and the song grows in similar ways to something like Chelsea Monday, with whispers and dramatics, though it's all wearing alternative clothing rather than neo-prog. There's a lot going on here, from its soft opening with atmospheric keyboards to what almost reaches black metal, immediately after a fluid guitar solo from one of the two guitarists. Kudos to the band for songwriting here as much as their performance.
This all bodes really well for a full length album from Børeal. South America strikes again and from a sixth different country for me in 2020. Clearly I need to make a conscious effort to review more South American releases in 2021. Thanks, Milo.