Oni’s “Ironshore” Sets A New Standard For Technical Metal!

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Oni is:

Jake Oni – vocals

Martin Andres – guitars

Brandon White – guitars

Chase Bryant – bass

Joe Greulich – drums

Johnny D – Xylo-synth

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Oni is one of those rare bands that pulls you in with an iron grip and refuses to let go as you get more acquainted with the music that they offer. So heavy, so complex and so unbelievably well played by musicians that not only play, but are masters of their chosen instruments. Hearing only a couple songs off of their upcoming release of Ironshore on Metal Blade Records due out appropriately on Black Friday, November 25th, I was not even a little prepared for the musical spectacle awaiting me when Oni opened for Max and Igor Cavalera’sReturn to Roots Tour” a couple of months ago. Talk about being floored! There is simply no weakness in this band. As over-the-top complicated as their songwriting skills demand, these guys play unbelievably well together, sitting just outside the void of potential chaos lesser bands would yield to while remaining accessible to mere mortals like myself. Thus began my almost obsessive quest to take in all that Oni brings to bear. Now that I have had a pre-release copy of Ironshore for some time, I remain in absolute awe every single time I listen to it. Already hitting my list of best albums this year, here are my thoughts…

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First, let’s get to the guts of what makes Oni, the band, tick. With their namesake taken from a malevolent, shape-shifting demon out of Japanese folklore that spreads pain and misery throughout the world, Onterio, Canada’s Oni seeks to brutalize, raze and salt everything in their wake in much the same way. Such is their magical concoction of ever morphing, Ultra Technical Metal that range from ethereal, moving and emotive to mercilessly ferocious via a deep understanding of musical intent perfectly matching lyrical themes through their highly complex songwriting style and mature lyrics. Formed in 2014 by lead singer Jake Oni with the desire to “be the band [he] never got to see” with roots firmly in Progressive Metal but refusing to be compartmentalized by genre specific definitions and simply serving as a launching point for their unique vibe. Shortly after its inception, Oni caught the attention of Mill Records who introduced Oni by releasing their debut, self-titled album. Like their unconventional music, lyrical themes range from introspective and personal to made up scenarios intended to drive home a central point. Screw staying inside the lines. Oni chooses to erase the status quo and replaces it with their own vision while carefully coloring everything in like only they could accomplish. Once picked up by Metal Blade Records, Oni went into the studio with Josh Wilbur (of Lamb of God and Gojira fame) to record Ironshore. As a result, the talents of Lamb of God’s vocalist, Randy Blythe grace Oni’s single, “The Only Cure” who heard the song and jumped at the opportunity to lend his voice to the already killer song. Playing tracks in the studio is much different than having the ability to play said music live, and well. I can say from personal experience that Oni is as good, if not better live, than on CD. They are a well oiled engine that roars on demand and purrs when not pushed, every bit as true as the recording. Also having the pleasure of meeting the band members of Oni, I can also say that these guys are not only talented, but also very down to earth, just excited to meet you as you are, meeting them. Highly engaging and just as gracious a group of people you could ever meet. I am yet to find fault in one damned thing that Oni puts forward. Not one!

As stated above, Ironshore is a forty-nine minute freeride of technically played Progressive Metal that impressively breaks all genre defining criteria. In defining Oni, Prog Metal is used as the “can’t put it into any other category” category as a matter of convenience. The opening song “Barn Burner” is one of the songs that set Oni’s hook in me. Very fast, intense and beat blasted drumming ignites the rough growl of Jake’s huge vocal range that he soon trades for semi-clean and soaring highs. It is here we are introduced to Oni’s very complex song structure. Very low rhythms accompany the, often polymorphic bass parts. Rather dark subject matter pushes the song past its musically heavy limit. The Xylo-synth also makes its unique, keyboard-like sound apparent. This thing is set up like a xylophone but the pads act as MIDI triggers to any array of electronic music. Johnny D is a beast on this thing and his talent is one of Oni’s defining characteristics. Up next, “Eternal Recurrence” takes a more mediated tempo, with a very cool djenty, Doom sludge. The synth sets an ethereal backdrop from which to layer a strong rhythm under heavy leads. An interlude of clean instrumentation follows before stuttered leads give way to a lightening fast synth and guitar solo that eventually meld into one, monolithic tower of sound. With a feel of sarcastic frustration, we are lead out of the void. With the help of Randy Blythe’s distinctive pipes, we are lead to “The Only Cure”. This beast is an uber-heavy, Death Groove headbanger that is sure to open the Pit; Mosh at your own risk! With a devastating pace, rather ominous Xylo-synth harmonizes the guitar note for note, even when the guitar is deftly shredded. Again, Greulich’s drumming keeps everything under control (just barely!) as the thick wall of sound is built brick by brick. With no break in fervor throughout, the synth leads out to “The Science”. This eleven minute musical argument starts with a traditional Metal timber that is quickly exchanged for heavy and stammering guitar riffs. Bass unusually morphs from rhythm with drums to leading alongside guitar leads. This is another piece that is mind altering in its intricacy with great tension and release over its entirety. In a fitting progression of the song, bass lines eventually become more slap happy and take a measured stance squarely between leads and the drums. A Jazzy, bass-centric bridge counter intensely disturbing lyrics before finding a perceived resolution about two-thirds of the way through. Second guessing the resolution becomes increasingly frustrating before the song devolves in to the fury of smooth guitars and synth that ends just outside the walls of chaos. “Spawn and Feed” follows with a foundation of heavy rhythms and underlying Xylo-synth at a medium-fast tempo. The intriguing use of a just shy of pandemonium bridge where bass again weaves its way around leads allows the listener to catch their breath just before the full weight of the song drops like and 100,000 ppi press. Just as the world turns black, the song is shut down as the machine malfunctions. Simple, hollow drums introduce us to “Chasing Ecstasy”. Guitar hooks abound here but the throaty-clean vocals define this monster, giving a more of a Prog Metal feel. “Ecstasy” is also used as a vehicle to showcase the technical guitar and synth chops Oni has at its disposal. Sitting on a slow, rolling boil, this song has the best soloing available on the album and is simply jaw dropping in presentation. In stark contrast, “Kanvas” takes a Funk synth groove and layers the heavily structured, Math guitars made popular by bands like Meshuggah and Periphery. After a clever breakdown of crazy Xylo-synth soloing, the foot goes straight to the floor, pushing speed and ferocity into the red zone. Electronic short circuitry eventually shatters the strict structure pushes the point/counterpoint to the breaking point before we float freely into virtual reality. On the heavy underpinnings of heavy drumming, shared bass, guitar and harmonized synth leads “Thrive” takes on an accusatory tone. As when fighting to survive, this song reflects, intensifies, reflects and comes back more strongly as the it progresses; driven by fear, fed by fury and inevitably ending with calm resolve. Yet more proof Oni is on their A game, matching intent with musical direction. Very cagey and efficient! The final song on Ironshore comes in the form of “Coast to Coast” which begins with clean, simple and repeated guitar riffs over somewhat dissonant and ominous chord-ed melody. On the upper end of the scale, this song is measured from slightly less brutal to absolutely brutal. With the tone set, synth mimics the into as a killer lead line of bass join in the fun. As an anthem to be true to one’s core beliefs, with the denial of said beliefs being the true living nightmare, “Coast to Coast” serves as a fitting nod to Oni’s desire to blaze their own musical path, wherever their collective whimsy takes them. Couldn’t be more pleased.

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Ironshore has the maturity and musical chops of a band steeped deeply in time and experience. Being only Oni’s second release, it is a world class stunner and a big reason they have become one of my “go-to” bands! This is an undeniable must have addition to any Metalhead CD collection and an investment in Metal’s future. I have listened to Ironshore endless times now and pick up subtleties each and every time that I have missed before. Super impressive! Be sure to watch out in the coming weeks as Oni hits the road with Children of Bodom on their world tour. If they land anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and hit the show. Both bands set the stage alight and guaranteed to slay!

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Tracklist for Ironshore:

Barn Burner

Eternal Recurrence

The Only Cure

The Science

Spawn and Feed

Chasing Ecstasy

Kanvas

Thrive

Coast to Coast

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More information on Oni can be found at Oni Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

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Odyssey

About Odyssey

I have had a life-long love of music, but from the first time I heard Kiss and Black Sabbath with my landlord’s son in Nicholasville, KY in the mid 70’s, I have been hooked on Hard Rock and Metal. While my tastes in music have done nothing but expand since then, Metal remains closest to my heart. In addition, I have played bass, still play guitar and have literally 1000’s of CDs/MP3s, so my knowledge is long steeped and honest. I don’t buy the whole splintered, sub-genres thing and choose to like bands and music based solely on individual merits. Obviously, this is always colored by my mood, what I need at any given point and time and what is generally pleasing to my ear. I also don’t like to rip any music or band, instead having an open mind and ear for it all because I have a passion for it all. It is completely subjective and in a constant state of flux. Consider me a music “nerd” not a music “snob”. As an extension of this love, I hope to share this passion with everyone here and learn from your passion as well! – Odyssey –

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