On their debut The Burden Ov Faith, Ov Sulfur prove to be one of the most interesting symphonic deathcore bands active today through their stellar production, varied vocal performances and features, and focus on melody and memorability over technicality.
Release date: March 24, 2023 | Century Media Records | Facebook | Instagram
I’ve long been captivated by extreme music that combines traditional metal tropes with symphonic, orchestral, and neoclassical elements. In the subgenre of deathcore, we first started to hear this approach by early adopters like Chelsea Grin, Winds of Plague, and Make Them Suffer, as well as smaller acts like Into Infernus or A Night In Abyss. However, with bands like Shadow of Intent and, especially, Lorna Shore gaining massive platforms in recent years, symphonic deathcore acts have ballooned, and so has the incorporation of symphonic elements into previously more traditional deathcore bands. Ov Sulfur, the subject of today’s review, are not quite early adopters or new to the band wagon. Their vocalist, Ricky Hoover, has a long history in extreme metal as a prior member of Suffokate. Now, with Ov Sulfur’s debut record, The Burden Ov Faith, he is building on tropes of symphonic deathcore while executing an admirably melodic, mature take on the subgenre alongside guitarists Chase Wildon and Cory Walker, Parker Adist on drums, and Taylor Adsit on bass. Ov Sulfur emerged in their current form with 2021’s EP Oblivion. While a hard-hitting EP, The Burden Ov Faith improves on that introduction in every way, from heaviness to production and orchestration to Hoover’s clean singing.
The first half of this record is much more focused on heaviness than anything else, and features from Alex Terrible (Slaughter to Prevail) and Taylor Barber (Left to Suffer) certainly hammer this point home. However, even the heavy moments still favour layers of clean and extreme vocals, memorable guitar hooks, and both symphonic and electronic elements to further vary the soundscape. Opener “Stained In Rot” is an example of this balance, featuring both a singable chorus and an extended breakdown that evokes both slam and downtempo deathcore. This approach largely continues with “Befouler”: a hooky orchestral line is sidelined by darting guitar lines and extreme vocals before another massive chorus featuring clean vocals. Alex Terrible’s contributions to a punishing breakdown further accentuate Ov Sulfur’s ability to craft hookiness and heaviness in equal measures. However, this balance is possibly best demonstrated by lead single “Earthen”, which pairs a haunting refrain, religious criticism, and eerie production with fast-paced verses that evoke peers Lorna Shore.
There are a number of notable and memorable moments throughout The Burden Ov Faith’s concise 45-minute runtime and ten tracks. The excesses of the genre often lead to track and album runtimes with minimal variety, leading even a fan like myself to lose focus. Ov Sulfur, in contrast, keep their songs streamlined, often staying between 3:30 and 5:30 runtimes with the exception being the epic closing title track (which I’ll talk more about soon). This concision keeps things fresh and focused for me, leading to more memorability and distinction between tracks.
However, where the earlier part of the album focuses on heaviness, the latter half seems more determinedly melodic. “Wide Open” has a soaring chorus that is led by metalcore legend Howard Jones (Light the Torch, ex-Killswitch Engage), alongside chuggy verses and some admirable lead guitar playing that wouldn’t be out of place on a Born of Osiris record. The plucky synths and shout-sung backing vocals of “The Inglorious Archetype” further this BOO comparison without being derivative. The track also demonstrates the band’s ability to really effectively integrate orchestration and electronic elements fully into their sound without it sounding like an afterthought. However, all of these strengths come to an epic end with “The Burden Ov Faith”. Featuring Kyle Medina (Bodysnatcher) and Lindsay Schoolcraft (solo, ex-Cradle of Filth), the closing title track features Schoolcraft’s haunting hook ‘You’re dying for nothing’ alongside some hard-hitting, straight-ahead breakdowns and soaring lead guitars, with lyrics again taking aim at religious criticism and reaffirming a central theme of the record at its finale.
I love symphonic deathcore, but, like any subgenre, it can sometimes become limited by its own expectations. This critique extends to many bands in this subcategory that I enjoy – by focusing too much on speed and intensity, sometimes core elements that usually make good songs, like memorability, dynamics, hooks, and variety are ignored. Ov Sulfur clearly recognize and challenge these limitations. By having an incredibly versatile lead vocalist, a bevy of guest musicians, watertight and polished production, and prioritization of memorability over nonstop intensity, The Burden Ov Faith may be a new high-water mark in the rapidly ballooning symphonic deathcore scene. I hope others in the scene learn from the success with which Ov Sulfur merge genre tropes with strong songwriting.