Review: OryadSacred & Profane

Oryad - Sacred & Profane

*Aggressive symphonic metal noises*

(This review was written by Reliquary Tower)

Life is about balance. Whether it’s balancing work with play, balancing time and money, or balancing your need to get up and sharpen your pencil during a test with the fact that you don’t want the whole class staring at you, there’s always something to find a balance between. Symphonic metal (a genre I listened to plenty of as a socially overanxious, pencil-sharpening highschooler) is no different. Too much of the metal side of the genre and you might find yourself in power metal territory. Too much of the symphonic side and you risk becoming background music for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. But if you can manage to land it in the middle, that’s where the magic (magick?) happens.

Oryad is a Denver-based metal band whose specific take on the genre involves mixing doom metal with prog and then wrapping the whole thing up in a thick layer of symphonic. Each of the band members have a background in either jazz, classical, or both. The vocals from Moira Murphy, a classically trained and opera-hardened soprano, are without a doubt the most powerful influence from these genres. And speaking of vocals, the lyrics on this album, many of which come from her own poetry, do an excellent job of painting a mental picture of taking part in some kind of mysterious, mystical ritual in the woods. And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what symphonic doom was invented for.

I really like the guitar work on this album. Meaty chugs, pinch harmonics, and tones that occasionally border on being Animals As Leaders-esque adorn the record. The guitar sits really comfortably in the mix and doesn’t crowd out the bass or drums. All in all, it consistently feels really solid. Combine the guitars with some jazz-influenced drumming that’s peppered with occasional blast beats, as well as Murphy’s prowess on the keys, and you’ve got yourself a nice foundation to work with.

Building on that foundation is where things start to get rocky. For the most part, the instrumentals keep from feeling out of place, but sometimes it feels like things get too busy outside of the traditional metal package. I feel like one of the most important skills in creating symphonic metal is knowing when to take things away and when to add them in. There are a few tracks on this record where certain musical elements sort of overstay their welcome. It can feel like you have to try to listen past the symphonic elements to hear the metal ones. As I mentioned, the guitar work on this album is really enjoyable. I just wish they gave us a little more time to enjoy it.

I think the main thing holding this album back is the vocals. While Murphy’s voice is indeed impressive, it doesn’t always feel like it’s what the song requires. Her voice often feels too clean and operatic, sometimes seeming to clash with the grit and distortion of the guitar. For most of the album, it sounds like she’s singing an octave too high. It’s certainly possible that it’s an artistic choice, but after a few re-listens, I’m just not sure it’s one I can agree with. The vocals feel so far away from the rest of the mix and I found myself waiting for moments when the two would come back together.

All of this being said, I genuinely believe that Oryad will only improve their sound. The band members have an impressive grasp on music theory, as is evident in their silky-smooth key changes, and I think with practice, some experimentation, and a little more balance between the symphonic elements and the metal ones, the next record we hear from this group has the potential to be a really rock-solid recommendation for any symphonic metal fan.

3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Sacred & Profane is out now.

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