OU — II: Frailty (review)

OU — II: Frailty album cover Album · 2024 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
First things first. The Chinese band OU which has made quite a splash lately as a progressive metal band coming from a nation not known for its huge international metal scene is pronounced simply like the letter O in English. The band comes from the capital city of Beijing and bedazzled the world with its Sino-aesthetics that gleefully played in the turbulent world where djent-ish crunchy guitar bombast with electronically infused progressive pop commingle thus delivering an instantly accessible yet futuristic stylistic effect that made the band’s debut ONE stand out amongst the thousands of metal releases that come out in any given month these days back in 2022.

The band consists of three Chinese performers: Lynn Wu (vocals), Zhang Jing (guitar) and Chris Cui (bass) along with the American born Anthony Vanacore (drums) who now resides in the land of great walls and pandas. I had a hard time finding a place to sample the band’s debut album that came out in 2022 and sort of forgot about them that is until it was recently announced in 2024 that a sophomore release is due and now that this band has gotten established on a larger world’s stage, it seems that it has become a bit easier to keep up with thanks to the band’s association with longtime progressive metal extraordinaire Devin Townsend who shares record labels and sits in as the co-producer and mixing man as well as making a cameo on the track“ 淨化 Purge.”

Asian pop is a strange thing to behold to Western ears. While European and American female singers often come on strong with a masculinized delivery system, J-pop, K-pop and the latest Chinese version offer soft, sensual and even an innocently cuddly tenderness that has all but been lost in Western Culture. Add those twee tendencies to a raging progressive metal djent stomp storm and you have something new to behold! Lyrics in Mandarin Chinese make it even stranger as few of us of non-Chinese descent have even studied much less mastered this polar opposite of a language to anything remotely connected to European linguistics. An endless supply of multi-stroked characters and words differentiated only by tones strikes terror into our hearts knowing if we simply utter a word with the wrong intonation that it can change an innocent phrase like “Have a nice day” to “I want to have sex with your dog.”

But then again, China has been mysterious for far too long and it’s about time this most populations nation of the entire planet presents to the world at large some of its exports. Forget the avant-garde freakery for the moment and realize this is fairly commercial sounding. It’s melodic, it’s catchy, it’s cute. It’s family friendly because even if lead singer Lynn Wu is singing about hacking up a dead carcass you’d never know! 蘇醒 II: Frailty owes a lot to Townsend’s presence as he’s most famous for his production skills and wall of sound layering effects that have propelled him to the top ranks of the modern world of progressive metal. The album indeed benefits from a sleek sheen of sound that allows OU to weave its weird mix of slinking keyboard runs into the metal aspects that accompany.

While coming off as Chinese pop with a metallic edge, the progressive elements are clear and distinguished often sounding like some of those Japanese math rock girl bands without the jittery caffeinated nervousness. Offering a smoother procession through the album’s nine tracks, the knottiness results from the chord sequences, time signature deviations and oft contrapuntal weirdness that results from the vocals, keyboards and guitar parts existing in different planes of existence. Yet somehow it all comes together to craft an elegant if not unorthodox delivery system of strangely seductive progressive pop metal which never ever once finds Wu tempted into breaking into death metal growls! As alluring as an estrogen fueled siren beckoning your devoted affection, Wu casts a spell with her girlish vocal charm.

In the end this is as much a Townsend endeavor as it is one of OU. The production techniques are right out of the dreamy ambient playbook that albums like “Ghost” and “Devlab” delivered in the previous decades however the band is not without its merits. Their progressive power pop melds quite nicely with Townsend’s production excesses which gives the entire project a strange air of exoticism which is actually quite rare in the world of music these days given that we’ve been subjected to almost every culture’s traditional sounds in one way or another. In the end this one is accessible enough that the pop hooks are instantly endearing and weird enough that it scratches my itch for something quirky and out of the ordinary. Likewise the tracks all differ from one another significantly to make this album sound endearing to the very end. While the metal elements are not ubiquitous, they provide enough of a backbone to qualify as the predominant, well at least the loudest element on board.

While i missed the debut i’m quite enthralled with this sophomore album. Honestly i’ve never been the biggest Townsend fan but OU seems to keep him from overdoing too much of a good thing. The album feels well balanced and stands out like a sore thumb in the world of modern progressive metal which seems to have primarily shifted into the realms of dissonant death metal fusing with modern classical or similar extreme metal hybrids. Another entry on the resume of Heavy Devvy and one that resonates with me much more than much of his own canon where he seems to overindulge by compensating rather ordinary sounding material with overwrought bloated production values. Here we get a real band that seems to be enhanced by Townsend’s endeavors rather than being dragged down. Metal purists will hate this as the metal is demoted to an accent piece on some tracks and other like the the closing “念 Recall” feature no metallic traces at all. More enticing than Babymetal as well as more complex. Intricate and interestingly designed. OU is unlike anything i’ve heard before.
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