OU- 蘇醒 II: Frailty (Album Review)

May 6, 2024


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Chinese progressive metal band OU band has only been around since 2020, but they’ve been quickly gaining steam over the past few years with a sound that combines the heavy and ethereal.  For their sophomore effort 蘇醒 II: Frailty, the group has continued to expand their sonic palette with the help of Devin Townsend as producer.  It’s the type of album that holds many surprises and sometimes gives off a bit of tonal whiplash with how abruptly it moves from heavy djent style grooves over to muted almost pop textures.  Yet this back and forth may be just what attracts the right type of listener, and those that do find themselves drawn in will discover plenty of great hooks.

OU smartly stuck some of their heaviest moments at the beginning of the album, as both the title track and “Purge” sound absolutely massive and utilize low tuning and heavy djent grooves.  But even at these early stages the songwriting isn’t overly predictable like you may be expecting whenever the djent or progressive genres come up these days, as the layered piano and guitar melodies give off an ethereal and hypnotic atmosphere over top of the heavy foundation.  By the time you reach the fourth track “Redemption” OU has pivoted over to much softer textures, exploring sparser melodies that have hints of dream pop and trip hop, among other styles.  From that point onwards there’s a regular back and forth between metal, pop, rock, and everything in between, and you’re never sure if you’re going to get a soaring pop melody or genuinely heavy riff thrown your direction.  My favorite of these tracks is “Capture and Elongate (Serenity)”, as it goes for some glitchier electronics but opens up after a few minutes into a booming and infectious hook.  Some of the songs don’t really click until a few times through with the tonal whiplash they induce, but there are hooks to each one that kept me coming back for more.  Devin Townsend has also given OU space for every aspect of their instrumentation to reach new heights, and while the combination of the production and writing resembles some of his discography the band still maintains their own nuances.  My only real complaint is with closer “Recall”, which spends too much time on droning repetition and a variation on the opening melody, which makes the album fade out with a bit less energy than I had hoped.

There is plenty to the instrumental work that will draw listeners in, but there’s no getting around the fact that singer Lynn Wu is what really sets OU apart.  She has one of those voices that immediately grabs your attention, and the way the band layers her harmonies gives off a larger than life feel.  Sometimes her pitches get a bit weirder and have some Björk like qualities, while other moments emphasize the ethereal dream pop elements.  Everything is sung in Wu’s native tongue, which also gives some inflections that are fairly uncommon for progressive rock and metal.  In addition to the wide range of pitches, some of the later songs utilize distortion that sound a bit closer to Vocaloid compositions than other singer/songwriters, giving OU a bit more of an alien feel.  Devin Townsend is once worth a mention here, as he contributes singing/screaming on “Purge” that provides some nice contrast with Wu’s much softer pitch.  There’s a lot to take in on the vocal front but it always impressed me, and each time through revealed different layers and details that weren’t apparent at first.

The final track may be a bit of a buzzkill, but OU has still released a stunning effort.  It may prove to be a bit too light for those that really want the metal side of progressive metal, especially after the first three songs, but those that appreciate exploration of softer and pop leaning elements will appreciate the back and forth.  Even with some of the vocal comparisons I can’t think of too many bands OU directly reminds me of and they continue to tap into something unique here.  With album two they’re already operating at a high level, but the door seems wide open for even more experimentation and unexpected ideas.  蘇醒 II: Frailty is available from InsideOut Music.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg