Artist: Lee McKinney
Album Title: In The Light Of Knowledge
Label: Sumerian Records
Date of Release: 24 September 2021
I don’t even know where to start with this review as there is so much to say. However, maybe I should begin with the revelation that I know next to nothing about Born Of Osiris. This is entirely relevant because Lee McKinney is the guitarist for that entity, a band that has been in operation since around 2003, releasing eight albums in that time. And I know nothing about them, except that I quickly discarded them at the beginning because they were described as a metalcore band. Those that know me, will know that I have a hard time with most genres that have the word ‘core’ associated with them. And, nearly twenty years ago, I’ll freely admit to being less open-minded than I am now.
Listening to a few songs off the latest record as context for this review, I will admit that I might have made a mistake because if ‘Angel Or Alien’ is anything to go by, Born Of Osiris have the ability to pen a catchy tune that’s also heavy, tight, and technical.
The next matter of relevance requires my soapbox. Having located it, and perched up high, I can begin. I have lived through grunge and survived. I have lived through ‘nu-metal’ and survived. I have also lived through the age of ‘solos aren’t cool anymore’ and survived. So I will sure as hell not be beaten by the latest worrying trend in heavy music circles, the obsession with brass and the saxophone which, although technically a woodwind instrument, belongs in the ‘urgh’ pile alongside trumpets and horns. I fully appreciate that, to some, this is an incredibly unpopular opinion, but I stand by it. Personal taste leads me to declare that I have yet to hear any sax or trumpet solo that sounds anywhere near as good as a guitar. There are a very few bands that can get away with it, but these are rare exceptions that prove my rule.
Why am I blathering on about this? It’s because I’m faced, once again, with an album by a musician that I regrettably know very little about and who, like many around him, want to embellish their music with a saxophone at points. Immediately three percentage points off the final score for the latter, but thanks to the former, it gives me a chance to further broaden my horizons which is a pleasant trade-off.
The three percentage points off for the use of a sax is not as arbitrary as it might sound on this occasion because what ‘In The Light Of Knowledge’ demonstrates is that Lee McKinney is an incredibly talented guitarist. He can make the instrument sing, as he proves within songs on this new record. So, given that, why not let his guitar do all the talking? Why let a sax into his vision? The answer is simple and were it not for the fact that I am so militant in my views, I’d recognise it more graciously. The sax gives the music a different texture, a different flavour, and more variety, something that instrumental music can often need in order to succeed.
The first time we hear the sax is within the title track and, admittedly, it is used very sparingly and, dare I say it, in a sensitive and positive way. See, there’s personal growth right there! Move away from my obsessional issues and this is a stunning composition, where McKinney’s lead guitar licks and melodies are so light, breezy, and beautiful. They are also relentless, barely stopping for the entire duration of the song. The tone is similar to that which he uses within Born Of Osiris material, but put to a more delicate, less heavy backdrop and it sounds even more delightful and effervescent to these ears. Gentle swathes of synths and piano notes add to the soundscape, as does sharp drumming and a bass that’s so rich and warm that it makes me tingle.
If anything though, there are even better tracks to be heard, including the utterly magnificent opener, ‘Crystal Song’. Oh my word, the lead melodies produced my the magical fingers of McKinney are breathtaking; immediately memorable, hummable, and they plant a great big grin on my face. It’s like happy pop metal, thanks to more delicate synth and piano melodies juxtaposed by the sparing use of djent-like chugging heavy notes. This song hits me right in the feels.
Speaking of feels, the same can easily be said of the equally mesmerising ‘Highmountain’. Beginning with more pronounced electronic sounds, it isn’t long before a driving drum beat is joined by McKinney to allow an initially repetitive lick resolve into ultra-melodic territory, the kind that makes me melt. Allowing himself to play around more loosely with less structured solos, McKinney shows that he is a master in technique and feel, whilst creating a song that has the power to move me. In a way, it has the unspoken qualities of a ballad and it’s quite beautiful.
The great thing about this record, however, is that there is variety to be heard. The album may only last for what feels like a fleeting 28 minutes, but it’s nevertheless an interesting ride. ‘The Reason’ sees McKinney letting loose his considerable skills with an acoustic guitar atop a much more ethereal, and dreamlike composition. Or how about ‘Vituvian Park’ which doesn’t even feature a guitar for the first third of the song and when it does enter, it accents the soothing minimalist, electronic sounds with real subtlety until the final sequence where we are treated to really chunky stop-start riffs, a cool distorted lead line, and a haunting sax.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a song like ‘Stormrage’. The opening is a chaotic flurry of insane technique, where dampened notes collide with heavy djent and technical death metal overtones. But even then, there’s room for a gorgeous melody to enter whilst the chug continues in the background. The sax is most prominent within this heavier, meatier track and whilst I’d have preferred it to not be there at all, especially within the rather discordant closing moments, but I have got used to it and made my peace with its inclusion. It’s just too good a song to hold that against it for to long.
And that’s really the story for this entire record. It is just so good, that you can forgive just about anything. ‘In The Light Of Knowledge’ is one of those albums that hits you right out of the gate and then continues to hit you. Time and time again I have listened to the whole record over the past few days and even though it was an instant saccharine hit of modern melodic instrumental from the first listen, I am not even close to becoming bored of it. In fact, the more I listen, the more I take it to my heart. Yes, I enjoy some of the most brutal, dark, and morbid music that the underground can produce. But occasionally, we all need to be reminded that there is a time and place for melodic beauty and a sense of playful fun. The fact that Lee McKinney has some insane technical ability, as well as a demonstrable flair for songwriting only adds to the enjoyment I derive from this release. Sax or no sax, ‘In The Light Of Knowledge’ is special and I hope as many people as humanly possible hear it and join me in half an hour of sheer unadulterated melodic magic.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%
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