CD Review – OU – One

There’s a line of thought that Progressive Metal has become somewhat anchored in recent years with too many bands having their eye’s only being a part of that genre with all its associated clichés and mannerisms whilst neglecting the element of progress that is inherent in the term. Certainly, there are some bands around who have continued to push at the genre’s boundaries a little bit and to this phalanx we can safely add the name of OU (it is pronounced “O”).

Hailing from Beijing, China, the quartet are reportedly the first Chinese band to be signed up to a Western record label, in this case InsideOut Music, which is now a subsidiary of Sony. In an often over crowded market place, the band have no need to merely be presented as something exotic as they exude much musical personality, flair and style to carry themselves beyond that. To the usual progressive metal template, they have added a sheen that might include a layer of jazz now and then, maybe a little electronica too, and in allowing the lead singers voice full reign without becoming “shouty” they have managed to give themselves another instrument to play with. It is quite a vocal performance from Lynn Wu. Her voice is not really fixed at any point, as she leaps acrobatically from something primeval to something the complete opposite with ethereal highs. Her vocal range is really quite astonishing.

The band was formed by drummer and songwriter Anthony Vanacore, who moved to the Beijing area more than eight years ago, although the idea behind OU came from each member having a long history of playing in local house bands but now wanting new challenges to facilitate their growth as musicians. Vanacore would go on to recruit talented guitarist and fellow house band veteran Jing Zhang, as well as highly sought-after bassist Chris Cui, with the three of them laying the initial groundwork for the song structure and creative approach. Finding the vocal talents of Lynn Wu both complemented and expanded on the others aims. “When we did the recording process, what was great was allowing Lynn to interpret these already written melodies. I would put the tones to something like a MIDI piano and let her create from there,” says Anthony Vancour, adding; “What I love is that she can be so expressive with her voice. It can go from very sweet and serene, to a much deeper rasp.”

The song Travel gets things off to a driving start, with a cascade of punchy notes that transfigures in to something much more electronic and off the wall, as Wu’s voice lends dextrous free reign within the power of the band as the music rises to it crescendo with crashing drum beats. The next track, Farewell, is again laden with the quality of Wu’s voice, as it races through crooning moments to something operatic, from pop to grunge without seeming to let up. Next comes Mountain, a dramatic piece that again races through a variety of styles, from pop to djent sprinkled with a generous drizzle of jazz. Ghost is almost akin to an interlude, something like giving your ears chance to have a breather, before the dramatic bombast of Prejudice comes crashing in. Dark continues the energy levels with a high-pitched opening that presages a real corkscrew of a tune that is relentless and ever-shifting. The closer, Light, has a backstory. Anthony Vancour explains; “In Beijing, there was a club called DDC that hosted a lot of underground acts. A friend of mine did this monthly event there called ‘Creative Composer’s Collective’ that would bring in all of these various composers, and everyone involved would write a tune. So, when I participated, I actually wrote the instrumentals for ‘Light’ then. Originally, all the vocals were written for a horn instrumental, and I thought ‘what if I swapped out the horns for a vocal performance.’ Lynn added her own lyrics and it became what it is now”. That is a fragile otherworldly piece of atmospheric daydream.

It is important to note that this is very much a band effort. Interacting with Lynn Wu are three musicians as capable as you could ask for. They give the album a lot of its feel. The guitarist is cutting, the bass playing driving, the drums clattering and skitter-scattering. Collectively the sound is multi-faceted, with the group keen to emphasise the dynamism of the songs. The production helps give the music some of its ethereal feel, often sounding fragile and sharp, like a walk on a freezing day on the mountains. At times it is a sweet-sounding record, at others muscular and inattentive. It is mysterious and playful, with an impish quality. Some of the time it is extremely difficult to discern what is being sung, in part due to the language and also because of the number of effects applied to the voice, which even then might be drawn down in the mix to become an instrument in itself. This is an always interesting and promising album that should appeal to the more adventurous of progressive metal fans.

Lynn Wu – Vocals

Anthony Vanacore – Drums, Prod

Jing Zhang – Guitars

Chris Cui – Bass

1. Travel 穿 (05:54)

2. Farewell 夔 (04:12)

3. Mountain 山 (04:18)

4. Ghost 灵 (03:34)

5. Euphoria 兴 (07:19)

6. Prejudice 豸 (04:31)

7. Dark 暗 (07:17)

8. Light 光 (04:05)

Release date: 6th May 2022

Label: InsideOut Music

Formats: Ltd. CD Edition, Gatefold black LP, Digital Album

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