REVIEW: SOULBURN – “Earthless Pagan Spirit”
Soulburn has quite a unique story. The band has its origins in the first half of the 1990’s, when longtime Asphyx members Eric Daniels (guitars) and Bob Bagchus (drums) released ‘Feeding on Angels’ parallel to their main band – which, sources say, transitioned from the name Asphyx to Soulburn and vice-versa for three times – achieving little exposure on the death/black/doom metal scene at the time. The guys ended activities in 2000 but came back in 2013 with the moniker To the Gallows, mainly pursuing a sound similar to that of old Bathory and Venom. It was only in 2014 (when things became less confusing, thank god) that Soulburn was finally consolidated with Daniels, Bagchus and new members Remco Kreft (guitars, Xenomorph, ex-Abscess) and Twan van Geel (bass, vocals, Legion of the Damned, Flesh Made Sin, ex-Sauron), who released ‘The Suffocating Angels’ – a very decent output for the death/doom genre.
As confusing as their history may be, the kick-ass abilities and instrumental and songwriting qualities of these dudes are not. Soulburn is as evil as it gets when it comes to death/doom metal and, allied to a few pinches of black metal here and there (definitely thanks to the aforementioned Bathory and Venom), are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. True, they have been around since 1996 in one way or another, but it was not until recently that they’ve encountered their true identity. ‘Earthless Pagan Spirit’, the third full-length album by the Dutchmen, will be unleashed via Century Media Records on November 18th, and will make your spine shiver.
The album borrows the most crushing, pestilent and predatory characteristics of the death, doom and black genres and mixes them into a vile and dirty experience, as can be seen right from the first chords of opener “When Splendid Corpses Are Towering Towards the Sun”. The song delivers a satanic and vastly disturbing atmosphere, illustrating well the chaos that is to come. “The Blood Ascendant” follows in a gloomy manner, with relentless slow leads and a perfect rendition of the doom genre in its first half, only to completely explode into a fast-paced thriller by the mid portion. Killer. “Howling at the Heart of Death” continues with the dense atmosphere and shows a slower side of the album; while it’s heavy and almost funeral-like, it also delivers a powerful experience. Twan van Geel performs especially well in the track.
As I said, ‘Earthless Pagan Spirits’ features only the cream of the crop in terms of the genres played by the band, and this is clearly seen in “As Cold as Heavens Slain”, “Withering Nights” and “The Torch” as well. The alignment and changes of pace between old-school death metal and a mix of black and classic doom metal help the songwriting and track-by-track heterogeneity tremendously, which makes for a rich and rewarding journey through the depths of the underground. “Spirited Asunder”, the longest track of the album, manages to captivate with great doomy passages, like the featured solo, while never losing the brutal and heretic elements of black and death metal. Closer “Diary of a Reaper” is the most bizarre tune of the album, featuring only wind sounds, ritualistic drums and cult-like choirs that will most likely make the unwary listener wet his/her pants. A beautifully-crafted end to an amazingly worthy album.
Daniels and Bagchus are masters of their craft and have maintained the aura and evilness of Soulburn’s spiritual brother Asphyx, while adding a few twists of their own. These guys are not kidding around, I can guarantee you that. This work is an awesome addition to the extreme metal scene, and most definitely their best. Stellar performances, spot-on background atmosphere and a fired-up attitude turn ‘Earthless Pagan Spirits’ into a criminally good album, well worth checking out. I had my death/doom ‘best of’ list almost done by the time of the review, but since listening to this, I will have to make a few changes in the ranking. And I bet you will, too.