Soulmass - Despairing Fates - (8.5/10)
Published on October 3, 2014
Do you like Bolt Thrower but wish they had even more groove to their ground ‘n’ pound? Do you like the downcast aesthetics of Paradise Lost and Pallbearer but feel their depression needs some aggression? Need an excuse to visit that sexy new chiropractor of yours? Looking for a non-invasive procedure to pulverize that pesky kidney stone? If you answered any of these in the affirmative then, ladies and gentlemen, the solution to your problems is at hand: Soulmass.
Somehow managing to meld the contradictory elements of being both abrasive and melodic at the same time, Florida’s Soulmass seems to have put in practice the alchemical principle of solve et coagula (‘to separate and join together’) insofar as their sound initially comes across as a testosterone-fuelled, if occasionally roughly hewn, hybrid of Bolt Thrower, Asphyx, Paradise Lost and Wooden Stake before these disparate influences gradually mesh together into a unified whole that is as heavy as it is vibrant. Equally content to break your bones as they are to broaden your horizons, the duo of vocalist/lyricist Bryan Edwards (ex-Seven Kingdoms) and multi-instrumentalist Brett Windnagle (Lascaille’s Shroud) just seem to have a natural flair for this style. When things get heavy they get really heavy, and when they get all demure and melancholy on our sorry asses they make your average doom band sound positively chipper by comparison. Some people are born with spoons in their mouths, others, it would seem, with music on their minds. While the rough outlines of their influences are clear from the get-go they tweak and twist things just enough to give each song its own identity.
Whether it’s the authoritative groove ‘n’ grind of the Bolt-Thrower-by-another-name opener “In Fate’s Thralldom,” the doom and gloom of “Hollow” or the rhythmically slamming “Crushed by the Bramd,” each and every track on here is a hulking monument of doom/death that simply demands respect. Amplification seems to be the name of the game here, with the band’s approach to songwriting (note: not sound) reminiscent of Dechristianize-era Vital Remains insofar as there seems to have been a concerted effort to make the songs as huge as possible (in terms of both the quantity and the bite of the riffs), while the production has that same in-your-face quality heard on the likes of Strapping Young Lad’s Alien and Yyrkoon’s Occult Medicine. The low end rumble is simply massive and when they give it free reign, as they do on “Crushed by the Bramd” and “Chronicles of the Abysswalker,” you’d swear they kick up enough of a storm to knock the planet off its axis.
Despairing Fates is much more than a mere pursuit of decibels however, as diversity is also a key feature of the band’s sound. Never playing things entirely straight, they often ramp up the speed quotient far beyond what the likes of Bolt Thrower and Asphyx usually operate in and, to help offset some of the caveman aesthetics on here, they’re not above chucking in a fair amount of technicality (“Keeper of Cowardice”) and even the odd female vocal embellishment (“Throne of Want”). The latter is also important in terms of guiding the narrative thread that runs through the album. The band tells me it’s based on the lore of the Dark Souls video games but I’m not a gamer so I can’t really comment on this particular aspect of the album. On a purely musical level though, Despairing Fates is a beast of an album: inimitably composed, played, paced and produced. It ticks all the right boxes and can easily wipe the floor with most of their more well-known peers.
A heartfelt and, thankfully, successful IndieGoGo campaign was launched to support this project and at the time of this writing the target had already been exceeded by 37%. It’s heartening to read how the band basically put everything on the line for the love of their art and to see fans responding in kind. Grassroots support at its best!
Despairing Fates will be made available digitally via the band’s Bandcamp page on October 31, with physical copies set to follow shortly thereafter. Be sure to also visit the Masters of Metal Productions site for updates.