Friday, January 06, 2012

Souldrainer - Heaven's Gate Album Review

Often times a genre gets so rigidly defined that any band playing in it nearly always sounds identical to every other band in the same space. For me, melodic death metal has become one of those genres. Either bands are trying to play classic MDM like early In Flames and At the Gates or they're trying to pull of the more "modern" MDM that bands like Scar Symmetry are playing where there's an added focus on hooks and melodic vocals. It's rare that I run across a band that tosses something new into the mix, which is why Souldrainer was such a pleasant surprise.

The bedrock that this album is build upon is undeniably melodic death metal, but what was constructed on top of that is an exploration of what you can do if you don't have such a laser focus on your target genre. Permeating nearly every song is a gothic metal vibe, attributable to the heavy usage of keyboards, which creates a nice backing atmosphere. This influence goes much further, however, than just some underlying keys. The entire tempo of the album is dictated by the gothic rock aesthetic. The mid-tempo pace of songs and lack of overdone, speedy progressions makes for a soundly, sturdily built album, but with this consistency comes some blandness.

The album consists of 12 tracks and considering that many share a lot of similar traits, there are moments where it drags, which shows that even if you have a fairly unique take on a genre you still need to have diversity within your album or you run the risk of making things more uninteresting than they actually are. Having noted this one shortcoming--the only real one this album possesses--let's further review the elements that Souldrainer used to construct this rock-solid album.

Throughout the course of Heaven's Gate there a number of influences that can be felt, from Paradise Lost to Dark Tranquility and Katatonia to Soilwork (newer era, of course). You won't hear passages that scream out, "That totally sounds like band X during that section," believe it or not, because Souldrainer does what any good band does--they mold their influences into their sound instead of just ripping off what they adore. How often do you hear an album where the influences of the band aren't 100% obvious? It's rarer than you think. So even though you can hear the elements or approaches of other bands, Souldrainer have designed their own album architecture instead of simply copying what has worked for others.

The members of Souldrainer are experienced musicians, so it is not unexpected to see such a solid effort, especially having delivered some relatively decent output in the past, but this reinforces another trait that is more important than many realize--experience. It's something that no doubt contributed to the overall polished and mature sound that this album possesses. Melodic death metal fans, new and old, should take a listen to what Souldrainer are doing. They're not building their music by the established guidelines and because of it, they have created something interestingly different to listen to.


buck09 said...

Sounds pretty good. I'm gonna check them out for sure. Did you by chance check out the band I blogged about recently, Cobra Khan? They have a succesful use of keyboards with a very Soilwork type of sound, but at the same time very unique. I would imagine you would dig them. Let me know what you think.

Rick Gebhardt said...

I was never a huge Cobra Khan fan. They're decent, but don't stand out to me. I wouldn't really ever think of them sounding like Soilwork, though. Cobra Khan is sludgy, not MDM-y....

buck09 said...

I hear ya. I feel their new album is very similar to what you describe Souldrainer as far as there undeniably being MDM influences, yet Cobra Khan is not focused on any genre in particular. It sounds exactly as you describe about molding their influences into their own unique sound, that works well. I think the Soilwork comparison for me is the vocals on the new album and the speed of the instruments. I couldn't figure out what they were sounding like when listening to it, but there was something there saying, "who the hell does this sound like" and I figured it out-Soilwork (for me). So I'm assuming since your not a big fan there's a good chance you haven't given the new album Adversities a good listen. To me Adversities is a rather big departure (progression) from their previous release Helgorithms, which is definitly more in the sludge/stoner realm of genre. Either way, I need to check out Souldrainer. Sounds intriguing, although I am not as big of fan of Katatonia, Paradise Lost style music as a take you for being, which is what this most closely comes across to sounding like based on your review. Good review.