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Soulburn | ‘Earthless Pagan Spirit’

Soulburn, another one of the side projects from ex-Apshyx members Eric Daniels and Bob Bagchus have returned with their latest offering and follow up to 2014’s ‘The Suffocating Darkness’.

Originally conceived as a side project or ‘off-shoot’ to Asphyx back in 1996 for Daniels and Bagchus as their way to pay homage to the likes of Celtic Frost, Bathory and Venom, Soulburn returned to the fold after a long hiatus in 2013 to continue with their onslaught and seemingly the main focus of their attention at the minute.

‘Feeding On Angels’ is the only one of their previous works I’m familiar with, and it’s a solid piece of work – a twisted slab of intense Black/Death/Doom-whatever in the same strain of the aforementioned acts amalgamated with that recognisable Dutch ruthlessness from that era.

The production duties on ‘Earthless Pagan Spirit’ were handled by Magnus Andersson, currently Bassist for Marduk, are one of the first things that immediately strikes you about this album.

It has a very significant Scandinavian feel as opposed to their debut, much more aligned with the likes of Watain, Necrophobic and indeed Marduk than expected, dropping even more of the Death Metal foundation from which these guys originated.

Tracks such as the opener “Where Splendid Corpses Are Towering Towards the Sun” (what kind of a shit title is that btw?), Mayhem-esque “Howling at the Heart of Death” and “The Torch” showcase the more ferocious side of ‘Earthless Pagan Spirit’.

Chunky bludgeoning riffs from Daniels propped up with Bagchus’ powerful drumming.

Then you have the utterly pointless addition of the generic ‘siren’ female vocals in “Withering Nights” that achieve nothing and just sound completely out of place and disjointed, jarring the otherwise relentless flow of the album.

The outro track of “Diary of a Reaper” is a complete waste of space as well, a ham fisted attempt at a ‘moody’ and atmospheric closer with spoken vocals that serves no discernable purpose.

It’s on the numbers where the band shift gears down a bit though and they incorporate more of the dwindling Doom elements they used to utilize so effectively that the album actually picks up a bit.

Tracks such as the dirging “Spirited Asunder” and extremely powerful “The Blood Ascendant” which begins slow before erupting into a furious and uncompromising colossus.

Vocally I feel the band miss ex-vocalist Wannes Gubbels the most. He brought a sense of depravity to the debut that seems to be missing here. Don’t get me wrong, Twan van Geel does a decent shift, powerful and dominating, but Gubbels was on a different level altogether.

The guitarwork is definitely a highlight on an otherwise generic album; strong punishing riffs and cryptic leads are scattered throughout, but even at that it feels at times Daniels is playing on autopilot.

“Earthless Pagan Spirit” is for the majority, baseline Swedish style blackened death metal interwoven with Doom elements that appears to be moving away from the style of old.

If undaventurous, the album while nothing extravagant, and not exactly pushing the boat out, will appeal to fans of the last one and is certainly acceptable enough for what it is.

But for me they’re heading down a dead end and it’s just another album in the vast sea of Swe-Black Metal clones that so many others do better, and that’s ultimately the most frustrating thing about it, because these guys have such an impressive CV. They’re just capable of so much more.

Time to roughen it up again I think.

3/5 – Chris Cowgill ::: 03/01/16

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