Written by: The Administrator
Given that this particular scribe's familiarity with (the reputedly well-acclaimed) Bloodborne verges on nonexistent, the thematic content lurking behind Soulmass' stellar Let Us Pray has zero impact on my experience. That's certainly not a bad thing–the music speaks for itself without the implicit weight of a fan's expectations when it comes to faithful lore.
And damn, does the music ever speak to me. This album has been in consistent rotation ever since I received the promo, effectively holding my January and February listening habits in a fiercely tight and omnipresent stranglehold. One dreams of such albums at the top of the year.
Anyways: Soulmass. A sparse and talented crew, trimmed down from the roster responsible for 2019's (very good) The Weakness of Virtue. Brett Windnagle is responsible for all instrumentation, and Lux Edwards handily handles vocals. Together, they craft top-notch death doom with a penchant for melody and a notable ability to fuse death-y and doom-y component parts in a fashion that feels uniquely seamless. More than just mashing death chugs and growls with slow gloom, Soulmass keep it fresh by flirting with a gothic aesthetic and occasional orchestral flair. A sense of a lived-in world permeates–I do quite enjoy the vocal samples that weave their way into the narrative, setting and reaffirming the stage with a certain melodramatic gravitas. Beyond the borderline funereal bent, Let Us Pray maintains a distinctly melancholic atmosphere that hangs over the landscape like early morning mist.
Soulmass deals in the kind of progressive and varied songwriting that one begins to crave after consuming a steady diet of paint-by-numbers death metal. They know, in short, how to make compelling and unique music. Indeed, despite nominally fitting in the death doom sphere, Soulmass feels remarkably unlike any other band operating under said genre tag. Some cuts herein feel like they drop the doomy ambience altogether. Take the shortest track herein, "Vile Executioner," which serves as a forthright blistering assault. Certainly more vicious than somber.
Opener "A Call Beyond," which handily qualifies for this year's early highlight reel, impressively balances distinct elements. A vocal sample ramps into roiling and churning riffage accompanied by some truly nasty vocal work. Lux's growls are powerful and intense and brooding, lending a strong thread of grim cohesion across the track (and the album's runtime as a whole.) Here, the chorus is gloriously and unexpectedly triumphant, and the lumbering midsection serves as a perfect foil to the eventual symphonic emphasis. At times the guitar is imbued with a sense of urgency that would typically feel out of place in a track that so openly embraces a doomy atmosphere, but here, it clicks. In terms of other standout moments across the breadth, you might as well take off your boots and stay for the long haul. "Sympathy's Desire" features a wonderfully high-energy chorus–the type of chorus that makes you bare your chest and shout along. Again, balance is key, as the back half of the track indulges in some languid melodic meandering before launching back into the furious fray. Later on, "Where The Crow Feathers Fall" takes a more overt step into the gothic gloom, with a tantalizing piano making its mark as the track unfurls. That, of course, is far from all, but taking a moment to discuss all the good bits would result in a review far too gargantuan for reasonable consumption.
Beyond quality composition and (equally) quality individual performances, Let Us Pray sounds really damn good. An album that deals in big riffs and monumental gloom lives and dies by the weight of its production, and here, the in-house job is quite impressive. That says something, given how it stands in direct comparison to Damien Herring's mighty work on 2019's The Weakness of Virtue. Windnagle is arguably a little more subtle in his approach, and it works very well for this new era of the band.
The emphasis on lengthy run times does result in a few tracks that feel like they could use a slight trim, with closer "Nighmares Reign" being the prime candidate. My attention span is perhaps the worse metric by which to measure songs that tickle the fringes of ten minutes, so if you seek out tracks that takes their time, pay no heed to my nitpicking. There's not a bad or even mediocre track on this beast, and the longer cuts notably take variety into account.
With Let us Pray, Soulmass have crafted a wildly compelling album, and one that will almost certainly weather the test of time. While I admittedly listen to a lot less death metal now than I did in the past, Let Us Pray has served to remind how truly magical the genre can be in capable and creative hands. This is escapism at its finest, and again, I say that as someone with no stake in the narrative nor frame of reference. Bottom line: If you enjoy well-crafted death metal with a doomy ambience and a penchant for melody, this absolute gem is most certainly worth yer while. Find Let Us Pray here!
Soulmass can be found:
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.