After years of wandering lost in the dark wilderness of black metal’s forgotten realms, extensive sabbaticals, and name changes accompanied with artistic shifts, Soulburn seem to have finally found their comfort zone – and it makes for quite the uncomfortable listening experience in the best of ways. After returning in 2014 in their current form with the impressive The Suffocating Angels, the Demonic Dutch quartet seem hell bent on bringing forth a new dark age, and may our souls be damned. Their latest effort, Earthless Pagan Spirit, is one majestic, evil beast of an album that makes the prospect of a demonic dark age sound quite appealing.
The band’s allegiances may be bound to Satan, but their artistic palette isn’t bound by one singular genre, which makes Earthless Pagan Spirit an intriguing listen. Most tracks oscillate between old school death metal and doom, with regular sprinklings of black metal used to create that haunting, yet seductive, allure all the best devilish music has. And to top it all off nicely, there’s some groove in there as well; all in all, a nice blend of styles which makes for quite a potent concoction.
“When Splendid Corpses Are Towering Towards the Sun’’ kicks things off splendidly, and serves as a promo for what the album is all about as a whole. It starts off as a basic ODSM track before gradually making an excursion into doom-laden realms, followed by some groove with a flourishing of atmospheric black, before returning full circle to its death metal beginnings. “The Blood Ascendant’’ follows a similar structure, albeit differently. Proceedings begin with the band taking the listener on a journey through the doom and gloom, before erupting into a visceral assault of blackened death, followed by another slowed down passage of down, then culminating with some of the most beautifully unsettling atmospheric noise a guitar can make.
“Howling at the Heart of Death’’ sees the band embracing their groove elements for much of the track, as infectious head bobbing riffs take precedence before giving way to the doom metal style the band have perfected. After hearing the first three tracks, you’ll realize that Earthless Pagan Spirit follows a certain formula of shifting between the same genres on every song, but it never grows tiresome as each track contains unique elements which differentiates it from the others. “Withering Heights’’ is the highlight of the album; the blackened death/doom/groove are all present and accounted for, but the addition of clean female vocals provides a welcome diversion and gives some unexpected beauty to an album otherwise rooted in the fouls of the abyss. Like the majority of the tracks on the album, it’s multi-layered and boasts some confident range, but this one adds just a hint of ghostly sparkle to what is undoubtedly a dark, brutal experience.
Closer “Diary of a Reaper’’ is a departure from the rest of the album; it’s light, ambient and spoken word, and the least impressive track to be found, but that’s not to say it’s a bad song; it’s a creepy piece of music that would make for perfect listening at any satanic ritual, and if it was part of a Silent Hill video game it’d send a shiver down many a spine no doubt. That said, it’s somewhat of an anti-climax for what is one of the best extreme metal albums of the year.
But overall, Earthless Pagan Spirit is an essential listen for fans of extreme occult-themed metal, and those who appreciate a bit of diversity in a dark, sonic palette. For a band that’s all about the doom and gloom, here they’ve created an album that’s actually really fun to listen to as a piece of macabre entertainment, as well as an ambitious genre-shifting treat. Hail Satan once again, as he really does inspire some of the best tunes out there.
Earthless Pagan Spirit released on the 18th of November via Century Media. You can secure your copy right here.