SOAWith connections to one of my favourite bands of the last ten years, Ghost Brigade, I was really excited to hear this album. I was even more impressed when I read the band’s biography, which spoke about their love of nineties death metal, and showing a deal of understanding about what made that a really stand-out decade for the genre. The biography explains that it was the quirks and the evolution of the various sounds of death metal that made that period so special, and then also goes on to detail how the new ultra-technical, vacuum packed anger of  “new” death metal leaves the author cold. Well, I’m with them there. The question remains, can this self-titled platter provide something that evokes the spirit of nineties death metal?

The central questions therefore must be asked. Firstly, is there a solid foundation in extreme metal, and, if that question is satisfied, is there enough a “quirk” to make this stand out from the rest of the packed crowd? Happily, the answer to both of these queries is a resounding “yes”. The pedigree of extreme metal is easy to discern here. There is enough aggression and up-tempo speeds to satisfy the most hardened of denim-clad warriors. Indeed, even though the sound here is often very refined, thanks to an excellent production job (particularly on the lead guitars – the beginning intro to “Faceless” brings the same goosebumps that were evoked by the ethereal, angular guitar work on “The Red In The Sky Is Ours”. Despite having a production that produces astonishing clarity to the sound, there is also a gritty, old-school atmosphere evoked by the main riffing. Those also seeking the ambience and down-beat melancholy produced by Ghost Brigade will not be found wanting here either. To my mind, this album has managed to combine some of the inventiveness of the braver elements of nineties death metal bands, with some of the majesty and introspective feeling of latter day “post-metal” bands. If that last sentence fills you with abject horror, (and to be honest, I have had my fill of shoe-gazing bastards renouncing the power of the riff too), then fear not. This is a work that is mostly about aggression, with a firm foundation in melodic death metal.

If there are criticisms, they are mostly about how memorable the songs are. I’ve had the album for getting on for a month, and it’s had some heavy air play on my lengthy daily commute, and there are about half of the tracks which really stand out, and the other half unfortunately aren’t quite so impressive. That’s not to say that this isn’t a quality package, as the memorable songs are really very good indeed: the sprawling “Burden”, for example, is a minor classic all of itself. As a refusal to play the by-numbers modern death metal game, this is a fine album, which prides itself on the atmosphere and emotion of extreme metal. For that, it must be saluted. A good first effort for the band.

(7/10 Chris Davison)