Wretched Soul from Kent launched this album at a recent show where they supported Mercenary and Omnium Gatherum. I was there, and was struck by the vigour and vivacity of their performance. The energy outweighed the cohesion of the music, which was loud, brash and technically strong, but there was an amalgam of styles which suggested that the ingredients were more important than the finished product.
The start of the opening track “Where Shadows Ride” suggests a healthy dose of thrash metal. The catchy riff stands out. Whereas on stage it had all been Donner and Blitzen, the constituent parts here are more distinguishable. This doesn’t do it many favours. The chorus sounds like classic power metal, which I suppose matches the track’s title. But with all the accompanying fury and ferocity and the album’s fire-filled artwork, I cannot imagine that Wretched Soul really wanted power metal, unless it was to achieve an epic feel. That’s not the result. Wretched Soul seem most at home when they’re playing old-school thrash metal. “Summon the Hunter” is stronger instrumentally but again is watered down by the clean chorus. It’s a shame because it’s hard-hitting, instrumentally intricate and the screams are impressive. It’s not the height of sophistication structurally. That doesn’t matter. The band raise the atmosphere of battle and war. The title track “Veronica” is a story. There is the suggestion of an epic tale, but it seems to be at odds with the screams and technical riffs. The guitarist is playing by himself and doing it well. It’s on a separate level. Persistently the track steamrollers on, the story progresses and finishes without being brought together musically. In fact the album just starts again where it left off with “Undying War”. The singer growls and cries “Rise and Fight” in a power metal vein. The instrumental juggernaut continues to do its own thing. Not only is this album disjointed, apart from the blood-curdling screams it’s a bit limp-wristed in its recorded form.
The potential is there but the first four tracks do not do justice to it. It does get better, mainly because Wretched Soul stick to the task and atmosphere that they seem to want to create. “Wounded Illusion” is a piece of chunky and hard-hitting classic metal. The vocals are off-key at one point but largely this track, which picks up in pace and intensity, packs power and punch. It borders on a template but there is mobility and excitement in it. The best track on this album for me is “Black Wings of Treachery”. The guitar work is deep and consistent with the blackened death tone of the track. This is the first time this co-ordination has worked properly. “Black Wings of Treachery” proves what Wretched Soul can do. It’s spoilt slightly by a weak and unnecessary power chorus but overall it’s uncompromising and atmospheric. Unfortunately “The Unmaking” reverts to a pedestrian song type of the worst kind, even with the band’s energy thrown in, but at least the album ends well with the firebrand thrash of “Dash to Destruction”. The drum work sets the pace and holds the image together. This thrashing style suits Wretched Soul so much better than trying to be everything.
As a whole, this album doesn’t work for me. Wretched Soul are better live than in recording, although even live I thought that they need to sort their thinking out. At times their music comes across as a series of separate projects, which don’t hang together and some of which even negate the positive effects of the rest. In my view, Wretched Soul need to think a step further, decide what they want the finished product to sound like and aim at that. There’s potential here on “Veronica”, for sure, but if there’s going to be a concept, then the music should uniformly reflect it. That doesn’t happen here.
(5/10 Andrew Doherty)