Early in the year, I considered pitching a State of the Genre series. Ezpz, I thought. Lather yourself in creamy melodeath goodness and pump yourself full of thrash for six months, then blast all your thoughts into a word doc for an easy win. What could go wrong? This damn year, that’s what. It’s not that both genres let me down in stunning fashion – it’s that EVERY genre1 let us all down. The office grumbles incorrigibly – “good, but not great” – and more of us subscribe to Madam X’s Least Worst manifesto series daily. And yet the promos spill in by the hundreds, each more banal than the last. Coldbound is no different. The Gale is no different.
It’s hard to fault Pauli Souka, the driving force behind Coldbound, heretofore a messy one-man black metal band with three albums under its belt. A Finn by way of Sweden, he’s simply claiming his birthright. His genetic code compels him to record at least one tired melodeath record in his life. And make no mistake, The Gale is tired. “The Invocation” lurches into life, somber, depressive, and ineffectual. If you’d ever wondered how an Insomnium transition passage would fare as an entire album, look no further. The Gale’s melodic leads immediately struggle to find relevance in its haunted surrounds. Coldbound‘s recipe for success is to task a singular hallmark riff with cutting through the layers of synth, croaks, and too-forward drums. For five minutes, that riff is Coldbound’s first, Coldbound’s last, and Coldbound’s everything. Every passage leads back to that one mediocre cut without purpose or ambition. Worse yet, when the song speeds into a desperately needed up-tempo bridge, that one-riff repertoire looks even more threadbare. Overbearing drum pummeling and looped synth passages command the space, leaving the guitars to play their passenger car, rhythms buried in peace and quiet.
Souka’s deep growls recall Omnium Gatherum’s Jukka Pelkonen, but you won’t find the Finns’ bright, progressive qualities here. This album is all about doom and gloom. Though Swallow the Sun and Novembers Doom’s fingerprints could be dusted off The Gale’s attempts at plodding malice, Coldbound never quite makes those influences work. Songs not only fail to stick, they often impel you to stop listening halfway through. Long tracks better have something to say. Trending over seven minutes with maybe one moment of compelling material – like the Insomnium rip-off close of “My Solace” – is an affront to my dignity as a reviewer. No person, not me, not you, not a real live human being on this over-populated rock, wants to listen to directions centered around same banal riff set in the same deliberate tempo with the same seen-it-before impression for seven minutes straight, nine times in a row. Nearly without deviation, songs strive toward the exact same ends. But unless that goal is to lull me into a Van Winklean slumber through the ages, they fail spectacularly. “The Eminent Light” at least tries to tilt in guest vocals from Paulina Medepona (Jullov), though both the writing and performance are flat-out bad. Meanwhile, the riffs on “Shades of Myself” sound far too close to Winter’s Gate for my liking.
“The Gale” is the only entry of note on the record, breaking out a relatively energetic performance that, though still rooted in cribbed grandeur, forges its own path into blackened climes (even if the riffcraft sorely lacks imagination and the song is still too damn long). I suspected the Souka-handled production would be an issue entering The Gale; Coldbound’s rocky history of garage-tier production ensured a lack of polish. However, Souka’s technique has improved in the interim. A nice lush DR guarantees a far better result than black metal pressed onto potato pancake, and nice Dark Tranquillity synth touch-ups help the textures pop at times. Unfortunately, the job isn’t without blemishes. Too often does the rhythm section turn to guitar soup. Busier sections often become a traffic jam, with the drums smothering the lead riffs and crushing any hope of success.
Melodeath is a genre built on borrowed riffs; I won’t pretend otherwise. But bands like Aetherian and Countless Skies prove that recycled material need not be weighed down by a lack of imagination. Souka can play his instruments, but my jaunts down his back catalog suggested he can’t write compelling music. The Gale does nothing to sway my opinion while failing the originality bar set by his uninspiring black metal career. Even after changing genres, in this year of pain, Coldbound is no different. The Gale is no different.