Into the Obscure: Soulless – Forever Defiant

We all have our dirty metal secrets that we selfishly keep to ourselves, only sharing with a select few close to us. Or alternatively, we incessantly talk up underground gems and spread the gospel to anyone that will listen, as we cherish our slice of underground cred. Into the Obscure aims to right the wrongs and unearth the artists/albums that for whatever unjust reason didn’t get the exposure, appreciation or credit they sorely deserved the first time round.

Some bands are destined to sit on the periphery, toiling away and releasing quality material, without ever making the impact they perhaps deserve. Cleveland’s Soulless is one such band that left an endearing impression across a 15 year recording career from 1998 to 2013. Soulless produced a string of underrated, high octane thrash platters, including perhaps their most accomplished album, 2007’s Forever Defiant. Despite their sporadic recorded output, Soulless remained a dedicated, hard working undreground band, honing their impressive chops with a sound that, while not wholly original, was explosive, memorable, and distinctly their own.

Forever Defiant serves up a concentrated burst of adrenaline, loaded with an avalanche of razor sharp, catchy riffs, resulting in a ball tearing thrash album replete with penetrating hooks and dynamic performances. Taking cues from the classic German thrash scene which spawned heavyweights such as Kreator and Sodom, Soulless adroitly incorporated familiar influences from home and abroad to cultivate their own formula. Toss in blood spattered, blackened remnants and death metal bluster, hints of At the Gates-inspired melodeath, and the modernized aggro execution and beefier sonic sensibilities of modern Swedish thrash acts like Carnal Forge, and the Soulless sound came to fruition. Although I was quite enamored with 2002’s sophomore album, Agony’s Lament, after a five year gap between albums, Forever Defiant found Soulless really hitting their stride, bolstering their ultra tight musicianship and trademark high energy delivery, with sleeker production values, catchier writing, and their strongest batch of riffs put to disc.

Forever Defiant also demonstrated a more dynamic writing streak, with increased technicality, genre splicing, and mild progressive tendencies creeping into their otherwise aggressive, fast and furious delivery. The breakneck pace of Forever Defiant, and steely, vacuum sealed guitar work, ensures the album is constantly powered by turbo-charged engines, however, it’s the smartly orchestrated dynamic shifts, sturdy grooves, plus a tasty smattering of death, black, and melodeath seasoning, that helps maintain interest. The technically muscular material is performed with flair, non-stop aggression, and loads of exuberance. Highlights are plentiful, from the frantic throes and bouncy melodic gallop of opener “What Remains,” to groovy riff monster “The Devil’s Hand,” through to Carcass-inspired thrasher “Betray the Light,” and off-the-chain, wild guitar work on blackened thrasher “Straight to Hell.” The measured pacing and explosive ebb and flow of blackened death romp “As Darkness Dawns” further illustrates the brawn and versatility of their thrash addled sound.

Amidst a consistently high quality batch of tunes, Forever Defiant is a difficult album to find genuine weak links. The stellar guitar work is an obvious standout, with underrated axemen Jim Corrick and Wayne Richards ripping, shredding and blazing through each ferocious cut with a mix of precision and technical prowess, unleashing a bevy of noteworthy riffs, intricate leads, and scorching solos, throwing in a surprisingly melodic or vaguely proggy passage for good measure. Meanwhile, drummer Chris Dora and bassist David Johnson lock down the tight rhythmic foundation and frenetic speeds that are crucial components of the band’s razor wire performances. Perhaps the icing on the cake however, is the terrific vocal work of frontman Jim Lippucci. His brilliantly unhinged, motor mouthed snarls and growls are informed by classic thrash, while possessing a ripping, blackened bite, which adds extra grit and extremity, occasionally recalling Jeff Walker, while avoiding theatrical territory. Lippucci’s deranged delivery, coupled with the album’s speedy compositions and contagious energy, lends Forever Defiant an urgency and liveliness, complimented by infectious, well written songs.

Armed with punchy, crisp tones and a well balanced mix, Forever Defiant is well produced, equipped with an ear-friendly dynamic master (DR 8). Unfortunately Soulless appear done and dusted, leaving behind a small but impressive body of work, with material that punches above the band’s relatively low profile. As Forever Defiant attests, Soulless were a band that scrapped hard in the underground, eking out a robust, highly entertaining career. While hardly groundbreaking, Soulless possessed style, talent, and oodles of character, earning their stripes and remaining an underground treasure of gnarled American thrash.

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