Soothsayer – Echoes of the Earth Review

In the 80s and early 90s, as metal was sloughing off its reliance on traditional blues and hard rock structures and splintering into the thrash, black, death and doom forms we recognize today, there were a myriad of acts that valued experimentation, atmosphere and weirdness over technical skill. Extreme music was pushed and stretched into new shapes that were often ugly, sometimes on purpose, sometimes because the musicians lacked the ability to make it otherwise. I can listen with my contemporary ears and appreciate, even enjoy things like Paul Chain Violet Theatre, Unholy or Winter’s landmark Into Darkness, but I often wonder if I would like them even a little bit if they were released today. Would that charming looseness of yesteryear just sound sloppy? Punk and hardcore went through a similar break from tradition, getting rougher and more extreme until it was cross-bred with metal to form early sludge. It was unrefined, and that was the point. Ireland’s Soothsayer is an “atmospheric” sludge doom band that does their level best to channel those simpler times when extremity and heaviness didn’t always needor wanttechnicality. Does their debut Echoes of the Earth capture feral lightning in a bottle, or is it just clumsy?

When thinking of how to describe Soothsayer’s primitive sound, I thought if the band were a people, they’d be advanced enough to build a pretty mean henge, but they’d definitely still be eating their enemies to steal their battle ability, and if a farmer brought their shaman a vegetable that grew weird, they’d probably worship it. The companion pieces of intro “Fringe,” a sufficiently creepy layering of muffled, ritualistic sing/speaking, baying canids and a chanting lament, along with knuckle dragging first song “Outer Fringe” tell you everything you need to know about Echoes of the Earth. This is noisy, ramshackle sludge and proto death doom with a vocal performance by one Líam Hughes that goes for fearful, primeval power over subtlety. There is variety in his performance, but the overall impression is a stream of wild-eyed shouting, flying spit and popping veins. His performance is front and center throughout and furthers the throwback vibe of the album considerably.

Echoes of the Earth can be a taxing listen. It has a pleasing grittiness, and there are subtleties that reveal themselves over multiple listens, but that doesn’t keep the overall experience from feeling one-note. High points, like the crashing wave death doom of “War of the Doves” and the clean guitar mid section of “Cities of Smoke” are smoothed back down by overly simple riffing and Hughes’ ever present shouts in the same songs. Closer “True North” trades lackadaisical stomps and blackened blasts until settling into a more engaging melodic slow build to the end, which brings back the found sound creepy spoken word of the intro. The album ends in the same trance-like state in which it began, and I find myself appreciating these abstract bookends more than I often do.

The true highlight of Echoes of the Earth is ten minute track “Six of Nothing.” The opening murky guitar squalls and early simple riff aren’t bad, but they don’t give much indication that by the end of the song, Soothsayer will bring a surprising amount of emotional catharsis to an album that has been mostly monotone. Somewhere around the three minute mark, the intensity slowly ratchets up, as does a more precise guitar performance. That’s not to say it’s intricate, just effectively melodic as a counterpoint to the ugly sludge. From there, the song keeps surprising, with a clean choral flourish and a huge finish. If this kind of range were displayed throughout Echoes of the Earth, it would definitely find its way into my regular sludge rotation.

Ultimately, Soothsayer’s debut uneasily straddles the chasm between old school, ramshackle vitality and a more layered, contemporary approach. Fans of sludge doom will find some solid moments and flashes of potential, but Echoes of the Earth can also be a slog. It’s not bad, but its rough edges distract rather than charm.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity
Releases Worldwide: April 9th, 2021

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