Black and Blood, the sophomore album from Boston death metal juggernaut Soul Remnants, caught me off guard and wound up being one of the surprise packet death metal albums of 2013, standing out with a potent blend of dynamic song-writing, penetrating hooks, and endearing old school death mindset, wrapped in an unmistakably modern sensibility. Alive and kicking since forming in 2003, the experienced band return with another taut batch of high energy, no-bullshit death metal, continuing along the solid pathway established over their first two LP’s. Despite their obvious affection for the meat and potatoes roots of old school American death, Soul Remnants craft a distinctive sound that weaves elements of thrash, melodic death and the occasional blackened and proggy moment into their tough, groove-laden death assault. Third opus Ouroboros comes complete with the kind of dynamic change-ups, versatile guitar work, and razor sharp hooks that helped make Black and Blood so appealing, succeeding as a solid if slightly less impressive follow-up.
Ouroboros hits the ground running and largely maintains momentum across its tight 37 minute run-time. Opener “Mechanical Synapse Modulations” blasts and thrashes with urgency, bolstered by the band’s trademark infectious energy, tight musicianship, and killer old school soloing, beginning the album in a suitably vicious and efficient manner. Skillfully blending technicality with more straightforward chugging bludgeons, I admire the exuberance Soul Remnants consistently apply to their craft. And what they may lack in originality they compensate through intelligent structures and entertaining song-writing, not to mention their penchant for neck-wrecking grooves and tasteful solos. There’s a playfulness and jam-like quality that occasionally infiltrates the musicianship, nicely offsetting the music’s more serious tone. This element is perhaps best illustrated on the engaging prog-death instrumental “Walled City,” a fine showcase from both an instrumental and song-writing perspective, featuring some catchy and beguiling moments.
“Depravity’s Lock” sets off a ’90s Floridian death via Stockholm vibe, pushing the right buttons with its rugged and sinister tone as it trundles forth with some Domination-era Morbid Angel mid-paced batterings, careening towards a thrashy climax. There’s a pleasant accessibility permeating the album, but that’s not suggesting the band can’t get moderately brutal, as everything about their delivery is dripping with genuine aggression, with heavier blasts and frantic explosions peppering the groovier material. Meanwhile, the numerous soulful leads and gripping solos lend the album a strong melodic counterpoint. The ambitious, faintly blackened edge to “Dissolving into Obscurity” features some of the album’s most gripping material, despite being a touch overcooked at seven minutes long. While the stripped back acoustic strums and electrified shredding of shortish instrumental “Decomposition” feels a little unnecessary towards the album’s back-end. Thankfully, Soul Remnants close out Ouroboros in style via scorching closer “False Kingdom of Prophecy,” a bloodthirsty and potent mix of melodic death, pounding groove, and blasty goodness.
Ouroboros may struggle to reach the heights of its immediate predecessor, however, it is by no means a disappointment. Solid and consistent are probably the most obvious yet fitting adjectives to describe Ouroboros, an album that provides substantial entertainment value from front to back. Once again the creative drumming of Colin Conway impresses, while the stellar guitar dueling of Tom Preziosi and Chad Fisher lends the album ample oomph and pizazz. Variety is the name of the axe game here, ensuring the album doesn’t constantly retread its ideas or become stale or monotonous, with complex passages giving way to insidious melodies, thrashy riffs, and hefty grooves. A touch more organic warmth and dynamics would have been welcome, otherwise the production is clean and punchy, and the mix well balanced, including the prominent and impressive bass work of Ryan Murphy, cushioning the guitars and drums nicely.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is that Ouroboros can’t quite match the impact of Black and Blood. However it remains a consistently solid and occasionally very good outing with a fun appeal and plenty of agreeable hooks which will likely find me returning to Ouroboros from time to time. Soul Remnants punch well above their modest profile, continuing to prove with Ouroboros that they remain one of American death metal’s most undervalued acts and best kept secrets in the underground.