Soulburn, despite the lack of output over the last two decades, possesses quite the rich history. Starting off as the successor to death/doom overlords Asphyx in 1996 before they returned in 2010, drummer Bob Bagchus adopted the Soulburn name again in 2013 in a project featuring fellow Asphyx member Eric Daniels and Swedish one-man death-metal factory, Rogga Johansson. Johannson split before the recording of 2014’s The Suffocating Darkness because, I would assume, Soulburn is just one band too many for him. Two years later, here we are with the reincarnated band’s second release with Century Media (and third overall), Earthless Pagan Spirit. As Bagchus left Asphyx in 2014 to concentrate on his Venom-and-Bathory-lovin’ baby, was this a wise move?
Once the delightfully-worded “Where Splendid Corpses Are Towering Towards the Sun” launches, you are hit with the stench of old-school blackened death metal that reminds one of the bullet-belts, fingerless leather gloves, and battle vests covered in classic Celtic Frost and Bathory patches. Daniels and fellow guitarist Remco Kreft (also of Grand Supreme Blood Court) maintain a mid-paced tremolo riff throughout most of the song while Bagchus performs a simple drum pattern. Bassist Twan van Geel (Flesh Made Sin) maintains a Venomous sneer throughout the song, retaining clarity and bite. This is not a bad thing for about a minute or two. Six minutes of this, though, shifts the mood from “an interesting tribute to the halcyon days” to “please end already.”
That problem permeates throughout Earthless Pagan Spirit. Beating a riff to death, or stretching a song to the point of tearing, weakens the overall product. “The Blood Ascendant” suffers from overuse of the awesome chorus riff, as well as plodding verse sections. Its seven-minute runtime also diminishes the impact created. “Withering Nights” catches the ear due to the siren calls of an unknown female wailing1, which caught the ear better than about 90% of the material on here. Even closer “Diary of a Reaper,” at only four minutes, feels like it’s plodding on forever, thanks to van Geel and the aforementioned Mysterious Lady of the Windmill talking monotonously over a simple guitar line and drums. Not singing, nor chanting. Talking. It’s a shame, really, as parts of the album, like the opening of “The Torch,” grab the listener convincingly.
The Magnus “Devo” Andersson mastering doesn’t help, either. While the guitars possess bite and heft, the drums sound off, especially the cymbals. The rasps of van Geel cover the instruments like a blanket smothering a fire. But the worst offense lies in the songwriting. Nothing engages like it should. Parts of songs that work repeat to the point of not working anymore. Songs themselves say what they need to, and yet they keep talking ad nauseam et infinitum. The album wants me to raise my fists, but I can barely raise my eyelids open while it’s playing.
And this is why I have a hard time recommending Earthless Pagan Spirit. While there are no musical mishaps, nothing on here begs me to play it again. With the pedigree contained within Soulburn, to say that’s a disappointment underlies just how bored I was listening to it. If you want throwback blackened doom metal, there are better alternatives.