Written by Westin
Smoulder – Violent Creed of Vengeance
> Epic heavy/doom metal
> Releasing April 21
> Cruz Del Sur Music
Smoulder, to slowly burn and smoke without a flame, is a fitting title for this Canadian band. Their debut album Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring became something of an indie darling for their beloved take on traditional metal in a way that felt both retro and modern. Vocalist Sarah Ann is known as a prolific member of the metal community – she writes reviews for outlets like Decibel and Banger TV, she’s an avid collector of underground music, she’s outspokenly against allowing fascists into the scene – and did I mention she has a band?
Formed in 2013, Smoulder released a demo in 2018, followed up by the aforementioned debut in 2019, and the EP Dream Quest Ends in 2020 which included a cover of Manilla Road’s “Cage of Mirrors”, a haunting tribute to the passing of Mark Shelton, who was a major influence on the band. The band exploded in popularity, at least as much as a small Canadian epic metal band can. In 2022 Sarah and her partner/guitarist Shon Vincent moved to Finland, and announced plans to release new music the following year. The art of stalwart Michael Whelan, most famous for his covers for Cirith Ungol and Sepultura, once again graces the front of the record, which really emphasizes how deeply entrenched in the culture and ethos of the scene that the band is.
Writing and rehearsals were going to be key to ensuring the album could still work after Sarah and Vincent’s move to Finland, so the album was finished before the move so that recording and production could be done as seamlessly as possible in the new country. All things considered, I think it’s been handled fairly well, but it does bring me to my biggest point of contention on the new record – the production. It’s technically an improvement on the older material, but it lacks the same raw rock ‘n’ roll, the same impassioned vibe, that the early releases had, and it also somwhat buries Sarah’s voice beneath the instruments in a way that’s decidedly distracting and honestly a little disappointing. I mentioned the “Cage of Mirrors” cover earlier on purpose, as not only is it a showcase of the band’s influences and approach, but it also gorgeously highlights Sarah’s absolutely enchanting voice, like a sorrowful sorceress smouldering within an abandoned castle. Take the opening title track, which kicks off with a good riff and groove before Sarah jumps in – she’s not completely buried, but whereas before her voice would float on top of the music it now sits slightly behind the instruments.
I’ve learned to live with it however, because this album absolutely fucking slays. The songwriting is markedly improved upon an already phenomenal slate of tracks from the debut, hooks abound, and track progression is top notch. The slightly doomy title track is traded out for the more up-tempo “The Talisman and the Blade”, which features more phenomenal guitar work and a bit more snarl to Sarah’s voice. The drumming and bass-playing must also be commended here and across the album, as the rhythm section is tight and keeps a strong grasp of the pace per each song, helping to underscore the rad lead work. This “A then B” approach to songwriting is smartly used as the key structure for the album, where longer and slower and doomier tracks give way to aggression and grit in a way that feels authentically suited to the album. It’s a tried and true album structure from the past, and it’s very fitting onViolent Creed of Vengeance.
You can hear the band’s influences across the album, from the epic metal of Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, and modern compatriots such as Eternal Champion, you can also find the doom of bands like Candlemass and the NWOBHM doom bands. “Midnight in the Mirror World” is a gallop at a gait’s pace with some beautiful melodic leads to bookend the track. My favourite songs on the LP though are the closing trio – “Victims of Fate” features a great chorus and solo, plus some more of that newfound vocal grit, “Spellforger” is the best of the speedy B tracks with a really engaging main riff and Sarah’s most enthralling vocal performance on the record as she gasps out the fevered chorus that makes my heart skip each time. “Dragonslayer’s Doom” is an epic way to close the album, nine minutes of momentous trudging up the side of a mountain, before a stripped back lull halfway in that builds into a crescendo of verse and chord and bass coalescing into a swirl of doomed despondency at the unconquerable peaks.
Smoulder isn’t done yet, as Sarah has promised to deliver a follow-up EP before the year is done, which when combined with the output of the previous era will double the scant recordings of a band just stepping out into the great wild beyond. I have often internally felt that Smoulder could be one of my favourite bands of all time, yet with nary ten tracks to their name until now it would be difficult to describe them that way out loud. Violent Creeds of Vengeance is an incredible act of momentum that will carry this band into a bright future, one I look forward to being along on the ride for.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although the production design creates a slight hiccup, Violent Creed of Vengeance is a continuation of Smoulder’s commitment to releasing stellar albums with zero filler. The band understands the musical formula perfectly, with a clear through-line that can be adapted as needed. Sarah Ann remains one of the most engaging vocalists in the traditional metal scene and I personally need more of her voice anywhere I can get it.