Written by Kep
Soulmass – Let Us Pray
> Florida, US
> Releasing February 3
Perhaps the coolest thing about the online metal community is how you can talk about music with a person for months, and then one day you’ll realize they’re in a band whose music you’ve already heard and enjoyed. Such was my experience when Brett Windnagle, who I’d chatted with periodically on Twitter for some time, announced preorders for Let Us Pray, and I suddenly remembered that I had listened to Soulmass before and for the first time made the connection that Soulmass was Brett’s band.
And so today I set out to give you an (impartial) rundown on Let Us Pray, the project’s third full-length effort and fourth release overall, and the album is quite an accomplishment. This is the first time that Soulmass has released an LP as a two-person outfit, after the lineup change that followed 2019’s The Weakness of Virtue, and in addition to being self-produced it signals a bit of a shift in influences. While the band’s sound has always been built on a balance between authentic death metal riffage and melancholy doom, Let Us Pray sees the notable additions of plenty of progressive and gothic sounds, with an emphasis on increased amounts of melody.
That balance of full-bore death metal and stately doom is still readily apparent, though, and nowhere more so than in opening track “A Call Beyond”, which is in my estimation the strongest on the record. From its driving main riff to the pit-churning chugfest that follows the first chorus, much of the song is muscular death, but when the chorus arrives the sound executes a deft turn directly into the throes of towering melodic doom with a mournful dirge and grand crashing rhythms. The strength of Soulmass is their ability to execute both sounds in a satisfactory way: for example, fifth track “Vile Executioner” is a tight three-minute death metal jam and its chorus features a melodic guitar line that wouldn’t be out of place in modern Swedish death, while impressive lead single “Below the Lake” keeps things mostly dark and moody throughout its nearly 10-minute runtime.
The in-creeping elements of prog, symphonic, and gothic metal make for some particularly interesting textures, some very in keeping with the album’s overall feel and some drawing instant attention to a sound that’s outside of Soulmass’ established box. “A Call Beyond”, for example, unexpectedly adds a highlight of orchestra synth to a later passage in a way that’s reminiscent of Septicflesh, and it’s an instant pop in the mix during a delightfully wicked moment. Then you’ve got “Sympathy’s Desire”, which includes a proggy synth layer in its beginning section that could’ve been pulled straight off a Dream Theater record, and “Ominous Prayer”, which features a nifty slow-moving synth solo perfectly suited to the song’s fateful atmosphere. The portentous piano opening to “Where the Crow Feathers Fall” is a particularly pleasing gothic touch as well.
If you’re not much of a gamer (or you are a gamer, but you don’t enjoy games where you die 845,384,237 times), then you might miss the theme that ties Let Us Pray together: FromSoftware’s masterpiece Bloodborne. This record commits entirely to embodying the threatening Gothic mood and sinister religious overtones of the game and its lore, conjuring images of gloomy cathedrals with filth-ridden blood cults within their shadows, eternal twilight haunted by the howl of the wind and other fell creatures. Instrumentalist Windnagle accomplishes this primarily with mournful melodic guitarwork, present here in notably greater amount than on their previous releases, and those additional synth-based layers that evoke a religious gravitas. He often juxtaposes simple riffs with following passages of lamenting melody, which stand out as a result. Perhaps his best work on this front happens in closer “Nightmares Reign”, which features an eerie descending line over its chorus, a gorgeous solo piano passage near its middle, and weeping harmonies in its back half.
Vocalist and lyricist Lux Edwards is particularly impressive across the record, using their stentorian roar’s massive growling presence to bring some deliciously poetic lyrics to life. They even add plaintive cleans to the album’s denouement, layering them beneath harshes to great effect in the final stretch of “Nightmares Reign”. The lyrics are wonderfully dark and jump off perfectly from Let Us Pray’s actual Bloodborne quotes—lines from the Fishing Hamlet Priest and Vicar Amelia sampled at the beginning of “A Call Beyond” and “Ominous Prayer”. Here’s a sample from “Sympathy’s Desire”: “Oh blessed be her love for thee / Chained to a place; designed for grace / A beckoning curiosity / Will liberate and seal your fate”.
Despite its many enjoyable qualities, Let Us Pray does have its share of flaws. The production is generally good but feels a bit thin; understandable considering the record is self-produced, but it really does miss the weighty solemnness of earlier LP The Weakness of Virtue, which was produced by Damian Herring. There are times when the longer tracks get a bit directionless and lose their excitement. And while the majority of the album’s performances are quality stuff, there are moments, especially in short bursts of repeated notes, where the guitars can ride the front of the beat so much that they feel out of time. That’s the sort of thing that tends to stand out to my classical musician brain more than most listeners’ ears, though, so feel free to take my words with a grain of salt.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s a lot to love about this newest offering from Soulmass, and much of it comes down to the band’s ability to create an immersive soundscape suited to its source material. Credit where it’s due: this is good death/doom, and the band’s emphasis on new gothic and progressive elements shines. Let Us Pray is an ambitious record, one that impressively mostly lives up to its aspirations, and it’s well worth your time.