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Soothsayer : At This Great Depth (EP)

Brief but extremely rewarding, Soothsayer's second EP leaves you wanting more.

Soothsayer were one of those bands who took us a bit by surprise in 2015, with the unheralded appearance of debut EP 'The Soothsayer'. That came squalling across the Irish Sea like a particularly determined storm, both powerful and fresh, and with a surprising maturity for an initial offering. Less of a surprise, though, after looking in a little more detail: though it was their first communal venture, most of the musicians had several years experience, with three of them coming from sludgy Noise/Doom unit ═weri˙, and another from Death Metallers Days Of Night. Nonetheless, the debut largely eschewed these older influences and struck off in a new blackened Atmospheric Doom direction with commendable proficiency.

2016 saw them returning to the studio for this follow-up, recorded "live with minimal overdubs", and getting a label release as part of the welcome and steadily-expanding Doom section of the Transcending Obscurity roster. 'At This Great Depth' gets a similar presentation to its predecessor, with a four-panel matt digipack again illustrated by vocalist Liam Hughes, but this time with an accompanying eight-page booklet including the lyrics to both tracks. It's functional rather than lavish, and perhaps a little too understated to catch the eye of a random browser - a pity, maybe, though the minimalist approach could well be deliberate.

Indeed, given the fiercely individualistic and virulently anti-system sentiments carved into the lyrics, I'd be unsurprised if that was exactly the case. This is no 'We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago' lament, and Soothsayer aren't willing to go gentle into that good night: these slabs of controlled fury howl for the violence of natural justice as a vengeful precursor to creating something better. And Hughes' powerful delivery - with a harsh vocal somewhere between Death-growl and Post-Metal bellow, complemented by more atmospheric cleans, whispers, semi-spoken parts and choral backing - is an excellent vehicle for getting that message across.

It doesn't hurt that the musicians behind him know exactly what they're doing, whether building a layered atmospheric backdrop, or unleashing a tempestuous wall of sound. The twin guitars deftly play off against each other at either side, while drums and bass both get a decent space of their own at the centre of the soundstage, with some effective panning where necessary. It's a quality piece of sound engineering that really does capture the 'recorded live' feeling.

As far as the material goes, it's almost three distinct pieces, with the lengthier opener 'Umpire' split into a moody, almost tribally ritualistic introduction that takes up most of the first seven minutes, before launching into a pounding Black/Doom crescendo that near-relentlessly determines the pace for the remaining nine. A few pauses for breath along the way punctuate it nicely and keep things from getting stale before the downbeat whispered finale. On the flipside, figuratively speaking, the eight-minute 'Of Locusts & Moths' gets stuck straight into an eerie, cavernous lament - and though it then amps back up to a more Black Metal centrepiece, the closing minutes are an exquisitely galloping Metal extravaganza that's a fast but otherwise near-perfect ringer for a Trad stomp.

If I was reaching for a comparison, I guess I'd put Soothsayer somewhere between the atmospheric feel of Darkflight and the grimier, sludgy tones of Eibon, especially since neither of those shy away from going uptempo at will. And that, really, is the only caveat, and a common enough one with any Black/Doom combination: some bands attempt to meld the two into a consistent blend, others prefer to contrast alternating sections of the two styles. 'At This Great Depth' very much takes the latter approach, and makes it work effectively enough that it's worth considering, even if that's not your usual cup of tea. No criticism there from me - if I could muster any complaint at all it would simply be that it ends too soon. Literally: Soothsayer's debut showed all the potential they needed to, and it really felt like that should be a springboard to a full-length demonstration of it. In that sense, a shorter second EP comes as a slight disappointment, tantalisingly brilliant with what it actually offers, yet a little short of the full statement it could have been. That said, it's not particularly fair to second-guess what was possible at the time, and you could just as easily argue that leaving fans hungry for more is no bad thing - if nothing else, it backs up the strengths of the first EP, and proves they were no lucky happenstance. So, I seriously recommend checking this mini tour-de-force out, and hoping that that's encouragement enough to see the next big step, next time around.

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Reviewer's rating: 8.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Umpire
2. Of Locusts & Moths

Duration : Approx. 24 minutes

Visit the Soothsayer bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-02-12 by Mike Liassides
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