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Smoulder : Dream Quest Ends (EP)

A pleasant enough but rather by-the-numbers helping of Epic sword-and-sorcery Doom from Canadian band Smoulder.

I feel to be as fair and democratic as possible I have to break this review into two individual parts. Part one is a review on how 'Dream Quest Ends' functions as an EP and if it delivers to a listener what a well made and thought out EP should. The second part of the review will drift a bit more into what I thought artistically of these most recent efforts by Canada’s Smoulder. Do they have the goods and do they deliver them? 'Dream Quest Ends' is in my opinion what any fan of the band would be searching for in an EP. Those who were swept up and won over in the buzz of 2019’s debut full length album 'Times of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring' will undoubtedly find a bit deeper snapshot into who Smoulder is. So what do I usually look for in an EP? There are, of course many possible answers, but I will lay forth a few here and see how it stacks up:

-Does the EP reveal something about the artist’s creative process? Check. 'Cage of Mirrors' is a cover of a song by Manilla Road who are obviously an influential band in the sound and aesthetic of Smoulder. It’s a look into what kind of music and artists formed the mold that made them, and perhaps an example of what they were listening to in their formative years.

-Does the EP rehash or shine some light on where the band came from and what kind of roots they have? Check. They have included three songs off their 2018 demo showing some of the nuts and bolts of their sound and what their first drive out of the garage was like.

-Finally, does the EP present an opportunity to gaze into the crystal ball and see down the road as to where the band is going? Check. 'Dream Quest Ends' and 'Warrior Witch of Hell' are brand new songs that may give listeners a prophesy of what is yet to come and where the band is heading.

To conclude part one of the review, for a pre-existing lover of the self described Epic Doom Smoulder summons, they will find a seemingly accurate account of what was and what will be from this band. I would say that any of the bands fans and followers would be happy to buy and listen to this EP. For the music Smoulder released, an EP was the proper vehicle to choose and categorically met all the requirements an EP appropriately should.

Swords and sorcery intertwined with doomy, weighty riffs is right up my alley... on paper. That’s what’s wrong with what Smoulder offers up to the listener on both this EP and their debut 'Times of the Obscene And Wild Daring'. On paper they have mystical, fantasy based lyrics, mid-paced to slow churning riffs, and a heavier style of thundering drums. However, music with substance is more than just checking boxes of requirements. It needs drive, inspiration, and that special something. That’s where the band falls short, they fulfill genre particular specifications only on paper. The music lacks pizzazz and grace. Sarah Ann’s vocals have a folky honesty to them that gives them an accessibility but in the end they fall flat. She sound like someone’s next door neighbor singing, not a seasoned performer showing us their creative colors through their chosen medium.

When listening to the title track “Dream Quest Ends” I can hear the influences of bands like Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road. Technically, I would file these two bands under the same section at the record store as Smoulder. At their core, their demographics they are the same. However, when you listen to a band like Cirith Ungol it becomes clear they designed a weird, distinct sound that was undeniably theirs: with a prominent bass guitar heavy in the mix that dances with a tinny crunchy lead guitar, they took their allotted space in the confines of the genre and twisted and squeezed every last drop of artistic room out of it. They checked boxes but that was secondary to their artist expression. A loaf of white bread and a chocolate cake are both by definition baked goods with many of the same ingredients, but who the hell reaches for a slice of plain white bread when there is cake sitting next to it on the counter?

Sadly Smoulder doesn’t bring an abundance of substance or charm in 'Dream Quest Ends'. Fans of their debut will most likely enjoy this EP’s deeper look into the bands past, present and future. For me, I need something with a bit more charisma and a clear, inspired voice of its own.

My final thoughts are these; does Smoulder have the goods? Personally I say no. I like the idea, and love the subject matter, they just don’t deliver anything that exciting, unique, or groundbreaking. They sound very generic, contrived, predictable and trite. There is nothing wrong with their music, I just couldn’t hear that special “something”. Finding meaningful time spinning around on my record player is a cutthroat, no holds barred brawl between masters, giants, and legends of metal, fighting tooth and nail for every play. Smoulder doesn’t have what it takes to compete much less topple the greats of the genre. Maybe they can carry their swords for them or feed the horses, or polish their armor, certainly they know the lingo and culture; they just don't have anything that sets them apart. They don't stand a chance on the gladiatorial arena of my turntable. What does Smoulder deliver with 'Dream Quest Ends'? Well, if you think they have the goods, then they most definitely deliver the bounty in good form, well rested and well fed.

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Reviewer's rating: 5.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Dream Quest Ends
2. Warrior Witch Of Hel
3. Cage Of Mirrors (Manilla Road cover)
4. The Sword Woman
5. Voyager Of The Sunchaser
6. The Queen Is Gone

Duration : Approx. 37 minutes

Visit the Smoulder bandpage.

Reviewed on 2020-07-06 by Chris Murray
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