SOULCASTER – Maelstrom of Death and Steel (2020)REVIEW

Predictably directional yet ultraviolent storm fronts, a sheltered supercontinent where classes are defined by the color of their eyes, magick bonds between folks and very real spirits, and honor-powered weapons that’d wound the soul yet not necessarily rend the flesh… The extremely detailed worldbuilding of Brandon Anderson‘s The Stormlight Archive series of high fantasy novels presents magic as if it were a matter of known science and deals with social caste and societal ills as if they were inevitably the same no matter the fantasy. As a popular author who’d had the honor of finishing the final volume in the Wheel of Time series there is no question of his grasp on set-and-setting, though it is a bit surprising more traditional heavy metal bands began using the world of Roshar for inspiration. Sure, who reads? Belgium based musician Andreas S. certainly does and it is clear he has studied the lore of the first book, The Way of Kings (2010), in some substantial depth when sourcing inspiration for his quite recent epic heavy metal band Soulcaster. The (for now) solo project’s debut EP ‘Maelstrom of Death and Steel‘ offers rollicking adventure metal at a speedy click, echoing down hills its surreal-yet-empowered gallop with a surety that’ll undoubtedly inspire true heavy/speed metal fanatics.

Though the inspirational fiction in hand is fairly new much of the musical inspiration in this case is fairly obviate as Soulcaster‘s sound is much like the actual soulcaster device: Powered by gems. Yep, that is as cheesy as I’m going to get here but, seriously the spirit of bands like Brocas Helm, Manilla Road, Slough Feg are fairly universal drivers for this sort of stomping n’ hall-filling stuff which is impassioned via melodic-yet-distant vocal lines and upward traipsing guitar climbs. I don’t personally hear more than maybe a scant bit of Brocas Helm‘s vocal arrangements in the music but these are the suggested main influences alongside modern retro metal acts such as Visigoth and Eternal Champion both of which are a bit more obvious inspiration for vocal lines and the ‘epic’ heavy metal pacing. ‘The Armor of Ire’ is all over this thing in particular but the sound and the riffs are surely something else via a reverb-widened drum sound and somewhat minimal but effective guitar layers which speak to the mid-80’s speed-to-power metal evolution in Europe. On my end I hear Defender‘s ‘City ad Mortis‘ across the board as well as the spirit of Blind Guardian‘s ‘Battalions of Fear‘ and I make each comparison with at least a couple decade’s worth of love for each. The pace is a big part of the 80’s heavy metal feel here and I’d say it is more Omen than it is Magnabolt, mid-paced but still feels like there is a speed metal guitarist at the helm even if he never quite goes there. I see some great potential for this project to either grow into more traditional melodic devices and keep their ghostly distance, or for that speed metal side to strike a bit harder and aim for something a bit more anthemic.

In terms of lyrical content each of the five songs here bears homage to at least three protagonists of The Way of Kings alongside pieces that set the narrative in description of battle and the greater setting of Roshar. “The Truthless of Shinovar” is the title of Szeth-son-son-Vallano the heroic assassin of kings and his stature is represented by a full gallop number, probably the most fist-shakingly achieved piece on the EP. “The Wretch” by contrast refers to the unfortunate station of Kaladin Stormblessed, a man who means well but is constantly beaten down by the world and his own sensitivity; You can hear this reflected in the moonlit gloom of the piece, though it maintains a sort of 80’s power/speed metal stomp throughout with leads that follow the vocal melodies to great effect. Soulcaster hasn’t entirely captured the lower moods or descent into misfortune of these characters in the typical sense where a drawn out ballad would be the more Maiden kinda thing to do, instead the distant and reverb impacted sound of the EP provides a sort of arcane seriousness that is actually fitting for the tone of the books in question. The only point where I think the reserved do-it-yourself render lost a chance for a bigger punch comes with “Shardbearer” where a bit more of a tank-hit on the bass tone would’ve brought the otherwise brilliant tarantella di battaglia feeling of the track into full view, as such it was the one track that reminded me of Jewel‘s “Road to Kathmandu” in terms of guitar work. Strange reference I’m sure, but the late obscure 80’s dutch power metal spirit is a fitting enough analogue.

As an introduction to this sword n’ sor… er, shardblade and surgebinding heavy metal project ‘Maelstrom of Death and Steel’ is an inspired bout of traditional yet freshened songcraft. By following the tradition of the greats and their use of literature as muse the immediate narrative voice of Soulcaster appears with character and the rare ability to illustrate without straying too far from classic heavy metal tropes. I don’t think this EP will be completely mind-blowing for folks who’ve been neck deep in traditional heavy metal for decades but it will be a great time full of catchy songs you’ll want to stomp your leg along with. A moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Maelstrom of Death and Steel
LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions
RELEASE DATE:August 28th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Epic Heavy/Speed Metal

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