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River of Souls - Usurper

River of Souls
by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 29 May 2020, 5:02 AM

RIVERS OF SOULS is a promising young doom metal band from the Netherlands.  Their latest release, “Usurper,” is their second full length album; they also released an EP in 2017. The over style of the band, and the music presented within this album’s eight track, 48 minute long run time, is doom mixed with death metal and a healthy dose of melody and some really standout guitar solos.  Although definitely dark, they aren’t as dismal or overly depressing with their atmosphere as a lot of bands of their style.

Much of this is due to the album's rather clean production and the inclusion of more modern style melodic death.  This isn't a bad aspect as it allows the band to bring about crushing doom in a more approachable way.  However, it does take some of the bite out of the guitars but there are always such trade offs when it comes to finding a sound for an album. The music isn't complicated nor too simple, although some of the riffs do sound a little basic here and there.  Fortunately, the melodies and song composition make that issue more tolerable.   The album flows at a decent pace as well, with an intro to kick off the doom and, later, an instrumental to break up the two longest tracks before ending with another instrumental, the beautiful "Aftermath."

As mentioned, the album begins with the intro "Harbinger."  It's heavy, direct, and gets the blood pumping for the first proper track. Despite how successful it serves its purpose, I can't help but feel this track could had been more if only some expansion had been done to it.  "Of Pit And Snare," opens up with a twilight of melodic leads, solid riffs, and pulse pounding double bass.  The riffs that come immediately afterwards represent some of the more basic parts of the album that could be better.  However, Bart's death growls are so potent, and pair so exceptionally well with the guitar melodies,  those riffs suddenly don't matter as much.

The title track, "Usurper," is definitely melodic death/doom in the track's burgeoning moments.  The melodic lead guitar lines and the impactful bass really bring out some of the album's best moments for the first few minutes of the song.  Bart's clean vocals appear afterwards and I can definitely see them being an acquired taste.  They aren't bad but settle in between a sort of throaty wail and rough clean, not unlike often found in doom/sludge bands like CROWBAR.  I'm curious as to way he uses his cleans so much on this song when his death growls are so potent but to each their own.  A little over three minutes in and those extreme vocal do appear and make the song so much better.  The clean, more ambient part in the song's middle is a clever bridge between the song's more intense parts and I found myself rewinding that moment many times out of pure enjoyment.

The centerpiece of the album is without a doubt "The Tightening," which is nearly  12 minutes in length.  They don't use the time to go into funeral doom or done tropes but instead just focus on more of what made the previous songs work so well.  The track's opening solo soars into the stratosphere for hitting you right in the feels.  Part of the song is quite faster than most doom bands allow themselves to be but I appreciated the ramp up in intensity.  There is a brief part in the song that once again showcases how effective the band is at mixing light and heavy elements into their doom, something I would love to see explored further in future releases.

Considering how early they are into their career, "Usurper" is surprisingly good and worth at least a few listens for doom fans.  The year isn't quite halfway over yet and a lot of masterful doom albums have come out but I can see myself still coming back to this one on occasion in between the bigger releases.   As for the future, it seems very bright (or dim, maybe in this case) and I look forward to their progression.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 7
Memorability: 7
Production: 7

3 Star Rating

1. Harbinger
2. Of Pit and Snare
3. At Rope’s End
4. Usurper
5. A Spirit’s Weight
6. Fateweaver
7. The Tightening
8. Aftermath
Paul Beltman – Drums, Guitars
Benjamin Hoogers - Bass
Bart de Greef - Vocals
Mathijs van de Sande – Guitars
Record Label: Independent


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