River of Souls – Usurper (2020) – Review

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Some records that cross our review pipeline just give us a hard time. It’s metal alright, but boy, often they’re those hard-horse pieces with a flow like a block of concrete.

But then you got those visceral ones. Those that talk to your metallic instincts right away. Like a search radar locking on to your target. Snap, bang – and you’re hooked so bad, you can’t stop this disk from killing your turntable.

Well, River of Souls‘ sophomore album Usurper is one of them. Not a full-power lockdown thing. But right from the opening volley, you get this urge for more. Because – this time – there’s much more meat on them metallic bones that we ever found on their first full-length, The Well of Urd.

And that’s a good thing. More often than not, those second full-length albums turn out to be that dreaded hunting trap that many bands get caught in. Yet here, River of Souls did themselves credit. Usurper does not sail very far away from its older sibling for sure, which is a fine strategy. Yet, we did enjoy this added maturity.

You’ll get a mixture somewhere in between Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and the frugal My Silent Wake. With hints of age-old Rotting Christ yet all over again.

The band’s somewhat sludgy, slow to mid-tempo Doom Death Metal tries to pound you into the dust with its grinding and totally heavy beats. A punch sometimes not unlike Tyson in his younger days. But this may be over-simplifying things.

First of all, Usurper gorges with pretty tight songwriting. A tune that often changes tempi, employ some pretty complex rhythmical challenges, and does often deploy that conversation between growls and shouted clear vocals. All of that bristles with abrupt departures into ambient, some progressive passages and whiffs of the alternative here and there. In short, River of Souls pretty much pulled out the stops this time.

Usurper starts with this powerful thunderclap on Harbinger. A sturdy riff, with a neat, smallish solo that will set you up just nicely. Did I ever say this about an intro? Nope, methinks that is a first.

It’s thus unfortunate that they let that smallish impurity mar this first great impression. A glitch in the mix or a fault of the master? Fact is that Of Pit and Snare gets off to a slightly stuttery start, flow all ahoo. Yet, this track with the martial theme really tells us a lot about the record already. Down to the somewhat overabundant use of the snare drum in the mix.

Yet, once At Rope’s End hit our eardrums, we were sold. A pretty singular riff that leads into that roundly heavy and meaty ballbreaker of a track. A deal made in heaven for any concert River of Souls will do in honor of this record. If they go ahead and juice this up some more, they just whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Luckily the band didn’t tease the gods of metal too much, lest they open the floodgates of the muchness trap. Because, after about a 1/3 into the piece, they change gears, marching away on a beat that seems to spring straight from Ian Arkley’s loins.

Then again, the 9-something minute behemoth Usurper – the title track – surprised us with its slightly progressive flavor in the midst of all that Extreme Metal. At first, you’ll get a slightly blackened, yet pretty straightforward beat, smooth sailing if you will. Until midpoint, when everything slows down into those weird acoustics, complete with one of those relatively rare solos. Until the theme kicks in all over again and the track peters out, well before it really peters out.

That said, some songs like Usurper or The Tightening, are prone to endlessly noodle about the chosen soundscape. Which is fine once we embark on doomgazing, but here – not quite. In other words, a crisper clipping of the edges may have produced a much more powerful result.

To prove that point, A Spirit Weight kinda tastily drones about its pretty simple theme in an almost funeral-esque fashion. With a cool interlude in its midst, complete with a disturbing monologue to boot. At 6/12 minutes of airtime, this one really continues to sound crisp, despite their revising the riff all over again. This – by the way – also saved A Rope’s End from damnation.

Well, hells bells, River of Souls pulled out the stops this time. Usurper may not be perfect, but what Extreme Metal record really is? The band built an astonishing variety into a Doom Death Metal piece. A style that is often somewhat dull and has this tendency to dwell in a monochrome world.

A fine flow of molten metal that solemnly waltzes forward on a dark stygian stream until it reaches its destination. A fine background for a story about an usurper, take my word for it. We loved the record.

Record Rating: 8/10| Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Band Site
Release Date: 15 May 2020

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