Review Summary: A masterful amalgamation of unconventional metalcore, post metal, ambience and beauty. A Fragile Hope is crushingly haunting and beautiful - a truly magnificent debut album for the UK band.
Devil Sold His Soul make some pretty unique music. As far as I know, I've never really come across a band, apart from perhaps some elements in modern Fear Before the March of Flames, that sounds quite like this. Imagine a hybrid of post metal titans Isis and one of the more dynamic metalcore acts, maybe Architects or even The Always Open Mouth era FBTMOF. Thats a rough idea of what Devil Sold His Soul produce. However, there is a lot more to it than that.
A Fragile Hope is the UK band's debut full length. Suffice to say, it's an almost flawless execution of atmosphere and dynamics, interspersed with emotional intensity and beautiful, haunting moments that can't help but captivate your imagination. After the short opening track of In the Absence of Light, As The Storm Unfolds rages forth from the speakers, collapsing everything around you. Ed Gibbs' demonic screams are incredibly intense. He sort of reminds me of a less fierce Jacob Bannon - but what sets Ed apart from the crowd is his superb clean vocals. As far as I'm concerned, these clean vocals are some of the best in any metalcore band. You'll find little to no whine and he employs a fantastic range. They're never overused either - when they come in halfway through As the Storm Unfolds, you can't help but think they fit just perfectly. Instrument wise, the band are also on top of their game. Everything here has, quite evidently, been constructed in meticulous fashion. Guitars are driving, employing a less conventional hardcore/metalcore approach, sticking mostly to chord progressions that help to emulate a sense of despair and hopelessness. However, during the calmer, more interlude-esque sections of songs, post metal leads and such are commonplace. Devil Sold His Soul's rhythm section is nothing overtly technical or mindblowing but the bass and drums are nevertheless prominent. Iain Trotter's bass rumbles behind the guitars, providing an unbelievably thick low end. Quite frequently, he bursts out with lines of his own, most notably in the introduction to The Starting, further highlighting the versatility of the band's sound. I'd say the drumming is most comparable to Isis - steady beats, coupled with infrequent but interesting and never out of place fills. Put simply, it works. The band have no need to over complicate matters - as I said before, the meticulous construction of every track, apart from being admirable, is most definitely noticeable.
Another thing that cannot go unmentioned is the atmosphere throughout the album. It's dense, dark and at times does convey a sense of hope. Yet in the end, as another track rolls by, that hope is crushed by the sheer weight of the atmosphere, due largely in part to the excellent samples of Paul Kitney. The outro to Sirens Chant is nothing short of epic - a wall of sound, complimented perfectly by the soft ambience in the background. But in stark contrast, At the End of the Tunnel obliterates any sense of positive thought with it's crushingly heavy guitar riffs, dark ambience and driving rhythms. Yet the brutal delivery of some songs is juxtaposed wonderfully with the beautiful, yet often haunting and ominous tracks. Between Two Words is a masterclass of build up, with it's introduction luring you into a false sense of security, right before those chord progressions kick in and Ed's fantastic clean vocals rise out of the chaos. Much in the same vein as Isis, Devil Sold His Soul create music that is both challenging and lengthy. Whilst this may cause problems for some, I'm certain that all the song length are appropriate. Between Two Words, coming in at just under eight minutes, is the longest song on the album. Yet it never bores or drags. The overall flow of the band and the album in particular is marvelous. Shorter tracks pack an almighty wallop - the opening drum beat of Awaiting the Flood is nothing short of excellent and the sheer brutality and attack of the guitars is of mind numbing proportions. Of course, layer Ed's despairing screams and cries over the top and you have the soundtrack that could easily signify the end of existence.
I'm not sure if A Fragile Hope is meant to be a concept album. Put into context, the way that everything flows and the musical theme that runs across the entire album would lead me to believe that it was. The question remains unanswered but what I can safely say is that everything compliments each other perfectly. In terms of lyrics, whilst you may not be able to hear them all too well, they definitely enhance the music. It seems that there is a lot of comparison to love and the nature of the earth - whether I'm correct remains to be seen but thats the feeling I get. Well worth a look to be fair, as they are hardly cliche and definitely help to conjure up some wonderful imagery, suited perfectly to the music.
Devil Sold His Soul have released a monster of an album. It's intricate, wonderfully written, beautiful, crushing and haunting all at the same time. If you're looking for something completely different to what is usually coming out of the metalcore and post hardcore scenes, then give this band a listen. Their unique approach to progressive and atmospheric metal is, at times, simply breathtaking.
As the Storm Unfolds
At the End of the Tunnel
Between Two Words
Awaiting the Flood
But really, get the album. As a complete set of songs, A Fragile Hope demands your attention.