Review Summary: The sound of a band that is totally at peace with itself and what it is meant to achieve
From the second that the drums and bass join the ambient soundscapes at the beginning of opening track ‘Tides’ it should be obvious that ‘Blessed & Cursed’ is going to be a pretty special album. Then the growled vocals of Ed Gibbs enter the fray and that hope that this is going to be a brilliant record is solidified into something much more, a belief and confidence in Devil Sold His Soul to produce one of the best metal records of the 21st century. This album is the result of six band members coming together, in total musical cohesion with one another and producing the absolute best that they possibly can.
As with the band’s first record, the ambient influences are still there alongside the shimmering, earth shuddering guitars. They still aren’t a band that is big on showy displays of technicality. Not for them the overriding focus on crazy time signatures like Meshuggah or the virtuoso performances like Dream Theater. You certainly won’t get guitar solos from the pairing of Jonny Renshaw and Richard Chapple. Yet this album is every bit as progressive and forward thinking as most of the metal bands out there currently classed as such. For it is ever so rare for a metal album to achieve such magnificence in the fields of both immaculate beauty and devilish ferocity, often at the same time. As a vocalist Gibbs has come on immensely since the early days of the band with clean vocals (perhaps a little too whiny for some) being mixed with growls to great effect and, to the great credit of the songwriting on display here, often seamlessly. Take second track ‘Drowning/Sinking’ which switches from the guttural to choral sounding vocals without coming across at all strange or ‘An Ocean of Lights’ which sees the melodic vocals come to the fore alongside the melodic sampling of Paul Kitney.
Indeed the ambient influences of the band are still obvious, leading to a record that, no matter how heavy it may be at times, still maintains an aura of restraint as orchestral peace punctuates the often mercilessly dense riffs. Meanwhile the band are still masters of creating build-ups that are never too long but still lead to a song that sounds epic enough to make hairs on the back of necks stand up. ‘Frozen’ starts like a Red Sparowes song with chiming guitars leading the way to a more frenzied later section before stepping into calmness once again. ‘The Disappointment’ however sounds more like a hardcore song for much of its duration with Andrew Neufeld of Comeback Kid lending his vocals to Gibbs’ to create a crushing answer to any metalhead who dared to suggest that this record lacked a little in the balls department. Song lengths are almost always spot on, a rarity in the more experimental side of metal these days in which many bands seemingly feel obliged to let their songs go on for twice as long as they need to. Aforementioned opener ‘Tides’ may only be three and a half minutes in length but it is still just as strong as songs such as ‘Callous Heart’ ‘A Foreboding Sky’ which are allowed to progress for twice that time. Once again this shows the band being in control, capable of trimming the excess fat off their creation.
Interestingly, whereas the band’s debut record ‘A Fragile Hope’ had an atmosphere that focused, to say the least, on the bleaker side of the metal spectrum, ‘Blessed & Cursed’ actually makes for surprisingly positive listening. The surges in noise are far from being full of anger and tension but instead sound wonderfully life-affirming at times; take the climax to ‘Callous Heart’ as a strong example. Lyrically the subject matter may be dark enough to be firmly in metal territory but the way, musically and vocally, in which they are presented makes the overall sound often uplifting rather than angry.
Devil Sold His Soul are still difficult to categorise. Some will undoubtedly choose to label them as an Isis alike post-metal band but there is something more here. While there is certainly atmosphere in abundance there is still an obvious focus on creating songs. Take penultimate track ‘Truth Has Come’ with its scream along refrain of “I cannot believe it has come to this / I am the truth and I am the mirror held up for everyone to see
” that engrains itself in the listener’s head from first listen. Furthermore, no matter how the elegant soundscapes may suggest otherwise, this is still a band writing music that will see metal kids up and down the country form circle pits and mosh to their hearts content. Indeed it’s quite difficult to listen to this album without becoming absorbed in the music and reacting in some way, whether that is furious air drumming or headbanging or even just closing your mind to all the other distractions in the world around you and just focusing purely on the all-consuming sound of this incredible album. This is a truly special work and, while it certainly will not be to the taste of everyone, Devil Sold His Soul deserve enormous credit for delivering it.