Review Summary: Devil Sold His Soul fail to meet the potential they so obviously have, releasing an album which misses the balance between atmosphere and heavier sections and ultimately proves a boring listen
One of the most celebrated bands still milling about underneath more successful, but not necessarily more deserving, bands in the British rock scene, Devil Sold His Soul have delighted loyal fans with a gorgeous integration of beautiful atmosphere and crushing metal over the course of one EP and two full-length albums. Debut A Fragile Hope
was a dark, claustrophobic record, menacing in its lo-fi production but rewarding in all the little details that came out from deeper listening. 2010’s follow up, Blessed & Cursed
, deservingly clustered together new fans with a more fine tuned and larger sound than the debut, which allowed the band more space to experiment with the broad potential of their sound. All signals have pointed to Devil Sold His Soul being a band on the up.
It’s no surprise then that the band’s third album, Empire of Light
, has received so much drooling anticipation. Bands willing to experiment this much in this area and still provide consistently high quality music are relatively uncommon, and album opener/first single “No Remorse, No Regrets” is just the mixture of tempestuous chords and demonic screams that fans would have wanted. From the opening swell of guitars in the distance to Ed Gibbs’s opening howled scream, to the onslaught of the guitars and their gorgeous tone to the lighter ambient sections that crash back to the ground with the re-entry of the electrics and bass, the song on its own is a contender for song of the year and should have been a glorious sign of things to come. But afterwards, Devil Sold His Soul seem to have forgotten their purpose.
Whereas clean vocals accompanied lighter parts of Blessed & Cursed
for an added edge, on Empire of Light
they are perpetuated throughout the album (especially on second single “A New Legacy”), ruining the crushing atmosphere and stormy guitar tone that Devil Sold His Soul seem to have been aiming for. It doesn’t help that the melodies aren’t particularly remarkable anyway. The band’s atmosphere seems to have taken a backwards step in general too. Dull guitar tremolo-ing takes the centre stage of most of these sections and so instead of the cold and beautiful “Frozen” or the devastating “A Foreboding Sky”, we have the boring and predictable “Salvation Lies Within”, which opens with a simple electronic rhythm before opening to reverberated tremolos, background synthesisers and soft, sickly, polished clean singing, but little else. In fact, most musical parts seem to have regressed. Unlike the clear variety of Blessed & Cursed
, most of the songs seem to blend into one, sewn together through a homogenous and persistent mush of guitar chords and sung melodies. Moreover, the harmony between atmosphere and the guitars that Devil Sold His Soul have so perfectly achieved before on songs such as “The Disappointment” and “Drowing/Sinking” is nowhere near as prolific. Excluding the aforementioned opener, it is only truly achieved on “Time and Pressure”, which is the most successful track as far as ‘tempest’-like atmosphere and this balance go. A thick bass rings throughout the song’s multiple sections and Ed Gibbs screams enough to complement the menacing atmosphere created by more prominent synthesisers and dual tremolos intertwining as the song reaches its gloriously haunting climax.
Devil Sold His Soul have released what is, overall, less varied and interesting music than they are used to. The addition of significantly more sung vocals has drastically undone the balance and the guitar work is duller than before without the darkness of A Fragile Hope
to make up for it. Despite the gem that is “No Remorse, No Regrets” and a few interesting parts here and there, such as the powerful guitar-led ending to “Sorrow Plagues”, “Time and Pressure” and parts of the slightly above average songs “Crusader” and “End of Days”, all in all Empire of Light
is a disappointment. It is an album that doesn’t do justice to the great musical minds that Devil Sold His Soul have exemplified on previous efforts and the potential that they seemed to have been on the verge of completely filling. We may have to wait a little longer for that after all.