The on-going pandemic has proven to be a major challenge to all over the past twelve months. Bands have seen their livelihoods thrown into uncertainty, scheduled tours and festival dates have been scrapped or postponed, regular haunts and venues are currently closed in many areas and it has been a challenge to rehearse and compose material. Even the simple aspects of merch sales has been transferred on-line instead of fans being able to visit the usual stores. The fact that many are still operating is a huge credit to them.
One of these still-thriving acts is Cork-based outfit, Soothsayer. Having come together in late 2013, it was initially used as way to blow off steam as the likes of Íweriú and Days of Night went into hiatus. A well received self-titled demo arrived in 2015 and the At This Great Depth EP the following year. A couple of personnel changes took place around this time as they honed their craft with impressive live performances. Signing with Transcending Obsurity records allowed them greater appearances at various festivals on the continent. Vocalist Liam Hughes spent some time abroad, but even that did not stop proceedings. A gig in Malta was recorded from 2019 as they prepared for this upcoming debut full length. And then everything went to hell in a handcart.
It is massive credit that all did not prevent them from issuing this extremely well-crafted album. Atmosphere and tone play a massive part in their music. This is demonstrated from the very beginning on its opening track ‘Fringe.’ A series of chanted vocals and spoken word pieces pre-empts the arrival of the Soothsayer, the band’s personification of the mystic who will gaze upon all before him and set forth his prophecy. The playing is generally subdued and mournful. This role suits Con Doyle’s deep voice. All of this is a tasty lead into the meat and bones of ‘Outer Fringe.’ Soothsayer’s ritualistic side takes a step back and lets the players do their thing. Marc O’Grady’s guitar work with Doyle starts with melodic plucked lines before breaking into some fearsome dirty riffing. The vocals get their first chance to shine through and the listener is able to sense the power of Hughes’ work. He is ably backed by Sean Breen and Pavol Rosa. The former whips up a storm on the sticks. The tempo of ‘Outer Fringe’ dips and soars accordingly until the chanting returns at its conclusion.
Being involved with Transcending means they are now label mates with many big names. One of which is the frankly terrifying Eugene Robinson of Oxbow who contributed lyrics and his distinctive bellow on ‘War of the Doves.’ His vocals complement Hughes’ harsher performance to create a hellish cacophony. The overriding sensation is that of tension and uneasiness. This is not to say that the track is dominated by the vocalists either. It features some excellent bass work from Rosa and solid drumming. As it goes on, the players combine for an impressive mid-section outburst. Dave Ingram of Benediction and Hellfrost and Fire fame offers his voice as well. His death metal experience gives ‘True North’ a sense of righteous filth. A series of nasty and evil riffs build with some menacing spoken word tracks. As the feral growls make their presence felt, they are backed up with powerful drumming. A brief melodic burst catapults into all out insanity. ‘True North’ was a track that had been featured regularly on their live set and became a firm favourite. It closes off the album with a distinct feeling of desolation and isolation.
Not that the band has to rely on star power in order to get the job done. ‘Cities of Smoke’ is one of the shorter tracks with plenty packed inside. It could be more closely associated with doom due to its traditional metal vibe and greater melodic focus. Rosa’s bass steals the spotlight yet again as plenty of low end permeates the track. There is also space for a great, textured guitar solo. The tone is quite bleak throughout, signifying a war-ravaged district. The vocals become increasingly unhinged as it reaches its conclusion. ‘Six of Nothing’ almost matches ‘True North’ for length and grandiose intensity. It ticks all the boxes for extreme doom. There is a ferocity and vicious tone which peaks further as the track builds. An insistent riff holds it altogether before all lets loose. Just when you feel events easing off, like being in the centre of a hurricane, it goes again. Breen’s superb drumming drives it forward. Only when it comes to an end can you really take a deep breath.
The low atmospheric sections and chanting pieces build up the mood and sense of the album before the sonic assault takes place. Lovers of doom metal may appreciate more traditional metal vocals as opposed to what is offered up here. With aspects of drone, doom, sludge and black metal in the mix, the vocals feel appropriate to my ears. And for all the guests on show, it is still the band who are able to weave their own tales and express themselves fully.
Echoes of the Earth is a testimony to the level of work put into it. Not only did Hughes contribute his voice and lyrics, but he also created the artwork for it. O’Grady put together the logo and graphics, whilst the production work was done by Rosa. Soothsayer are a self-sustaining industry in themselves. For those looking for a step into the more obscure and shadowy edges of extreme metal it is a damn good starting place.
Echoes of the Earth can be purchased here