River of Souls
The Well of Urd

I’m not sure what it was that made me choose to cover The Netherlands’ based act, River of Souls, and their debut album, The Well of Urd. Maybe it was divine intervention from the metal gods themselves. Whatever it was that drove me toward the band, I am glad it did, as River of Souls is a pleasant surprise of high quality and finely crafted metal that is definitely worth your time and attention. In fact, the reality of these guys being unsigned, while shit like Marilyn Manson seems to be making the rounds again, is just utterly mindblowing. River of Souls deserves a proper recording deal, and The Well of Urd deserves international distribution.

The brainchild of guitarist, Paul Beltman, whom some may recognize as the drummer for both Sinister‘s ferocious comeback album, Afterburner, and Supreme Pain‘s Divine Incarnation, River of Souls falls under the mantle of death-doom, but are so very much more than this simple classification. In describing their sound, I would say that they are like a splendid mix of the U.K.’s My Dying Bride and early Anathema along with their countrymates Celestial Season, The Gathering, Officium Triste, and even Crystal Darkness with some of the darker melancholy of Rotting Christ. The Well of Urd is a stunningly mature piece of art. Every note, every measure, every change-up, every vocal style and placement, every drumbeat, pattern, or fill, all of it seemingly and seamlessly calculated and meticulously crafted into a genuine piece of epic brilliance that pulls from a vast array of influences within their death-doom moldings.

The Well of Urd opens with “The Norn’s Chant” in a slow, beautiful, melodic fade in of emotive leadwork and a subtle picking arrangement before earth shaking distortions open up at the 1:10 mark, reminiscent of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride in the rawness and aesthetic of the riffs and even the vocals. There’s also a strong hint of that classic Gothenberg flair within the riffing, as well as some powerful and thoughtful drumming and some fantastic leadwork. The song shifts to an almost Moonspell type of engagement before flawlessly morphing into a catchy as fuck metalcore vibe, recalling the better moments of Soul Embraced, before falling back into emotional fields of of doomy progressive death. It’s one hell of a great album opener, and perfectly sets up the journey that is The Well of Urd.

Things get pretty interesting on “Servitor”, with the track taking on a heavy, staggering, doom plodded death march, almost creepy in its vocal layerings. Again, some stellar leadwork really opens up the crawling, emotional consecrations being set forth in the song’s simplicity and movements. The 3:52 mark brings about a stylistic change, à la Iced Earth, both in the music and vocal phrasing, that shouldn’t seem to fit within the track, but it so marvelously does. The tight thrashings contain some nice dynamics in the riffing and basswork, achieving some open and moving progressive, yet militant, moments at the same time. Ripping with an intense Non Seviam/Triarchy of the Lost Lovers(Rotting Christ) melodious aplomb, “The Unbending One” continues to show that R.o.S. really know how to utilize dynamics to the utmost effect in their writing. The track shifts brilliantly, throughout its 11 minute plus running time, from slower Celestial Season/Moonspell-ish fields, to terrific uptempo At the Gates styled melodeath riffage, to fabulous progressive territory, showcasing a stellar and exemplary form of mature  and even classy songwriting.

The album closes out with the mighty and magnificent, “Soilsorcerer”, bringing somber riffing and beautifully crafted leadwork in a Swallow the Sun/Paradise Lost atmosphere that is as stunning as it is crushing. The drumwork is fantastic as well, really helping to drive and support the material with some great fills. The gruff cleans of the chorus are so epically pained and hair tingling inducive. When vocalist, Bart de Greef. howls out “Soilsorcerer, teach me humility. Soilsorcerer confront me with the purity”, it’s damn near electrifying. Everything just comes together so perfectly, the melody and leads are just so spot on; never too much, never too restrained. The 4:40 to 5:35 mark is so delicately moodful; simple, brilliant, and beautiful, continuing to build in its epicness when the track returns to slightly more aggressive fields and eventual somberness before closing out.

Massive props to Bart de Greef for really being quite an adept frontman. Not only are his vocals  versatile and compelling, but his conceptual take and lyricism are quite proficient as well. I’ve only actually had access to lyrics for two of the album’s tracks, “The Unbending One” and “Soilsorcerer”, and they are pretty deep. Rightfully so, as the Well of Urd, the three Norns, Urd (what once was), Verdandi(what is coming), and Skuld (what shall be), and their bond to Yggdrasil and  the Nine Worlds within, and the Well’s cyclical realtionship to time and destiny’s birthing and re-birthing of ongoing creation itself, is more than just a little deep. Though using Norse mythology and imagery is nothing new to extreme metal, this is obviously, not your typical bloody swords and tattered banners type of banter.

Heavy, moving, lush, and expansive; thought out and devoid of useless filler, R.o.S. can remind me of so many different acts and honestly, this blending of styles could be the death blow for most younger ambitious bands, but this is not the case for River of Souls. The vast array of influences/inspirations really do meld seamlessly into a honest, thrilling, even thought provoking listen that never seems plagiarized or ungenuine. As I stated at the beginning of this review, River of Souls is worth your time and attention, and I doubt they will remain without a record deal for too long. The Well of Urd is simply a great album and will most definitely be amongst my top, favorite albums of 2017.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Kristofor Allred
October 20th, 2017

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