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Before Chaos - 79%

Larry6990, March 25th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Time to Kill Records

Well, these guys absolutely win the 'best band name' competition that definitely exists. I mean... Soul Dragger. Go on, say it out loud: Soul. Dragger. Isn't that just the most gloriously metal-as-fuck moniker you've heard this year? Relatively new to the scene, and hailing from Rome, Italy, this well-endowed quartet play a very well-rounded and accessible form of metal with its roots lying somewhere between thrash and metalcore. As far as I can tell, this self-titled effort is their first release. It's always a big statement; releasing a self-titled album before anything else - implying that this record sums up what the band stands for. Soul Dragger definitely succeed in that respect. Whilst this LP might not be anything outstanding, innovative or remarkable, it is wholly satisfying and very enjoyable - with plenty to whet the appetites of metal fans of multiple genres.

When I say their roots lie somewhere between thrash and metalcore, I mean that this album instantly hit me as a beefier version of Testament's The Ritual mixed with a dose of early Trivium. The dual harsh/clean vocal ratio isn't far from that of Matt Heafy around the Crusade era, though I definitely wish there was more growling on this record. Since I can't tell which band member is doing which vocal, I would just like to praise the roars and growls generally. Whether they're dipping in and out like on the melodic chorus of "Alone", or taking centre-stage like on "Angel" ('MOTHERFUCKER, DIIIIIE!!') - they always manage to push the momentum and aggression that little bit further and the record would feel quite empty without them. There's nothing inherently wrong with the clean vocals, but they, too, are more beneficial to the music when applying a gruffer edge. "War Nightmare" and opening track "Rise" are probably the most all-round impressive, vocally speaking.

Soul Dragger have an ear for a catchy chorus or two. Previously-mentioned "Rise" was definitely a great choice for a single, having probably the most infectious refrain on the disc. However, I'm personally partial to the thrashtastic follow-up track "Damnatio Memoriae" with its breakneck speed and pure-aggro approach. Throw in a chug-tastic pre-chorus at the 0:25 mark and you've got one of my surefire highlights. In a similar vein, the up-tempo "Death 'n' Destruction" probably takes the most classic thrash influence, contrasting wonderfully with the more mellow and grandiose finale: "Collapse". On the other end of the spectrum, the balladic "Maid And The Beast" takes the 'token soft song' spot which, at only the fourth track, is a bit of a misfire. Perhaps it would have fared better in a later position?

There's one track that stuck out to me more than the rest upon initial listening. Consequently, I've revisited it more than the others. The midway instrumental "Before Chaos" is where we can hear the Italians really having a blast. Changing up time-signatures, adding in textures, stopping and starting, etc. The riff that kicks in at 1:26 is easily the best on the whole LP. Then the following breakdown builds up to an effective climax. This is right up there with Gaia Epicus' "Innovation" and Chimaira's "Implements Of Destruction" as one of my favourite metal instrumentals of all time. Soul Dragger's self-titled debut might be a little flabby around the edges, and definitely doesn't break any boundaries, but it's got great character and has made me want to keep tabs on this European quartet. An all-round great metal album which could pose as a fabulous gateway record for newcomers.