One man metal bands aren’t exactly as rare as you might expect on paper. While most of them, admittedly, tend to fall under the black metal spectrum of things, one man bands do have a place in metal. To name one example, Wintersun started out as one on their self-titled debut album (with now-current drummer Kai Hahto as a session musician on the drums), although they expanded out to a full band the same year to allow them to tour.
A Soul Called Perdition is a new addition to the death metal scene which, as you might have guessed from my rambling, are also a one man band. That one man is Tuomas Kuusinen, previously known as the lead guitarist of melodic death metal band Pain Confessor, who apparently are either inactive or on hiatus at the minute (it’s not entirely clear which it is, although they’ve been relatively silent for over a year and the promo also quotes Tuomas, who calls the album “a farewell to my brothers in Pain Confessor”, so I’m guessing the former). This makes Tuomas somewhat of a veteran among the metal scene (and the same for Corey Taylor and Matt Heafy, as much as I’m sure most metalheads will want to deny it), which makes it not entirely unreasonable to expect this to be a good album because…well, the guy was part of a previously established band, how could it not be good?
To which I would say “Symfonia ring any bells?” Being part of a previously established band does not automatically make a musician capable of always producing good material: sometimes, it is a combination of musicians writing together that keeps the magic going and, even with a band where there’s just one songwriter, it is very possible for that musician to simply put out something that fails to make an impact upon the listener.
Still, in this case, I think Tuomas more than succeeds in avoiding this happening, as Into The Formless Dawn is actually not bad. While there is certainly room for improvement, I can’t help finding this an enjoyable album all the same!
Most people reading this will probably be wondering which spectrum of death metal this album falls under. Well, the general sound of the album is more melodic than the typical death metal album, but, at the same time, I can’t entirely call it a melodic death metal album either, as some of the riffwork is a bit too slow for what you might expect from death metal on paper (although, in fairness, this IS something that can happen in melodic death metal), with a few moments which arguably point towards metalcore (although they’re infrequent enough for it to not be a key focus to the band’s sound) and the band’s sound has slight atmospheric elements which avoid pushing the scene too far into the melodic death genre. It’s still death metal at its core, though, which means that the music is still very heavy and is still very much going to be an acquired taste to most people. I’ve developed a bit of a taste for death metal in the last few weeks (not a huge one, admittedly, and I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the genre by any measure, but I know what the core features of the genre are and can appreciate them) and one of the things that struck me is that the album manages to combine brutality with melody very well: while the album certainly has its moments where the brutality is a bigger focus than the melody is, I never felt like the album forgot to include melody at any point in the record. This might not seem like a big thing to single out to death metal fans who know the genre well enough to say that death metal as a whole is an exercise in being as brutal as possible while still having enough melody to separate it from just being noise (even if the melodies in death metal would not be regarded as melodies to most people used to pop music and the like), but, to someone getting used to the genre, this sort of thing really makes me appreciate death metal more, as it shows that death metal really is something that you have to get used to the harsh vocals that it is known for first before you start to properly realise that there’s more to death metal than what you hear on first listen.
The songwriting on this record is fairly good, with all of the songs having some truly great moments on them. I will say that I think my favourite song on the whole record is album opener ‘Woe’, due to it opening with a groovy riff and having a truly excellent chorus, but there’s no songs that I didn’t like on the record. I will say that I didn’t feel any song quite lived up to ‘Woe’, but, at the same time, I didn’t feel the record descended to the level where anything after it was bad, just not as strong as ‘Woe’ was.
Tuomas’ vocals are a bit hit-and-miss for me on the record. On the one hand, his lower range growls are fine, but his higher range vocals feel underdeveloped to me and need a bit more work to them, as there were occasions where he sounded like he was struggling to maintain them across the record. This is actually part of the reason why ‘Woe’ stood out to me, incidentally: beyond one tiny slip towards the end of the second verse, the vocals sounded like they were from a death metal vocalist who wasn’t necessarily going to be the best in the genre, but was still solid, but the rest of the record goes for the higher range growls and, unfortunately, Tuomas still has to improve upon those vocals. He clearly knows the basic technique, but I think he might want to put a bit more work into it for the band’s next record, as I found them the weak link of the record.
The instrument performances are definitely not among the weak links of the record, though. Say what you will about Tuomas’ vocals, but he definitely can play guitar to a more-than-acceptable standard and knows how to write death metal which avoids falling into the trap of being non-stop speed (which sounds great on paper until you realise that it means everything tends to blend together: yes, even in death metal, there has to be some degree of variety somewhere!) and his guitar playing shows that he can play this material well. He isn’t going to be winning points as a virtuoso guitarist, admittedly, but he can play his material fine on guitar, no doubt about it! The bass guitar doesn’t really do much beyond following the root note of the guitars, but, in most death metal that isn’t of a technical slant, the bass tends to be pretty much inaudible anyway (we’ll come to that in a minute), so this isn’t too big a problem for me! The drumming (I’m not sure if it’s real drums or not, but they sound real to me) is fairly varied across the album and well performed overall, though, again, nothing that will blow your mind if you’re familiar with more technical death metal.
The production, unfortunately, is going to have to get a bit of a autopsy from me, because it has several flaws which I feel I should point out in detail so that people reading this can see what my personal bugbears with production is and why this record’s production job frustrates me due to it hampering the record to me. The first issue (although this could just be my copy of the album) is the fact that some of the songs feel like they cut off before they’ve actually finished properly. Now, in fairness, this is a nitpick, but most records leave a second or so after a song has ended to give a feeling of “OK, that’s the end of the track” unless there’s a good reason (like the track is an introduction to another one or it’s part of a rock opera), which this record doesn’t do. Most of the time, it’s not a huge issue, but the transition between ‘Immortal, Entwined’ and ‘To Those Who Shall Follow’ feels REALLY unnatural because ‘Immortal, Entwined’ doesn’t actually end before ‘To Those Who Shall Follow’ starts and the change in pace is quite noticeable. This damages the flow of the album and it could have been so easy to fix (if it was an error: if it was a deliberate choice, then I can’t say I agree with it because it SOUNDS like an error!) that I find it hard to believe that an amateur mistake like that got into the album. It also kicks in when the album ends, too: ‘We Walked in The Shadows’ is still in the middle of going silent when the track finishes, which really bugs me for some reason. The second issue is the mixing, and, surprisingly, this isn’t just my complaints about the bass lacking in audibility (although that IS a complaint I would have with it): in the choruses of the album, Tuomas’ higher range can become surprisingly difficult to hear. Generally, the mixing is fine and appropriate for the genre, but Tuomas’ higher range seems a bit undermixed, which isn’t a major problem most of the time, but, in moments like the chorus of ‘There is No Shelter’, where everything is going all out on the speed, his voice just sinks into the background of everything, which makes telling what he is actually singing surprisingly difficult. I’ve already mentioned that I feel he should take some time to improve upon his higher range, so maybe this will sort itself out next time, but it’s still something I feel that I should point out anyway. The final issue is the mastering, which is probably no surprise to anyone who reads this site. To be fair, the mastering is actually more restrained that I was expecting it to be and I can’t say that it’s to the extent where I feel that putting my foot down and calling out the person who mastered the album is fair, but the mastering is still louder than I’d like and, as a result, I have to say that it could have done with a bit of a quieter master to prevent potential ear fatigue issues.
Beyond that, however, I will say that the production works very well: it’s professional sounding, but isn’t so clean that it detracts from the music in any way. The guitars sound great, the drums sound fine and Tuomas’s lower range vocals are placed perfectly in the mix. While my complaints about the album’s production do damage my personal enjoyment of the album, I will admit that they aren’t likely to be huge issues for most people, so, while I would personally like to see them rectified for next time, I can’t say that they are major issues overall, just issues which I feel could be improved upon.
Overall, being honest, Into The Formless Dawn is a generally solid record. It has its flaws, certainly, and I doubt it’ll be one of my albums of the year, but, taking it for what it is, I can’t say that this is an album that I dislike in the slightest. While fans of more aggressive death metal fans might find this a bit tame for their taste, fans of melodic death metal should find this worth a listen!
Into The Formless Dawn will be released independently on the 11th of March. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.