Russian quintet, Return of the Soul, dare to do the unimaginable. Not many bands mix modern metalcore with the symphonic splendour of Nightwish and the brooding gothic darkness of vintage Paradise Lost. Everything from the pink and blue silhouette of their cover art to their determination to capture the beauty of the Russian snow and the savagery of its bitter frost helps them sparkle with a glittering sadness. Behind it all is a soundscape of distorted guitars and thick bass tones wrapped in keyboards and synthesisers. Could they be on to something new here?
Listeners will raise their eyebrows at the band’s decision to sing in Russian, but don’t let that put you off. Slava Gusev’s voice is muscular yet fragile, angry yet cathartic. His anthemic intensity in ‘No Pain’ will get you roaring in no time. On ‘NeuroNet’ the band mix the guitar tone of Paradise Lost’s Symbol of Life album with a crunchy arsenal of groove metal rhythms and powerful MIDI strings. Once again you marvel at the way they invoke the image of snowflakes evaporating in the air as the bite of the frost envelopes all around it with a vicious breeze. Bassist, Sergey Khrulev, maintains the low-end rhythms throughout with a heavy plectrum on ‘Reload’, and the syncopated metal chugs on ‘Echoes of Thunder’ blend well with the dominant synth patterns. Whoever engineered the mix should take a bow. The clatter of the crash cymbals and thud of the snare drums stand up well among the thick coating of keyboard-heavy symphonics and high-gain distortion of the guitars.
This EP is the first in a two-part concept the band hope to complete in May 2021. At eight tracks it offers good value for money, but a few flaws are apparent. The guitars take too much of a backseat when they should be leading the charge. Apart from ‘NeuroNet’ and the ‘Echoes of Thunder’, it’s hard to recall any memorable riffs and most of the other guitar rhythms fade under a wall of ringing fifth chords. Thankfully, Max Irkibaev utilises his harmoniser pedal when things threaten to sink into total anonymity, but it might be a good idea to volunteer some solos the next time Dmitriy Ovinov insists the synth arpeggiator button is a better way to navigate through the middle eight of a song (see ‘Echoes of Thunder’ for an example).
The last two tracks should fall into the filler category, but the band do a magnificent job of interpreting System of a Down’s iconic, ‘Aerials’, adding their melodic synths and keyboard flourishes to the down-tuned guitar chords. Likewise, the Fatum Black remix of ‘No Pain’ is worth 03:57sec of your time if only to appreciate how he dials back the power of the original chorus yet retains the anthemic core of the composition.
Digital Dream. Pt. 2 should be a tantalising prospect if they replicate the energy and ambition of this record. It may fall short in its execution and suffer from a shortage of vintage metallic riffing, but Return of the Soul demonstrate their ability to grab the attention of the listener. This band have the potential to excite and will get better with time.
Release Date: 25/10/2020
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: NeuroNet, No Pain, Reload
Suggested Further Listening: Paradise Lost – Symbol of Life (2002), Ignea – The Sign of Faith (2017), Theatre of Tragedy – Aégis (1998)