|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 65%|
|Running Time: 42:12|
In Soul Chamber, the Christian metal scene has a major new talent. If that were not self evident in the spiritual warfare themed video the group produced for the track “Stand Alone”, one of the more creative this reviewer has seen in some time, it is amply established in its 2011 full length debut Kingdom. The album finds Soul Chamber amalgamating a variety of forms of metal - including classic, power and melodic - but with a hint of the classic eighties sound. Specific style classification proved problematic due to the wide array of metal genres presented by the group; hence, I felt that settling on simply “heavy metal” would be most accurate and fitting.
Fans of the old school - think Barren Cross, Sacred Warrior, Saint, Haven and Recon - should have no problem embracing Soul Chamber, but I can see those into newer acts - Jacobs Dream, Faith Factor, Septer, The Sacrificed and Rivera Bomma come to mind – readily accepting the group as well.
One cannot help but appreciate the well rounded Soul Chamber songwriting abilities, reflected in, again, the variety of styles at hand. Melodic based tracks “Kingdom” and “Land Of Canaan” stand out with their catchy choruses, while more technical pieces “Stand Alone” and “Armageddon” - two of the albums finest - deliver the heavier sound. “Queen Of Darkness” and “Hear Me” maintain the guitar driven emphasis but with more of a leaning towards the fast paced and heavy hitting. Two acoustic based numbers, “Lead Me Down” and “Remember Me”, are included along with the Dio cover “Last In Line”.
What stands out about the Soul Chamber rendering of “Last In Line” is how vocalist Steve Littlefield alters his approach by singing in a lower register while adding some grit and gravel to his delivery. Wisely, he decided not to attempt to match the range of the legendary late front man. Otherwise, Littlefield brings a smooth mid-ranged vocal style that occasionally trends towards the high end. By high end I do not mean high pitched along the lines of Ski (Faith Factor) and Vett Roberts (Recon) but rather that he is more than capable of hitting a high note.
Littlefield forms an inspired guitar team with Darin Hawkins. The work of the two reminds me of the Jacobs Dream duo of John Berry and Jon Noble- and not just in terms of their ability to generate tight melodies and harmonies (as aptly demonstrated on “Kingdom” and “Stand Alone”) but from a soloing standpoint as well (check out “Land Of Canaan” and “Hear Me”).
The overall band performance is where that previously reference “major new talent” comes into play in that there is not a weak link here. And not just a more than above average ability instrumentally and vocally but songwriting as well in that there is something to like about each of the tracks here, keeping in mind that some are better than others. Yes, two acoustic pieces on a nine song album is a bit much (it must be noted that both are solid musically) but all around everything is well constructed and lends itself to repeated play.
The main detracting factor - a particular that plays a significant role in the 65% final grade - is the disappointing production values. Kingdom, unfortunately, has a demo-ish feel to it, found in the thin rhythm guitar tones and overall weak low end (it is difficult to distinguish the drums in the mix in that they are that buried). Nevertheless, the quality of the music is such that the album would easily rate in the 75% to 80% range (or higher) with competent production.
Lyrics were not included with the packaging but leave little doubt as to the bands faith. “Kingdom” proves aptly entitled: “Darkness consumed by the Light/The Kingdom has finally arrived”. “Queen Of Darkness” states “When My life is finally over/Standing face to face with God” while “Stand Alone” provides a treatise on spiritual warfare: “Within my bleeding heart/A battle is raging/A war without sound/I’m here alone in the dark/With the shield of faith in hand/In the midst of death from above/I make my final stand”. “Land Of Canaan” proves forthright as well: “Surrendering our souls to the King of Kings/Choosing to serve the Master/The ruler of all eternity”.
Track By Track
The album gets underway to three very solid tracks in “Kingdom”, Queen Of Darkness” and “Hear Me”.
“Kingdom” is the slower and more melodic of the three, running the gamut from driving power metal style riffs (at the beginning) to tight guitar harmonies (over the final minute). At the halfway point the song slows to a near standstill as a discourse is provided about Christ healing the two demon possessed men (from Matthew 8:31).
Opening to several seconds of backward masking, “Queen Of Darkness” proves an unyielding barn burning with its fiery mentality and brazen leads in abundance. Harshly driven backing vocals uphold its powerfully done chorus. Old school Barren Cross comes to mind in the process.
“Hear Me” proves another aggressive piece but this time trending towards a classic metal influenced sound not unlike Saint. This one hits particularly hard during its verses as pounding drums lead the way, only decelerating for the brief but smooth sounding presence that is its chorus. Things taper even further for an instrumental section carried by bluesy lead guitar.
The two acoustic pieces, “Lead Me Down” and “Remember Me”, follow. Now, I do not mind either in that both are well constructed in presenting with solid melodies, but the problem I have is that the album comes with only 7 other songs. Perhaps I would be more willing to accept them if the album already had 10 or 11 songs already in place but added a couple acoustic tracks for good measure. In terms of specifics, “Lead Me Down” is the more emotional of the two (with some electric guitar in the backdrop) while “Remember Me” brings the moodier feel (sort of like “Dust In The Wind” but, obviously, not as good).
The awesome “Stand Alone” represents the group’s signature track. The song starts to a haunting opening carried by guitar feedback mixed with the sounding of firing guns, exploding bombs and whirling helicopter blades. “Stand Alone” comes across technical in capacity its remaining distance, with metal edged guitar riffs and poignantly done chorus adding what amounts to a spiritual warfare charged scene. Soul Chamber exhibits its potential in no uncertain terms on this one.
“Land Of Canaan” brings an eighties metal based sound (some of the riffs here have an Eternal Ryte-like feel to them). The song, otherwise, is a mid-paced heavy hitter with a memorable chorus and riveting instrumental interlude carried by distorted leads and heavy footed drums.
The Dio cover, “Last In Line”, is well executed. Again, Littlefield sings in the lower key in adding a gravelly edge to his delivery, which I find a good thing in that he could not hope to match the abundant range of Dio (in no way a knock on him). What puts the song over the top is how Soul Chamber stays true to the spirit of the original (in terms of emphasizing the same catchy hook) while adding its signature straight on metal spin.
Closing things out is another top of the line piece, “Armageddon”. Starting ominously to medieval flavored choir vocals and an acoustic guitar, the song abruptly gains impetus as the rhythm guitar crashes in and urgently compels things forward to a portent melody and the group’s trademark technical underpinnings. Interestingly, the final minute heads in a bluesy acoustic Gospel direction.
I really wanted to give Kingdom a grade in the 80% range (the quality of music is that high) but could not pull the trigger due to problems in the area of production and the fact it includes 2 acoustic songs out of 9 overall. Still, the albums better material stands out in reflecting the Soul Chamber ability to craft a well executed song; musicianship and vocals, at the same time, work equally well. If the group could come up with 10 songs the quality of “Stand Alone”, “Hear Me” and “Armageddon” and back them with quality production they would have a winner.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Kingdom” (4:53), “Queen Of Darkness” (3:21), “Hear Me” (4:57), “Lead Me Down” (4:07), “Remember Me” (2:57), “Stand Alone” (5:57), “Land Of Canaan” (4:37), “Last In Line” (5:34), “Armageddon” (5:46)
Steve Littlefield – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Darin Hawkins – Guitars
James Monroe – Bass
Strick Scott – Drums