Autarch / Soothsayer – Split (self-released 27 May 2016; vinyl via Replenish Records 12 June 2016)
Two years ago this week, Asheville neo-crust band Autarch saw their debut full-length on vinyl. When I wrote about that album, The Death of Actiacus, a few days later, I noted that the band’s tour was headed here to Pittsburgh on that particular evening — and that one of the local bands joining them at that show would be the fairly-newly-formed (at that time) Soothsayer, who draw on many of the same atmospheric/blackened/crust elements as their North Carolinian counterparts.
Well, I can tell you that particular show turned out to be a pretty great experience all around, and I’d also like to share some new information that was just brought to my attention. This Friday — almost exactly two years after their performance together that night in Pittsburgh — Autarch and Soothsayer are jointly releasing a split record. That album is available to order right now, so I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you all a little more about it …
Those who enjoyed The Death of Actiacus will certainly not be disappointed with what Autarch have come up with this time around. This trio of songs includes plenty of atmosphere — “Guide” and “Trespass” each start out with a bit of a post-metal feel in the guitars, then trotting through fast crusty d-beat, with occasional furious bursts of blackened crust-punk, and then the third track “Plieades” kicks off with even more of a black-ish metal style with faster guitars and blastbeats galore — until about two minutes from the end when it abruptly transitions back into post-blackened-metal, complete with jangly-toned tremolo picking.
Complementing this assortment of stylistic shifts we find the blend of multiple vocal parts that were a highlight of the previous album: led by a hoarse shrieking, sometimes doubled with more of a harsh roar, and later in “Trespass” an additional part that’s an especially nasty snarled rasp. If you recall, I started out my discussion of this band’s debut with a brief dissertation about the “crust” genre itself — and with all of the various elements stirred into the mix here, listeners will again enjoy witnessing the boundaries inherent in that definition as they are pushed and expanded to new limits.
Speaking of that earlier review, you may also have noted that I compared Autarch‘s sound to the now-defunct Pittsburgh act Old Man of the Mountain — they were similarly characterized by a blackened-crust vibe with plenty of atmosphere, and a combination of three distinct vocal parts. Well, two of those vocalists (drummer Caleb and guitarist Jared) went on to form Soothsayer with the additions of new bassist Elliot and second guitarist Rye, and it’s refreshing and reassuring to see that sound has largely remained intact as this band’s side of this split begins. “Old Gods” opens as d-beat-inspired crust with plenty of dank, echoey atmosphere, and featuring twin vocals: a super-deep roar and a higher piercing shriek. But soon we enter into a slowdown, with heavy-AF cymbal crashes and a prominent bass part, then the song mellows way out with the introduction of the band’s newest member: chanteuse MJ (who was not one of the founding members, but — if memory serves correctly — whose first apperance with the band happened to be that show with Autarch two years ago).
Adding an entirely new dimension to the sound, her strong voice continues soaring as heavier distorted guitars return, chugging and grinding. Vocalist MJ continues on into “War of the Roses,” carrying the heavy doom-laden crust song as the other vocal parts are interwoven around hers, like they are additional instruments, and as the song gains in intensity as the end approaches, eventually she’s shouting, yelling, and hollering, with both of the other vocalists screaming in the background. Closing track “Strange Fruit,” by way of contrast, starts off gently, dark and mysteriously. The lyrics here are a bit flowery and vague-sounding, just like you might expect to hear from an actual soothsayer delivering a prophetic message. Ultimately the band does what it does best, as this song works its way up to heavier metallic post-crust, again with thunderous cymbal crashes, and finally (suddenly) into a sort of d-beat variant.
To be perfectly honest, considering how much I had fallen in love with the Old Man of the Mountain album, I felt a bit skeptical about the direction Soothsayer were headed, with the incorporation of so much clean vocalizing. After all, as Garth says in Wayne’s World, “We fear change.” But after having heard these recordings, I’ll happily admit that I was wrong to worry — clearly these folks know what they’re doing, and they’ve definitely put together something with a unique and interesting new wrinkle here.
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This split record is available for purchase here; you can preview it using the Bandcamp player below, where it’s available to download for any amount you choose — which will then be donated to the activist organization Southerners on New Ground, to aid in their fight against hatred and intolerance.
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