Album Review: Smoulder - Violent Creed Of Vengeance
Reviewed by Sam Jones
The instant I heard Smoulder were preparing to release a new album, I knew I needed to hear it. Fronted by Sarah Ann Kitteringham, of BangerTV fame, Smoulder are a band I’ve known of and followed for some time due to the BangerTV association, of which was a staple influence of my beginning to review metal in the first place. Arguably one of the breakout bands championing the classic metal style right now, Smoulder formed in 2013 out of Ontario, Canada and while it took a few years for their first Demo to come out in 2018, the band quickly followed it up with their debut full length work, and an extremely successful one at that too, Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring. When this album released, a lot of people were talking about it and I was one of them. They soon had their Dream Quest Ends EP released come early 2020 but now, three years on, we finally have the second album from Smoulder titled Violent Creed Of Vengeance. I couldn’t wait to hear what this album would have hiding inside and therefore, let’s unsheathe our blades and prepare for whatever battle Smoulder have lined up.
Way back when Smoulder released their first album in 2019, I was immensely impressed with frontwoman Sarah Ann Kitteringham’s performance, as well as her ability to instil Smoulder with an honestly unique vocal presence and attitude that many, including the bands that evidently inspire Smoulder, lack. In the time since, it’s clear Kitteringham has done much to hone not merely her vocal ability but the methods by which her voice projects from her to us. Due to how the songwriting has been crafted, we were always going to receive a mid-paced performance that enables fans to move alongside the band as they play; this pacing allows the vocals to feel all the more fleshed out and Kitteringham’s powerfully baritone yet deeply controlled delivery allows us the freedom to bask in the grandeur of the soundscape her vocals provide, whilst we absorb the full brunt of her performance that doesn’t shy away from the impact the instrumentation additionally strikes with. Her vocal delivery, in essence, is an excellent demonstration of balancing sheer power with grit discipline, knowing full well when to go for the kill and when to be more reserved.
If anything, I would vouch this record is actually a little more in tune with the old school production than their first record was. The general performance of the riffs, vocals and drumming is on the whole very strong, but I couldn’t help but feel as if the production feels just a touch more apt for the retro aesthetic Smoulder have become regarded for. When you listen to this record, much like vocal resonance, you can feel the space that’s still leftover even after the band’s sizeable presence has put its foot down. It gives us room to move and breathe around whatever track you may find yourself listening to. Furthermore, that accentuated retro style gives the riffs and solos an older flair too as if, this were some far-flung and forgotten Cirith Ungol album. The bottom line is, it’s a clean sounding and polished record but you can audibly identify where it’s been deliberately scratched and maimed to give it a hardened exterior.
I want to say, more than anything, how absolutely spot on the guitar work is for this classic-sounding heavy metal record. Listening to these riffs is akin to taking a trip through time to the late 70s or early 80s, only we’ve brought along a guitar of modern craftsmanship. The riffs possess a clarity that is fantastic to behold in an otherwise busy album where they could have become easily lost or buried within the mix. Wonderfully, that is never the case as riffs and solos and any haphazard chords and licks somehow find their way to our senses, and since we know we’ll pick up on anything the riffs provide it makes for an extremely immersive experience. It’s this capacity for a deeper listen that makes this record such an encompassing listen; after a time the album is not subjected to you but rather you are subjected to it as the dynamic rapidly switches and the songwriting ensnares you within its hold, one you have zero intention of freeing yourself from owing to the electric, battered clarity the riffs offer.
While the riffs and other elements that go into this record are equally great, especial attention needs focusing upon the drumming. It doesn’t take long for the drums to take centre stage alongside the riffs throughout this record, for their presence is immediately felt not only during the intense periods but also the interim sections the songwriting possesses as well. Credit can go to the mix as well, ensuring everything the band have on display can be heard equally with no one element either overpowering or being overpowered; the drums are integral to this idea as while their ruthless double bass work becomes all the more heightened during Smoulder’s relentless phases, it never outdoes another aspect that is necessary to the present onslaught. You can catch cymbal crashing all the while the bass drums are being pounded into next week, ultimately raising the level of power this record can offer tenfold. It certainly feels like a much more prominent and powerful album than their first full length work, and the drums undeniably add to that notion.
But there are instances throughout the record, where the pacing takes a noticeable decline and these songs, which can sometimes range from six to nine minutes long, become much longer since the band choose to slow the pace at which they’re playing. It’s therefore a positive note that my attention never waned once during these moments, I recognised the tracks in question where this occurred as being slower yet, Smoulder always maintained a concrete understanding of what they were doing and a sincere confidence into their audience that they would be in safe hands. You can’t expect a band such as Smoulder to throw swatches of unrelenting power your way all the time, it’s not in their nature nor their songwriting. Once a relaxed track is done with, the band instantly follow it up with a more aggressive and high-octane performance. In this way, the slower tracks satisfy the goal other bands would ascribe an ambient piece or an instrumental to, breaking the flow of songwriting and giving us time to breathe before dunking our heads once more below the water line. It’s a welcome change now and again, for it encourages Smoulder themselves to think how else they can engage us whilst they aren’t going at a hundred miles an hour at all times.
In conclusion, it’s striking how quickly this album moves at, despite there being seven tracks, many of which climb towards the six and seven minute mark, and how easily repeatable this record feels to be as well. Topping the album right at the end is a near ten minute epic that feels to be the only right way to end this album, and while tracks like these are never out of the question for Smoulder, it says so much about the band that they can still throw in such a behemoth even as your attention should be dying down. I think that says it all regarding Violent Creed Of Vengeance as a whole; the band have a truly adept understanding of what signifies a quality song and how best their pacing may dictate how fans may respond to a certain song pending where it’s positioned in the album running. It’s an extremely easy album to listen to which can only be a positive thing, for the band effortlessly take you on this incredible journey from start to finish with each song included herein. Taking us from melody to intensity to relentless to comforting and beyond, Smoulder are a band to be eyed dearly. Certainly one of the strongest classic-sounding metal records this year so far, and one that is going to latch onto your memory for some time afterwards. Highly recommended.