EP Review: Dead Head – Shadow Soul

EP Review: Dead Head - Shadow Soul
Reviewed by Sam Jones

When people think of veteran bands of the metal world, Dead Head usually aren’t on many people’s itineraries. But, formed back in 1989, out of the city of Kampen, Netherlands, Dead Head were amongst that small sect of extreme metal bands at the time putting their nation on the map, along with Asphyx and Thanatos. Dead Head released a number of Demos during the turn of the 90s, but 1991 would see them release their first full length record titled The Feast Begins At Dawn. Two years later we’d get Dream Deceiver and then, a full six years on, we get 1999’s celebrated Kill Division. Though the band never broke up, their activity soon waned as their releases slowed during the 2000s, records sporadically unveiled here and there. But since the start of this decade things seem to have gone better for Dead Head, with the constant production of Singles that went towards their 2022 album Slave Driver, as well as a Single gearing towards this 2024 release and the subject of this piece: Shadow Soul. Whether this be dubbed an EP or a mini-album isn’t important, what matters is Dead Head have another major release out and considering that Slave Driver album, this is worth looking at. Scheduled for a March 29th release date and continuing their partnership with Hammerheart Records starting way back with their 2017 Swine Plague record, it’s time to dive in and see what Dead Head have this time for us.

Considering it’s been thirty-five years since Dead Head formed, there’s absolutely no indication they’re looking to slow things down at all, and as this album starts up it just punches you square out of the gate the way a bull immediately gores its matador. The Netherlands have always championed some exemplary acts and Dead Head reinforce that idea with a riff presence that smacks itself clean in your face and then continues to do so. It’s not merely that the riffs are written well but they’re played with a clarity and finesse that’s staggering to behold; some bands do well with muddying their productions, yet Dead Head are firmly on the other side of things as they perform with a polish that, whilst not so squeaky clean we can see our faces in the reflection, is akin to viewing the sheen across the barrel of a tank. The production quality enables the audience to really feel the bite and crisp violence Dead Head’s songwriting possesses, whether they’re playing at greater or slower tempo.

But Dead Head are a band playing a fusion of thrash and death metal so while they don’t veer too greatly into either style, it’s that medley approach to songwriting that’s given them a particular longevity in extreme metal’s consciousness. Brute power alone cannot bring new fans to their side, and it’s why Dead Head’s writing has always done well to give their soundscape a really unique persona. When you listen to Dead Head, either here or on a previous release, you’ll find inventive riff sequences galore, pummelling vocals etc, yet there’s always a flow to be found amidst their performance, easily identifiable here too, that gives them an edge amongst even their local contemporaries. Dead Head have often been viewed as underdogs amongst the Netherlands since other acts have gone down heavier, more ruthless routes than they have. But Dead Head’s innate ease for writing flow and pacing that makes it abundantly easy for fans to vibe with has always been their strength. It’s why tracks here don’t merely feel like typically segmented pieces that you’re supposed to listen to; there will be times where you’ll be completely wrapped up in a track’s progression that it’s only natural to bang your head, and there’s no chance a track in question could have been written in another way.

EP Review: Dead Head - Shadow Soul

An engaging instrumental performance is great but if you want your audience to fully buy into the aesthetic you’re demonstrating, you need a vocal delivery in the veins of Dead Head’s own Ralph De Boer who, having performed vocals for Bodyfarm, is no stranger to a rapturous performance. De Boer may not be the original vocalist from Dead Head’s heyday, and he may not be the most experienced member of the band, but none of that matters when he’s there roaring his tonsils away in such a believable manner that you totally accept the snarling, bile-infused delivery that it is. I really enjoyed this delivery because De Boer isn’t merely saying his piece and then allowing the band to follow suit, much like a voice actor he’s absolutely putting everything he has into what his vocals can do, and the malice and hatred their timbre may impart. It’s all well and good to sound evil, but it takes another step of effort to put the energy and time into ensuring your vocals match the ferocity any riff or bass line can bring too.

Additionally, you could also say Dead Head harness a fantastic sense of flow and pace to their performance because they choose to not elongate their tracks unnecessarily. Taking a close look at this record you’ll see their songs are pretty straightforward, roughly three or so minutes long with some naturally being longer than others to break up potential blocky structures in their album. Deliberately keeping their tracks short and sweet not only gives them a greater control over their songwriting, it also ensures they don’t fall into a trap and overdo it. With this logic, Dead Head see to it their music gets to the crux of the matter very quickly and doesn’t need to trudge through superfluous or flashy segments to give audiences what they’ll come to take away from the record most. Plus, shorter tracks means a shorter runtime on the whole and therefore a higher chance for repeated listens, as well as an increased likelihood you’ll return to Shadow Soul and pick up on something you missed the first time round. That momentum they build throughout the record therefore has no chance to dissipate and so, the album continually charges and recharges its tempo since the band don’t play long enough at any point for that energy to naturally wane. It makes for a breakneck ride from the first to last track.

In conclusion, Dead Head yet again release a record that’s more than worth your time and money. It’s only short, it doesn’t run for very long, but the amount of quality material they pour into Shadow Soul is to be commended for I was thoroughly engaged and entertained the whole way through. It only makes me more excited for what Dead Head do next, and all the happier knowing Shadow Soul is effectively the release to commemorate Dead Head’s thirty-fifth anniversary. It’s striking to think this band formed back in 1989 and they’re still churning out material that, frankly, still takes many in the new guard to school. The production and songwriting here is sublime, and the punch they provide is deliciously pronounced. There’s no mistaking what the band bring to us here as every note, development and twist in their songwriting is on full, firm display for us. A record I’m bound to bounce back to soon enough.

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