Album: Never Better – EP
Have you ever asked someone how they’re doing—just as a casual, non-committal greeting—and almost instantly regretted it? No sooner had the words left your lips than you knew you were in for a whole lot more than you bargained for. The truth is that we basically ask questions like that; hi, how are you? How have you been? You alright? In an effort just to give a little more than “hello.”
Yeah, we ask those questions, but we never expect a real answer. Because even when everything’s gone to shit, and you’re one bad day, hour, minute or second away from just giving in, out of consideration for whoever’s asking, you just smile, nod back and say “Never Better.”
In keeping with this time-honored tradition of masking our true emotions, Soulkeeper use their bitter, aggressive and heavier-than-hell blend of dark metalcore to let the listener behind the mask, into their psyche and a back-breaking amalgam of brooding, relentless and intrusive thoughts. Never Better is a continuation to their head-turning and neck-snapping debut effort, one part energy and anger, one part poetic despair and three parts immersive and captivating, Never Better might as well be the band’s contribution to the subtype of depressive metalcore Soulkeeper find themselves a bastion of—because there aren’t many artists out there doing it as well, let alone better.
Soulkeeper emerged into the heavy music scene with a prodigal eruption of unbridled talent on their debut EP. They had two options—take a nosedive, or manage to get even better (if you’re reading this, meaning I wrote it, take a guess at which one happened). Needless to say, they chose the latter, creating Never Better, an emotional, energetic, eviscerating comglomerate of crushing metalcore anthems. Percussionist Tom Jefson remains the band’s heartbeat, creating a strong and creative firmament that allows them to branch out into previously unexplored facets of hardcore, metal, nu-metal and more. “Heartfelt” and “Magnolia” see Jefson’s creativity taking excellent shape, while other tracks—“Weakness”—for example, sees Jefson working excellently with bassist Niko Simning to create groove and gutwrenching heaviness alike. Together, the two create pattern after pattern of powerful, pummeling tracks, while guitarist Scott Gilmore goes absolutely apeshit over top. Gilmore uses riffs, grooves, chugs and effects aplenty to capture a remarkable number of emotions and sensations throughout Never Better, with “Magnolia” being an excellent example, even if, really, every track on the EP is just as strong. Together, the trio—with Gilmore at the forefront—infuse metalcore with elements influenced by nu-metal, but far from stereotypical, overt KoRn or Slipknot worship. Instead, the band are totally and thoroughly unique, drawing from their own experiences to add zest and one-of-a-kind power to their music.
Never Better isn’t just an instrumental behemoth; frontman Zachary Zaijian continues Soulkeeper’s legacy of incredible lyricism, emotive vocal work and dynamic, multifaceted skill with every track he graces. With the introductory numbers feeling much more unhinged and belligerent—combining violent imagery and an unstable vocal presence to convey a truly convincing neurochemical inbalance—and the album’s back end more melancholy, restrained and introspective, Never Better takes the listener on a journey of sorts, with Zaijian as the storyteller. Fortunately, it turns out that Zaijian is far from a monotonous master of lore—as he keeps the listener thoroughly entranced throughout the EP using high screams, low bellows and just about everything in between, constantly keeping the listener on their toes. Where I could take you through the annals of every track Never Better bears, it makes more sense to experience it individually, as each track sees Zaijian—and the remainder of Soulkeeper altogether—giving it their collective all, and the result is nothing short of breath-taking.
Emotional and aggressive—intelligent but primal and basal, Never Better appeals to every aspect of the human condition found buried within the listener’s psyche. As it stands, Never Better follows the trends set by its predecessor in practically all ways, improving on each one—with one glaring exception. Soulkeeper are one of those bands whose efforts are immense enough that the listener simply can’t help but find themselves dissatisfied by the brevity of their release. It was true on Get Well Soon, and it’s sadly true here. Where Never Better is excellent, it is all too fleeting, making the listener wish there was just a little more of it to go around—but then again, if the listener is left with nothing but wanting, is that really so bad? Ultimately, Soulkeeper have taken their potential and turned it into power, storming to the forefront of the contemporary underground metalcore scene, ensuring that, truly, they’ve never been better.
For Fans Of: Barrier, Sworn In, VCTMS, Deadland
By: Connor Welsh