Borrowing heavily from the legacy sounds of Peter Murphy and Sisters of Mercy that cemented the genre of goth from other styles, Caustic Soul has crafted an album that is musically strong, at times striking, and that is too often drug down by vocals attempting to mimic a style not suited for the singer. When Michael Atchley is on, the songs are holistically strong. When he is not, it is distracting to the point of breaking apart the excellent musicianship backing it all up.
Harlot Sky, with its use of deep and thick environments and blended vocal engineering is similar to the work of This Mortal Coil. The effects on the vocals cause them to stand a little outside the total package, but compared to other songs, blend well enough for the song to be enjoyed. Trine is a stereotypical goth tune. Little ground is broken, as, with different vocals, this could easily be mistaken for Love Spit Love. Eryx is where we start to see the overall music improve and blend the best of retro goth, and where the vocals begin to break down in their attempt to do the same. A decent danceable tune similar to New Order or Depeche Mode with goth undertones, the vocals have moments of broken phrasing and weak tremolo. Not enough to take the song off 'repeat,' but a sign of things to come.
Separation's guitars are strongly borrowed from polished metal power cords and creates a nice fat sound against a strong and masterful beat. The vocals in the breakdowns and more ambient portions almost work, but they are unable to maintain in tune and on key throughout. This is amplified by the preferred vocal processing and effect style that is constant in the album.
Sick is musically the most complex of the album. The vocals are the spoken word ramblings of sociopathic thoughts. But with lines like 'Would it be ok if I burned your face' and the mixing of a sampled child scream, it is not so much disturbing as reaching. In Dead Doll Atchley sings in his own voice, the over-effecting is not present, and this is the strongest song on the album for it. It goes from gentle power-industrial musically, and it works. It is an oasis on this album. Aurora is as close to the style established by Sisters of Mercy than I have heard in a long time. With all the gentle plodding of rhythm under tender and dark music, with vocals that are above oversinging or over effecting.
The remake of Simon and Garfunkle's Scarborough Fair is interesting as a concept, and a filler for its execution. Musically it is wonderfully orchestrated, but is not done to lend itself effectively to vocals. It fails in execution. This is where the disparity between the vocalist and the talented music are glaringly obvious. Good Night rounds out the album, and falls from a strong beginning by vocals that spiral into unconfident tones and the line 'close your eyes' repeated ad nauseum.
Caustic Soul is a competent band in the genre of dark music, but suffers from vocals that are poorly effected and executed. The use of slight distortion and compression and/or light flange is a technique that has been failingly used to sweeten and darken vocals since the early 80's. This can even make strong vocals grating if this tonality does not fit the song. If the vocals are even a hint off key, this method hones that resonance to act like the edge of a knife. Breathy dark vocals work for Sisters of Mercy or Leonard Cohen. It's their genetics to sing this way. Caustic's Soul's mimicry of their vocal styles and use of effects cause the singer to deviate from his natural range and style. For that, they lose any of the meat and tonality that got the singer hired in the first place.
Post: Caustic Soul, 3541 W. 95th Ave., Westminster, CO, 80031, USA
Phone: (303) 657-1802