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Friday, January 26, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: More than a Best of - Soil Scream The Essentials

‘BEST Of’ albums, eh? If you’re a proper fan, you must buy it; if not, meh.

There is, however, a third category: the one where you’re not that much of a huge fan of said artist/band, but you hear all their songs together and think “actually they’re really quite good, aren’t they?”. Step forward the subject of today’s review: SOiL.

The rockers formed way back in 1997 in Chicago, originally from members of two different death metal bands. Vocalist Ryan McCombs soon joined and they began recording, releasing a few EP’s which did very little to get them noticed.

It was only when single ‘Halo’ was doing the rounds that record labels began to sit up and take notice, which led to them being signed to J Records for their first album Scars in 2001.

After 2004’s Redefine, McCombs left; ostensibly to spend more time with his family, he then announced a year later that he was joining Drowning Pool. His role in SOiL was then taken by singer AJ Cavalier, who stayed with them for three albums before he, too, announced his departure from the band, along with drummer Tom Schofield. McCombs then returned to tour with the band as they celebrated the tenth anniversary of Scars in 2011 (are you keeping up?) before deciding to make the guest role permanent.

A live DVD/CD combo (2012) and a Kickstarter-funded album later (2013’s Whole), the band released Scream: The Essentials at the end of 2017 on Pavement/AFM Records. Comprised of original tracks featuring both vocalists, as well as some alternative and acoustic versions and surprising covers, the album runs in essentially in chronological order, from their 1998 EP El Chupacabra to the Whole album. Ready? Let’s step into SOiL’s discography and see what we find…

The album opens with one of those rather startling covers, in the form of ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ from the film The Blues Brothers. Bassist Tim King reveals the thinking behind the decision, stating “we felt it was a perfect song to the album…it tied in our Chicago roots and the twentieth anniversary of the band perfectly”.

The resulting track is a brilliant, although very much ‘rocked up’ version of the classic and is maybe a trifle self-indulgent but also undeniably good fun.
“Fun” is a word that pops up again and again while listening to this album.

SOiL may not be big, clever or pretty, but my goodness can they write a great, catchy, ‘party hard’ tune or two. Even as far back as the late Nineties (tracks two, three and four) they had already honed that instantly recognisable sound: the chugging NWOAHM riffs, the hard rock machismo, the nu metal twang and McCombs’ signature gravelly vocal style. Each song has a driving, pummelling beat; each makes you want to jump around, dance like a loon and headbang frantically, up to and including their magnificent cover of Ram Jam’s ‘Black Betty’. Their live shows must be utterly uproarious.

A few numbers stand slightly above the rest: ‘Halo’, of course, aka “the one everyone knows”. A simple yet awesomely effective track, with its heavy bass and fist-pumping beat, it still sets any rock club across the world on fire when the DJ hits ‘play’.

There’s also the slower-paced but no less rocking ‘Unreal’, with it’s rather Silverchair-ish vibe; the slinky, nu metal ‘Breakin’ Me Down’; the ‘System of a Down x Stone Sour’ combo of ‘Pride’ and Redefine’; and the swaggering ‘Hate Song’, all defiant, ‘fuck you’ lyrics and slight Buckcherry vibe (no, really).

The only time there is a bit of a lag, it has to be said, is during the tracks where Cavalier replaced McCombs. The former is certainly a formidable vocalist, but the band as a whole seems to have lost a bit of its mojo when the latter departed, resulting in some rather desultory releases and even an unfortunate foray into country music territory with the insipid ‘The Lesser Man’.

That’s all forgiven when ‘My Time’ kicks in: McCombs is back, and so is the band’s cocksureness and more cohesive sound.
Slinky, sexy and macho, with a late Motley feel, it marks their return to form in spades. This is also remarkably evident during the live version of ‘Halo’ included from their 2012 DVD/CD: the band are audibly rejoicing, and the crowd absolutely loves it.

The alternative versions are also a bit self-indulgent, but no doubt fascinating for fans: an acoustic version of ‘Can You Heal Me’ which loses little of its power without electric guitars, but rather gains something of an Alice In Chains ‘Rooster’ vibe; the inclusion of the late Wayne Static on ‘Give It Up’ lends the song a spiky, slightly unhinged air; and a minimally altered version of ‘Like It Is’ offers really very little in the way of change.

Then there’s the final track, Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’, included as an homage to the late Chris Cornell. Musically lower-pitched than Cornell and co but vocally higher-pitched, and cannily picking up on the sense of urgency in the original, it’s a great choice for a cover, and a touching reason to cover it to boot.

So, there you have it: SOiL, far from being one of those bands that you don’t think you know too much about until you actually listen to them, in fact have quite an impressive discography, as can be heard on Scream: The Essentials.

Almost every song is catchy, heavy, and highly enjoyable, almost all would fit comfortably into any party or rock night setlist, and no track outstays its welcome, with most around a trim three minutes or less. It is, in short, a wealth of hidden gems that the most casual fan has probably missed out on up until now. If that’s you, then giving this album a listen to is highly recommended; it will almost undoubtedly surprise you.

SOiL sre currently touring the UK and Ireland (including playing the Limelight in Belfast on Thursday February 15th) with Alien Ant Farm.

Review by Melanie Brehaut

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