The brutal march of time will not be stopped. That’s the harsh reality that we face as mortals, and it’s those dark, disturbing revelations that SOULBURN have been exploring with increasing venom since first forming in the mid ‘90s. Forged amid the demise of legendary death metal crew Asphyx in 1996, guitarist Eric Daniels, drummer Bob Bagchus (Asphyx) and frontman Wannes Gubbels swiftly established themselves as masters of stripped down and doom-laden black metal with seminal debut album Feeding On Angels in 1998. Since then, Soulburn have been an intermittent but devastating musical force, weathering numerous line-up changes along the way but never losing that deathly focus and fury.
By 2014, the band had coalesced around a sturdy core of Daniels, Bagchus, guitarist Remco Kreft and vocalist/bassist Twan van Geel (also Legion Of The Damned): the resulting album, The Suffocating Darkness, was widely hailed for its sinister power and scabrous, old school ethics. Two years on, the monstrous Earthless Pagan Spirit hammered home Soulburn’s malevolent prowess via their most epic, vicious and disorientating material to date. As they banged a final nail into that chapter of the band with 2018’s two-track Carpe Noctem EP; a harrowing howl from existential depths that further cemented Soulburn’s formidable reputation.
Fast forward to 2020 and Soulburn are back with a brand new album and a refreshed line-up, following the departure of Bob Bagchus in 2018. As Twan van Geel explains, the sound and spirit of the band have remained firmly intact for their next creative chapter.
“Carpe Noctem was the final thing that Bob did, then he left after that,” says the frontman. “He was done with it and wanted to do some different bands and projects, and that was all good. So then we got Marc Verhaar on the drums and we started writing material for a new album. Nothing has changed. Marc listened very carefully to the way Bob does things. The only difference this time is that we recorded with a click-track. That was something that Bob was disgusted by! [Laughs] When I listen to the new album, it still could be Bob behind the drum kit, and that’s cool. We need old Venom, Bathory kind of drums.”
Created in defiance of 2020’s lockdown insanity, the fourth Soulburn album is plainly the most immersive and inspirational album to bear the band’s name. Entitled NOA’S D’ARK, it’s another fearless plunge into the Dutch band’s excoriating sonic realm, with epic, untamed songs that violently evoke the spirit of the blackened old school. Twan van Geel is proud to acknowledge the influence of the genre’s most revered pioneers.
“All the songs were written by Eric, but I helped with one or two riffs because I had a certain vocal line in my head,” Twan recalls. “Personally, I think there’s a bit more variety in the vocals this time. It’s more from the heart, maybe even like how Quorthon did it in Bathory, something more primal. I tried that and I tried some clean singing as well. I really wanted some Bathory vibes in the vocals.”
In keeping with those gritty but grandiose aspirations, NOA’S D’ARK is an album that dares to think outside the usual black metal box. As Eric Daniels’ blasphemous riffing motors inexorably forward, Twan van Geel unleashes a series of pitch-black philosophical diatribes, plundering the depths of his own subconscious to elevate the likes of sprawling opener The Morgue Of Hope and the pummelling Tempter Ov The White Light to a higher level of potency and pertinence.
“The title is NOA’S D’ARK, a play on words, and I’m a big fan of Nietzsche, I love philosophy,” says the frontman. “I love to think and philosophise myself, about religion, death, life, love, magic, sex, everything. So I just put everything in there. I’d hear the vibe of the song and I just start writing, and in no time I have this monster growing in front of me. I have my own thoughts about the lyrics and you can read those in the liner notes, but I like to keep it a bit vague so the listener can find their own feeling from them.”
Despite its thematic ambiguity, NOA’S D’ARK exists squarely in Soulburn’s intuitively grim and gruesome musical world. But despite the undeniable brutality and hostility on display, Twan insists that the new album has unexpected hidden depths and may even conjure a glimmer of light or two.
“It’s not all dark,” he notes. “There has to be a real balance of light and love in life, but you also have to acknowledge the real darkness in our lives, the fact that life is ending. When you embrace the end of life, which is in sight of everybody but you don’t known when, and you can do everything that you want to do in your life, then that’s where I think the real magic is. I think then you can give life to the full and you’ll be the best version of yourself, so there is a positive side to it. But I don’t focus too much on the positive side, because metal always promotes the dark side more, right? [Laughs]”
Darkness is certainly an irresistible force on NOA’S D’ARK. True to their roots, Soulburn have produced an album that spits and fumes with unparalleled intensity. Both horribly raw and wildly atmospheric, songs like the monolithic Anarchrist, the oppressive battery of Anointed, Blessed And Born For Burning and murderous finale From Archaeon Into Oblivion strike an exquisite but startling balance between primitive extremity and mesmerising atmospherics.
“We worked with JB [Van der Wal] from the band Dool,” states Twan. “Luckily, he’s also a bass player, so he put my bass fucking loud in the mix! [Laughs] It’s got that punky, Venom kind of vibe. It’s not pretty. We don’t want a pretty mix, we want it to be ugly and raw and dark. So he did a perfect job. There’s lots of atmosphere, but still the real sound of Eric Daniels’ guitar, like a big fuckin’ saw, that’s still there.”
The perfect soundtrack to mankind’s impending and well-deserved annihilation, NOA’S D’ARK adds great depth and distinction to Soulburn’s towering legacy. And while the band are still waiting for the world of live shows to return, the power of these ferocious new anti-hymns should not be underestimated. As darkness descends, Soulburn are waiting in the shadows, armed to the teeth.
“Like everybody else, we don’t know what the future holds, but hopefully next year we’ll play some festivals again,” Twan concludes. “When the album comes out in November, it would be fun to have a celebration, so hopefully we can do that. Otherwise we’ll be creative and maybe go to the rehearsal place and get someone to film us, play the record through and put it all online. We have to do something! If this corona shit just keeps on going, we’ll have to do something like that. We’ll find a way.”