The longer I stick around in heavy metal, the more I find myself asking the question –– and answering it by searching for new bands –– “What happens when you form a heavy band that isn’t necessarily influenced by metal?” This seems like an odd question, but especially in the past decade, we’ve seen all niches of metal move far beyond the confines of the genre, sometimes never really starting in it to begin with. Vol. 1, the debut from Soon, isn’t merely an answer to the posed question –– it’s a declaration that the most compelling heavy music bursts with light and color rather than hues of gray and black.
Soon is composed of members from more indie-minded outfits (The Love Language, Bitter Resolve, and Grohg), and the variety of musical backgrounds coalesces beautifully on Vol 1. There are smatterings of doom/sludge metal, psychedelic rock, folk, and a healthy dose of melodies rooted in indie rock. It hits with all the low-end strength of Melvins and YOB, has the bluesy swagger of early Zeppelin, and yet possesses a laser focus on soaring vocal hooks and refined songwriting that is leagues removed from the usual doom/sludge ethos of beating the listener into a pulp over the album’s course. If anything, a great amount of variety is shown in the band’s auditory palette: Opener “We Are on Your Side” explodes with a massive opening sequence that, rather than crushing listeners, uplifts the senses before switching gears to a verse with bright bass lines poking out among sparse guitars and rolling tom fills to a psychedelic, blues-based guitar vamp backed by swirling drones and acoustic strumming. It is an absolutely stunning composition and, in its six minutes, blazes many paths that most heavy bands dare not tread. (How many heavy bands can use a hammered dulcimer and get away with it? Exactly.)
One of Vol. 1’s most impressive feats is its ability to traverse so much terrain in its very short songs. The longest two tracks –– free-form jam “Datura Stramonium” and the ritualistic drone of “Vol. 1 Rise” are placed at the end of the album, and not uncannily, are by far the closest to traditional doom/sludge. That said, none of the songs here revel in the abyss-gazing, absolute loathing of self and others that any subgenre of metal is prone to; it’s a remarkably airy, almost wistful collection of songs. Even at its most solemn, such as the daunting combination of hand drums, cello, harmonized vocals, and an Eastern-inflected riff on “Gold Soul” is a far cry from the darkness inherent in most metal of the low-and-slow variety. Elsewhere, “Glass Hours” and album highlight “See You Soon,” were it not for its gritty guitar tone, would be welcome on any college radio station as they channel some grunge influences, and “Mauveine” exudes beauty with a combination of cello, acoustic guitar, and old-style bluegrass vocal harmonies.
There is a rather stark divide between the two halves of the album, which is almost too short to call an album proper, as it clocks in at right around 35 minutes. The first half of Vol. 1 is entirely focused on the band’s strength of constructing brilliant, memorable melodies and strongly written songs that are to-the-point yet no less affecting in their emotional scope, while the second half sees them take the template from the first half and tweak it, warp it, and adapt it to something entirely different. This is really the only downside to the album, since the second half of the album, excluding “Glass Hours,” has an entirely different feel than the first half. This is a nitpick, though, as the second half is still fantastic and brings some different textures to the forefront.
The OCD part of me is driven nuts by the fact that I can’t easily classify Soon’s sound and have to find genre tags for this –– Is it doom-pop? Alt-sludge, similar to Torche, but far more informed by pop’s sensibilities? Posi-doom? Grunge-sludge? Psych-sludge-alt-indie-heaviness? I don’t know. But I know that Vol. 1 is excellent, memorable, and infinitely replayable.