Soul Survivor is the fourth full-length effort from Dutch band Gorefest, released in 1996. Gorefest can have full marks for bravery with this album. Soul Survivor is very a departure from their death metal of the previous albums, incorporating more of a classic rock sound while keeping frontman Jan-Chris de Koeijer’s death growls. The result is a death 'n' roll album that proves that the band’s bravery has paid off, as Soul Survivor is an almost perfect release.
Opener Freedom features a long intro for a relatively short song, and contains excellent guitar work from Boudewijn Bonebakker and Frank Harthoorn, particularly Bonebakker with his simply perfect solo that leads into the first verse. Up until this point the album doesn’t sound death metal at all, until Jan-Chris’s voice come in and the term death 'n' roll suddenly obtains clarity. With a clean vocal, the chorus of Freedom may come across as pop, but Jan-Chris turns this into a metal anthem.
I can say the same thing about Forty Shades, Soul Survivor, Blood is Thick, Dog Day and Chameleon. All are metal anthems in their own right, whether you want to consider this to be true death metal or not. I can’t really say that any of them stand up to Freedom, except perhaps Chameleon, but they are killer songs nevertheless.
River is slower, with less of the classic 70’s rock influence in the sound, except in the solo section, but features some tasty acoustic guitars too, adding variety to the album. This variety also appears in Electric Poet in the form of the 70’s influence being the very essence of the song. If it wasn’t if the death grunt vocal style, this would fit right onto anything by any 70’s classic rock band. But Gorefest have modernised it and produced an absolute cracker of an album in the process.
A special mention to the album’s closer, Dragon Man, with its oriental elements and with some of the best guitar solos on the album, and an epic guitar and piano ending that is to die for. Although slightly drawn out after the vocals finish, it makes for the perfect end.
The vocals of Jan-Chris de Koeijer may not be brutal death metal growls, a fact that he is often criticized for, but Soul Survivor just cements the fact that he is a much underrated talent, being a grunter with a deep tone, and on top of that there is the fact that he is for the most part, understandable. When listening to this album the lyrics can be understood easily, so people actually know what the song is about. The perfect guitar sound is summed up within the first minute of Freedom, hooking myself as the listener into what is without a doubt a must-have for any Gorefest fan, whether they miss the full-on death metal of the early work or not.
(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)