Soulburn – NOA’s D’ARK (Century Media)

Soulburn – the sister band to Dutch deathsters Asphyx – haven’t exactly been prolific since their ’96 inception.

The quality, however, has always been there.

Albums like 2014’s The Suffocating Darkness and 2016’s Earthless Pagan Spirit glistened with high grade death metal, and helped guitarist Eric Daniels and drummer Bob Bagchus show that Soulburn was a force in its own right, rather than just a curious off-shoot from their former band.

NOA’s DAR’K sees the Dutch act build on that momentum, despite the absence of Bagchus, who departed in 2018.

It’s a bludgeoning, assured record, like its predecessors. That trademark, tectonic guitar tone – so beloved of Soulburn and their Dutch brethren – envelopes NOA’s DAR’K in a cold, dense shroud.

But here, Daniels’ love of Bathory permeates the songwriting more deeply than before, with hypnotic, mid-paced songs like Assailed By Cosmic Lightning reminiscent of Quorthon’s Nordic masterworks.

Album closer From Archaeon To Oblivion, with its ethereal choral vocals, nods to those spine-tingling moments on Bathory’s Hammerheart and Twilight Of The Gods, The Morgue Of Hope shifts from suffocating death doom to pure sturm und drang, while Anarchrist melds crunching DM with layers of blackened melodies to devastating effect.

The title track, however, is for the most part disappointingly lumpen.

But it’s a rare blip on an album which features standout performances from Daniels, guitarist Remco Kreft and vocalist/bassist Twan van Geel in particular.

And when Asphyx frontman Martin van Drunen joins his countrymen for Anointed – Blessed – and Born for Burning – you’re plunged into a spine snapping, thunderous death metal maelstrom… one that you won’t want to leave in a hurry.  

Indeed, NOA’s DAR’K is an absorbing and evocative record, which honours the old gods and lays the foundations for Soulburn’s future.

And it’s one of the finest Dutch death metal albums to emerge in years.