by Jason Hoffman

Everything you need to know about the dark-metal quartet Soulfyre can be summed up in the first minute of the first track off their debut self-titled album.

In "The Hangman," heavily flanged metal guitar leads to a brutal riff with crushing drums as the vocals melodically sing (yes, sing, not bark or croak or burp) "I cannot breathe when you're around me / Suffocating love like a plastic f***ing bag." The second verse adds to this with vocals periodically punctuated by detuned two-part vocal harmonies, sounding like the duel guitars of Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden. Listen another minute and you'll hear an intense guitar solo and some impressive bass lines surrounding the cathartic, energetic rhythm. It's classical metal with some updated sounds, almost as if time were spun backwards and modern rock came before the buzz of pre-hair band metal. It's a very impressive song made all the more striking by the fact that they recorded everything themselves, only turning to Monastic Chambers in the eleventh hour for mixing-and-mastering expertise.

The rest of the album is just as remarkable, especially if you like classic metal created by musicians who care more about their music than their egos. Vocalist Steve Miller can actually sing, taking a page from Bruce Dickerson's playbook, and does so with emotional gusto. Lead guitarist Ryne straddles the razor-thin line between shredding and feeling, adding intense melodic compositions to already crunchy riffs. The rhythm team of bassist Damien Drake and drummer Todd Baker show their five years of experience together with some mighty tight grooves.

But if you're expecting a standard metal album, you'll be left bleeding in a corner. Sure, there are some expected odes to pseudo-anarchy ("Idolessence") or modernized radio friendly tunes ("Semper Fi"), but you'll find your head spinning as soon as the piano starts in on "Immortal Lust," matching the warbly guitars and creepy spoken word part about drinking blood. "Nothin To Me" nears thrash with crisp drums and killer guitars with a grueling musical passage that sounds like it was recorded in a dungeon complete with wailing harmonized vocals and cymbals cracking like whips.

The monster-angle gets a triple punch in the second half, starting with "Love Undead," where uneasy sonar-like sounds back vocals of "I know your fears / They haunt you all the time" before ripping into a massive guitar assault. The band works in a bit of groove with "A Part Of Me," a disturbing love song about cannibalism ("I can feel your blood rushing through my veins"), which is only natural seeing how he admits to being a werewolf in "Rise Up," a rousing glorification of the metamorphosis from man into beast. The hour of music ends with "Absolution," a Godsmack-influenced aggression of a song with low voices, double harmony and a grinding riff evoking a sense of danger.

If you've been thirsty for melodic metal that harkens back to the days before hairspray or are just simply thirsty for human blood be sure to check out Soulfyre's debut release. It's familiar enough to quickly lure you in but with enough surprises to keep you coming back time and again. Song samples are available at www.soulfyre.com

Copyright 2006 Ad Media Inc.