The 25th September 2020, may well be talked about in years to come as a decidedly significant day in the history of rock and metal.
You know the ones, those that appear on your social media feed now that tell you it was 35 years since this album or that album came out, albums that have defined the genres we all love.
Well, that is what should be happening in 2045 or 2050 to celebrate the day that Bournemouth based hard rockers South of Salem unleashed their debut album, their sensational magnum opus “The Sinner Takes It All” on to the world.
As albums go, this is an incredible masterpiece of musical wizardry that needs to be lauded at every possible opportunity.
As debut albums go, it is nothing short of breath taking! A 38 minute, 10 track piece de resistance that could well be genre defining and set a whole new bench mark for any bands wanting to follow in their footsteps to attain. It really is that good!
Everything about the album gives you the feeling that these five south coast musicians are on the road to musical superstardom.
The writing, the songs, the sound, the production are all completely awe inspiring and bely the fact that this is their debut release. If you didn’t know any better, you would think you are listening to an album from a well set, well established band, with years of experience and a vast back catalogue behind them.
When I first heard the track Cold Day in Hell which was released as a single through the lock down period, it just totally blew me away. When I then heard the rest of the album, after it landed in my in box from Rob Stampede at Stampede Press I had to stop everything and just listen to it to take it in, in its full uninterrupted glory. There are not many albums that do that to me after 40 years as a music buyer and fan.
Prior to writing and recording “The Sinner Takes It All”, the band spent the best part of a decade working on various musical projects supporting the likes of Iced Earth, The Damned, Wednesday 13, and The Birthday Massacre.
The album itself, was recorded at Grindhouse Studios, Suffolk, UK where South of Salem worked with acclaimed producer Scott Atkins, (Cradle Of Filth, Amon Amarth, Sylosis, Behemoth) and between them they have brought to life an album full of cult anthems that have a truly original but recognizable take on the rock and metal genres, with a horror twist.
A punching drum beat, crunching guitars and soaring vocals herald the start of this volcanic release as their sound erupts from your speakers, pouring South of Salem’s version of molten lava straight into your ear drums.
Opening track “Let Us Prey” is an anthemic number of monumental proportions, a true monster of a track that sets the tone for the next 40 minutes of your life.
Starting life out as a tribute to ‘The Purge Film Series’ with lyrics about a lawless society turning on their members it starts your journey off on this epic rollercoaster of a release and leaves you in no doubt as to the quality of what lies ahead.
Up next is “The Hate In Me”, an infectious number which to my ear has a hint of “Saints of Los Angeles” Motley Crue about it.
The pace so far is unabating and this number which is about toxic people and the toxic effects of living our lives out on social media just gets inside your head from the first listen.
Screaming guitars, exquisite yet not over the top solos, catchy lyrics and a pulsating drum beat that require maximum head nodding and foot tapping generate a massive endorphin rush and an album highlight for me.
That feeling continues with the energetic “No Plague Like Home” which comes firing at you on all cylinders like a Formula One car screeching off the starting line.
The pace of the track, which is unrelenting, comes complete with a mighty fine growling vocal display from Joey Draper as he spits out angst fuelled lyric after angst fuelled lyric.
Lyrically, this is a number that is so relevant in the current Covid climate as it is all about the frustrations of being stuck in a life you don’t want and how sometimes the worst place to be is inside your own head.
You only have to hear the vociferous chanting backing vocals to realise that this sublime number will clearly lead itself to mass crowd participation, that is of course when live gigs can resume properly.
That may well be in small venues to start off with, but surely with music of this calibre it won’t be long before thousands are chanting those words back in arenas around the world.
Three tracks in and the extremities of my body are tired from energetically keeping up with the riotous rhythm created by the bands engine room of Dee and Pip.
Thankfully then the next track, “Pretty Little Nightmare” is a deliciously dark toned classic rock love song that gives a little respite after that opening ferocious three course feast of heavenly hard rock / metal.
This is not an eighties power ballad but a really beautiful, gritty, meaty, slower paced tale of lust, misplaced passion and pseudo love.
The emotive vocal performance by Draper is unquestionably brilliant as he draws you, the listener in whilst singing you the story of this twisted love letter. Wow, just wow!
Next up as we reach the albums mid-point is “Made To Be Mine”, a Frankenstein-esque story that uses death as a metaphor for the distance felt in a tarnished relationship.
After the haunting beauty of the previous track this kicks in with some thunderous tub thumping from Pip Sampson behind a monster guitar riff, something that is common place throughout the whole of “The Sinner Takes It All” and for me really gives it a special vibe.
The melody throughout this mid-tempo number is just dazzling as are the harmonious backing vocals and sumptuous hooks. Every track on here is infectious, contagious and mesmerising and so far we are only half way though.
Cold Day In Hell” the track that introduced me to this quite incredible outfit heralds the start of the 2nd half of the album in quite startling fashion, much like the magnificence of hearing the bagpipes bring in the New Year.
I cannot get this spellbinding number out of my head! It is without doubt one of the best songs I have heard this year and I played it over and over again as I waited for the album to arrive, much like an impatient child in the countdown to Christmas.
Getting this track early was a bit like a parent saying enough is enough and giving one present just to shut the child up.
The track, a twisted homage to the dark and ugly sides of relationships and how the worst abuse can come from those closest to us is a monumental slab of hard rock, of almost regal proportions.
It is another earthshattering anthem, full of monstrous riffs, gargantuan hooks, sumptuous guitar solos, a colossal driving beat from the formidable rhythm section and more imposing angst fuelled lyrics.
Take a deep breath, sit back and really take it in, it is worth it.
Dropping the pace completely is “Diamonds Are Forever”. A dark, haunting, twisted ballad about being unable to surpass your demons and how they can form you as an individual – the lasting effects of mental illness, loss, addiction, guilt, sorrow and grievance.
The layered orchestral sound added by keyboardist/samplist The AVD gives this track an extra topping of special and it really adds to the songs vibe. If the calmness of “Diamonds are Forever” is like waiting in hiding for the monster to get you, then the frantic pace of “Another Nail In My Coffin” is like knowing you have been seen and trying to get the hell away as quickly as possible.
A blisteringly hot riff leads into an almost punky vocal performance from Joey Draper. Short, sharp, punchy lyrics, explosive drums and some fiendishly brilliant backing vocals play out a quite riotous track that is all about the Attitude and that is most definitely spelled with a capital A.
As much as “The Sinner Takes It All” is about the musicianship which is of a seriously high quality, for me a massive part of my enjoyment of it is with the lyrics and the vocal performance from Joey Draper.
I found myself captivated and drawn in by the stories and tales unfolding with each track. There is not a throw away lyric in sight, every single line and every single word is completely heartfelt and meaningful and covers a range of dark topics that many listeners will in some way be able to relate to.
That for me really adds a quality to what truly is an extraordinarily brilliant album.
That lyrical content is no more obvious than on the penultimate track, “Severely Yours” as the song deals with temptation found in long-term relationships to stray in search of a lost excitement and the effects of easily accessible pornography and dating sites aimed at married individuals. Serious lyrical content indeed
That leads us straight into the final track, “Dead Hearts Don’t Break”. A song where the narrator has come to terms with depression and heart break, their negative thoughts and the way one relationship can contaminate all future ones.
It is unquestionably a quite stunning track to bring to a close this sensational debut release from South of Salem.
It comes aplenty with all the melody, hooks and power that every track before it has captivated you with and leaves you sitting there almost crying out for more. If you are anything like me, that need is satisfied by putting the album on repeat, which is the least it deserves.
So that was that then. The Sinner Takes It All truly has something that will appeal to any and every rock and metal fan in my opinion.
It is a debut album that shouts from the rooftops and should very quickly catapult these five Southern lads into the heads, hearts and living rooms of any discerning music fan.
Jodie Harris, I thank you for introducing me to them on social media, that moment I clicked on the video will long live in my memory and in years to come if anybody asks me how I came to know about South of Salem I will be able to tell them.
Finally, a message from South of Salem who in the build up to the release of “The Sinner Takes It All”, released a video for their dark, haunting and twisted ballad “Demons Are Forever” to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.
The songs video is intended to raise suicide awareness especially in current times where many have been left to deal with their demons alone. This is a chance to remember people they have loved and lost during these challenging times while also giving a message of hope for anyone who is going through difficult times.
If you would like to join the band in supporting Mind, please go to www.mind.org/donate and give what you can. And remember if you are having suicidal thoughts or just need someone to talk to, you are not alone. Search ‘suicide prevention’ online or call Mind (UK) on 0300 123 3393.
SINNER TAKES IT ALL’ TRACK LISTING
Let Us Prey
The Hate In Me
No Plague Like Home
Pretty Little Nightmare
Made To Be Mine
Cold Day In Hell
Demons Are Forever (Feat The AVD)
Another Nail In My Coffin
Dead Hearts Don’t Break
SOUTH OF SALEM ARE
Vocals – Joey Draper
Guitar – Fish
Guitar – Kodi Kasper
Bass – Dee
SOUTH OF SALEM ONLINE
Review by Darren Smith for MPM