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City of Souls - Album Review: Synaesthesia

30 Apr 2020 // A review by Kris Raven

Alright people, it’s here, it’s finally here!

5 years in the making. Synaesthesia is the debut LP from City of Souls. The hype has been building and the singles have been churning out, 8 massive bangers have been released since 2015 and today they released their 16-track (Yes 16!) full length album. It's not often we get an album with anything more than 10 or 12, but this Auckland six-piece don’t do things the traditional way. Presented with some visually stunning artwork, COS have delivered us one of the best albums of 2020, written with such musical precision, depth and thought-provoking lyrics.

I have been lucky to witness some of these songs live over the years and they have been perfectly captured and crafted in the studio by the genius that is producer/engineer/mixer/masterer Forrester Savall. (I mean come on the guy produced Karnivool’s Sound Awake album). And now we descend into the album, track by track.

Beginning with the heartbeat of guitarist Marcus Powell’s daughter’s heartbeat, a powerful way to start this incredible journey. Life’s Blood is a song that really encompasses the essence of COS, like an art piece, each band members adds their textures and the song is built layer upon layer with such perfection through their precise musicianship and flawless production. The orchestration throughout the choruses further elevate the song, Richie Simpson's vocals are so emotionally charged and passionate, from stating "Time has come for us, time has come for us" to the ascending and frantic "Disarm me, disarm me".

The intro to Ferryman is so intense, beginning with the initial guitar lead, Trajan Schwencke’s thick guitar riff combined with Corey Friedlander’s pounding tom toms, building into a huge mosh pit designed groove. I really enjoy the mix of the guitars in this song, you can hear all three so clearly and so in sync, their signature sound of mixing often brutal heavy riffs with beautifully melodic guitar leads is very highlighted throughout. The final breakdown is so emotionally powerful with Simpson screaming "As we run" over the backboard of a climatic landscape.

Whispers puts bassist Dan Insley at the forefront throughout the verses, carrying the song with smooth tone, filling space with little intricacies and slides throughout the fret board. This song has a New Way Home vibe to it, slowly leveling up with Friedlander’s monstrous double kicks adding intensity and pace into one of the most phenomenally tight and precise drum fills. Cruelty, the latest single, is a heavy broody beast, I like the cut in/out transitions between parts, it's quite frenzied in its pace and the vocal outro "This time, you run" with the overlord vocal tone gives the song a very theatrical tone.

Shimmer See Here

Wolf is a little different for COS, it bridges the gap between the first three singles and the newer material. Faster in pace and a little different dynamically. Once again, they create that sonic feel, with Steve Boag's guitar carrying huge melody while Simpson's vocals are thrown out in various displays, from controlled aggression to subtle but epic phrasing. Friedlander’s drumming patterns, speed and accuracy once again proving that he is one to hold at high regard.  

White Ghost begins with Boag’s melodically hooky guitar riff-sweeping on the fret board delicately and intricately, layers slowly building a wall of ambiance before crisp chords float above the initial riff, introducing guitars from Powell and Schwencke. Simpson's vocals entice and pull you in, hanging off every word of poetry as he swoons "Pray for the ocean’s forgiveness". His voice is his own and he sounds like no other. The song collects pace when the drums drops in accompanied by possibly one of the best bass tones out there, courtesy of Dan Insley. His playing is so clean, tight and precise, maintaining the rhythmic dimension while Friedlander’s little drum frills and quips add extra depth to the rhythmic balance.

Once we hit the chorus, the half time change elevates the song further, now balancing the symphony of each guitarists various layers with Simpson's vocals riding above like waves. The latter part of the song distorts without being obnoxious, adding heaviness and an epic feeling particularly with Boag's tremolo guitar picking which always gives me chills.

Sleep/Water/Long Gone: the first taste we got of the COS camp, Sleep and Water are just classic banger's now, full of that signature COS bounce and groove. They introduced us to the three guitar assault and the how they utilise this to create their sound while letting members shine, not overplaying and creating hooky and memorable alternative progressive music, that is still original in 2020. Long Gone is the song however where I truly fell in love with their music. This song took them to another level, Boag's signature tremolo soundscape flows in and out, sitting at the front and then drifting in between. Simpson's vocals are hypnotic, his vocal range and tone is always so massive, commanding stages, powerful, heavy and intense.

Love Will Tear Us Apart, a staple in the COS live set and a far more upbeat version that the still amazingly morbid original. The album definitely needed to feature this classic and further exposes their talent for re-imagining music in this current era. And now some unheard songs, further detailing the depth of song writing and precision that’s been on display since we began this journey. Tying Tongues is instantly a new favourite, I love the guitar overlaps and how they play in different rhythms, it’s a little more broody and chill. It slowly climbs, gradually building with each guitar ebbing and flowing through each other. Peacefully descending into a beautifully finger picked- hammer on notes with light strumming and then still silence. BOOM, it's not over, that chest pumping nu djent riff (sorry for the genre-isations guys) just stomps, while Richie yells "Tying every word" with mature angst and harmony.

Brushstrokes musically reminds me a lot Jakob-perhaps a nod and ode to one of their many musical influences. Layers of symphonic like guitars play out like an orchestra while being driven by Friedlander's rudimentary drum patterns with that off chain snare adding further effect and Simpsons emotive and driving vocal melodies amplifying the song further. Mountain drips of hooks from the get go, the guitar and vocal melodies blending during the chorus and the drums adding rhythmic breaks. When It drops to half time with a flash of a drum fill, it’s so musically harmonious, with the shrill of the guitar notes radiating.

I love the guitar interplay during the first verse Iron Heart, all three guitars playing in separate unity. City of Souls have always been a band that really uses three guitars to all advantages, synchronising and creating a clean wall of guitars within a minefield of six musicians. The song plays out in perfect symmetry, with the rhythm section maintaining a propulsive energy throughout, allowing the vocals a steady narrative. Synaesthesia is an instrumental piece and a good way to end things, absorbing the last 15 tracks as it plays out. The first half of song is all guitar based, a simple guitar arrangement that gradually blooms, when the guitar orchestration is added it gives it a very cinematic and reflective feel. The song begins to fade and is then brought back to life with drums added to the mix and further guitar tracks, the way it grows and becomes more epic reminds of a song called the Black Amnesias by Hope of the States.

Enjoy this album on repeat, let it full your soul. When this all over, witness it all live. Magic.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )

About City of Souls


It is a word that Auckland six piece City of Souls were bound to deal with from their inception. Boasting members from bands that have etched their mark on the local and international hard rock and metal scene such as Blindspott, Blacklistt, 8 Foot Sativa, New Way Home, Cold By Winter, In Dread Response and Solstate, City of Souls was set to stir some interest, and stir they have.

Too often when something is hyped it is followed with disappointment, yet the first City Of Souls single Sleep arrives unashamedly explosive, touting emotive energy juxtaposed with a certain calm which will become this band’s signature. Recorded between Dreadstorm Media Auckland and Roundhead Studios, it was mixed by legendary engineer Clint Murphy, and mastered at Sterling Sound in New York.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for City of Souls


Year: 2020
Type: Album

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