Retrospective: Mindrot’s “Soul”

I’ll never stop being peeved at some things, and one of those things is that Mindrot never took the underground by storm. When the Oakland-based band put out their second album, Soul, on Relapse Records in 1998, the record—a massive, enveloping, emotionally rich journey through Neurosian turf and beyond—should have put Mindrot on everyone’s radar, permanently. But the band broke up the same month it came out (at a show with Oxbow and less than 30 attendees, according to depressing Wikipedia lore).

Now, here we are in 2018 and the best I can do is write a retrospective piece hoping to get a few Facebook comments from people saying they kinda remember this band. It’s just not fair.

For crying out loud, this album doesn’t even have a single review on The Metal Archives. It’s actually difficult to search for all the songs on YouTube, even though they’re there. It’s been out for 20 years and a few months, people. I just don’t get it. Mindrot still can’t get a break.

And here’s why I don’t get it: Soul is an album of such incredible, moving, jarring material that it’s capable of making a serious impact on the lives of all who listen to it. I think we just weren’t ready for this 20 years ago, and I really mean that. Today, it’s time to bring Soul back.

Opener “Dissipation” starts this album—which I’m tempted to call an early post-metal album but it’s just fucking better than that—off impressively, the requisite quiets ‘n’ crawls meandering along before that ominous guitar part starts and the band members slowly crawl into the studio, ready to create music that literally feels like the weight of the world on and then being removed from your shoulders. This song builds and builds, making its 5:12 feel like a lifetime, but a glorious lifetime worth living. In other words, that’s the right way to start an album.

There were points in my life where I enjoyed listening to Mindrot more than I enjoyed listening to Neurosis or Isis. I don’t regret those times at all, and some days, even here in 2018, I hold true to that position.

Next up is “Nothing,” and this is maybe—maybe—where those odd people who threw “nu-metal” accusations at Mindrot were coming from, but I have no idea because those people make no sense to me. Is there a killer whiplash groove? Why, yes, there is, and there’s anger for miles, but the comparisons stop there (alright, I hear it a bit in some of the dynamics, but I’m still not buying it). At 4:36, “Nothing” is the album’s shortest track; it’s also its most rockin’ and least world-crushing. Still, check out that late-song build; by the time it all comes crumbling down at the end, it’s hard to not think that even at their most concise, Mindrot were capable of tons.

“Suffer Alone” and its weird drumbeat are next, the band utilizing their odd knack for sung vocal lines that don’t sound lame and always threaten to just blow the hell up, as well as once again flirting with nu-metal (FINE I ADMIT IT) through a Neurosian, death metal lens. The band’s roots in the sludgey underground (there’s a Dystopia connection, and it makes sense) shine through in this song. Not making a joke about how there’s also a Save Ferris connection because fuck you.

“Incandescence” is the album’s mid-point epic, clocking in at 9:19 (still not the longest song on the album, incredibly), and what an epic it is. Featuring a Fields of the Nephilim-y vocal line for the ages, the band here embrace their post-punk and goth side, which, incredibly, they had, and they did so well. This is post-metal done right. These melodies are incredible. The vocal performance is chilling. “Incandescence” absolutely rules. If you do anything else with your day, take 10 minutes and listen to this great song and then wonder with me why Mindrot isn’t talked about more often in 2018.

After the massive “Incandescence,” the band go for another more concise, fast, groove-thrasher in “Cold Skin,” which features some of the fastest bpms on the album but also some very Fear Factory-esque melodies. It’s not Mindrot’s greatest musical achievement, but it does a good job of beating us to a bloody pulp after “Incandescence” laid our souls to waste, so there’s that.

Then there’s “In Silence,” another song that shows just how right Mindrot were capable of getting things during the Soul era. This 7:39 track, placed as song 6 of 8 on the album, is Soul’s climax in a sense, and it certainly sounds like it, with extra instrumentation bringing in some extra drama, and cinematic melodies for miles. Here, the band proves that their strength—and where they demonstrated the most personality—was channelling their goth/post-punk heros and creating slow-burning and slow-building metal that took from those sounds but also helped to create a whole new kind of metal.

“Clemency” is a percussive-heavy (seriously, how many drummers are playing here?) groove thrasher that goes full-on noise rock for a vicious half-speed stomp part before straightening out and racing toward the two-minute mark, the 6:20 song covering a lot of ground for what seems to start out as one of the album’s more stripped-down tracks.

If you thought a 10-plus minute closer called “Despair” on an album like this was going to be a massive, slow-moving trudge through absolute hopelessness, hey! You’re right! File next to the mighty “Incandescence” and “In Silence” if you want a trio of songs to really convince the pals that this album is awesome. Seriously, the groove stuff can go; this epic stuff is where it’s at. Trick with “Despair” is that it takes a quick left turn at 1:04 into a brisk, almost fun tempo (seriously), with an incredible vocal performance and then a turn to the kind of melodic doom that Morgion had on lockdown at this exact time, then, at 2:08, uh-oh: things get even slower and heavier. This song showcases everything that this kind of metal can do when done right, and it’s something that many post-metal bands of today could learn a lot of lessons from. And that riff that starts at 2:40? Too good. I’m done. But I’m not: the buildup at the song’s climax is unreal, Mindrot doing things with percussive patterns and vocal lines that are just done so rarely in metal, the band absolutely carving themselves a place in metal’s history with songs like this one alone. It’s just a place that few visit or consider on a daily basis, which is appropriate considering the misery spread throughout this album, but a shame nonetheless because Mindrot deserve so much more than they ever got.