In this edition of our reviews for Portland’s Soft Kill, we’ll be looking at their 2013 release Circle of Trees. This one is undeniably a great step forward for the band. Where their debut An Open Door was a collection of well-executed goth and post punk focused at the core aspects of the genre, here we find them branching out more to distinguish themselves. A variety of moods and styles are present in Circle of Trees, stretching the band’s sound further into an expansive gloom-laden void. The production feels more adventurous, enabling them to explore a wider range of emotions. The tracks can range from punchy doom rock to ambient scenes, with melodies able to shift from monochromatic to a high sense of urgency. Tobias Grave’s improved versatility on vocals is also a highlight here, with a baritone that can move from ghostly whispers into screeching growls.
Although the core elements of Soft Kill are kept intact – the reverb, punchy drums and shimmering riffs still remaining prominent in the mix – we find the band getting bolder with their creations. In opener “Lost” I notice the instrumentation feels more sparse and restrained, resulting in a hollow and empty feeling that’s more ambient than rock. On “Vacant Home” the drums are harsher, the textures are sharp, with Grave’s vocals peaking at an operatic howl. These contrasts in approach all elicit grave emotions, yet the variety makes for an entertaining ride.
Elsewhere in the title track, Soft Kill goes for acoustic guitars and a vocal that is gentle and faded. It feels like a longing for something that’s all but a wistful memory. On the absolute contrast, “Untitled” is a bombastic electro-funk track that’ll transport you to a gothic disco floor. Soft Kill’s skill at gathering all these building blocks and harnessing them into whatever they please seems to be the recurring theme of this track.
Another highlight in Circle of Trees are their quieter songs. “Vesper” is a moody instrumental with a good mix of organic and electronic instruments combining for an atmospheric tune. In “Past Life”, Grave’s vocals are lifted on top of the mix, acting as a ghostly figure hovering above a swell of shimmering synths. Album closer “Red Walls” is a quintessential goth tune composed of minimal elements, all coalescing into great effect.
Soft Kill finds a new dimension in their sound in Circle of Trees. It’s here that we find them slowly stepping out of the shadows of their influences and putting a stamp on what they are truly capable of.