As a band, Dealer began as a whisper and landed with a scream. Eagle eyes spotted unannounced links to social media pages added to profiles. Obscure images were uploaded without comment. Silence for months ensued, with ‘What the hell is Dealer?’ continuing to spread like wildfire in private messages.
Revealed to be a band consisting of Aidan Ellaz, Alex Milovic, David Wilder, Josh Ang, and Joe Abikhair, Dealer first met the world’s ears with “Crooked”. The 2:18 length track whet appetites for whatever this band were intending on putting down. ASAP. Dealer’s second single “Grotesque” followed soon after, along with the news of Soul Burn‘s intended release on 5th April via Stay Sick Recordings and Human Warfare.
With headphones donned, I write this as I dive into Soul Burn for review and appreciate the fat and hype heavy intro that “Grotesque” provides with noisy and dense riffs. The femme droid-esque statement of “Dealer” is the perfect way to kick off the debut EP from this heavy band, and scratching guitar flare-outs just add to how good this feels.
My favourite part of Alpha Wolf‘s Mono is the raw emotion that vocalist Aidan Ellaz vulnerably and powerfully blasts out. From the “I felt the red enter my sightlines” line of “Grotesque”, it is made clear that we’re getting that territory of rawness again here via Dealer. With syllables tripping over themselves, listeners become struck by a story of internal injuries; the impact of “false damage” and what’s seemingly the “industry standard”.
In the shadow of this damage, the metaphorical black dog of depression lurks in the background, offering escape from the bombardments via suicide. Something this thematically dark and raw could only work if it had authentic emotion to back it up, and with Aidan’s vocals, it unquestionably does. But Dealer obviously isn’t just Aidan and the dark track and its intensity is created by all band members painting a piece of music that’s slamming, angular, menacing, and looming. Stuttering and screeching riffs coupled with the roar of lines like “Bleed with me” invite understanding of what’s felt.
As the track continues, it implies that the protagonist/Aidan has gained more and more pressure, and is more firmly pushed to desperation. To me, a pivotal moment comes at the line “You can’t kill what’s fucking dead on the inside”; seeming like a denial of the black dog, or at least a closing of the door to suicide. Feeling deeply immersed in what’s being shared, “Grotesque” comes across as a snapshot of a downward slide when external forces combine and internal forces grow claws. The ending packs a greater punch for me because of this immersion.
I love “Crooked”‘s introduction, mostly due to the bass tone and the vibe of sass that kicks in when the vocals begin. Where “Grotesque” was a questioning look at circumstances pushing toward dark thoughts or suicide, “Crooked” comes across stronger and more of a direct pushback toward the things involved in this. Quoting George Orwell’s 1984, Dealer go viciously in this 2:18 track. Not seeming to be directed at one person but many (“you’re all just fucking rot to me”), “Crooked” delivers blunt one-liners of separation. There’s no potential for forgiveness for the treatment the protagonist has endured.
Steady sonically, the song comes across as blunt as the lyrics. This steady scene setting lays the stage for a final barb, delivered after curtains of pummelling beats are drawn to the sides.
“And after all these years, life might be rich
But in this dog eat dog world
You’re still the fucking bitch”
Taking in the controlled and infectious rhythm and riffs of the outro, I already know this song is going to be MADNESS in a live setting.
The mood shifts again with third track “Melancholy Oxidase”, which includes a feature from Travis Tabron of Varials. If I thought I’d seen peak emotional rawness already, I was wrong. The track seems to fall into a deep low, where self-destruction is the flavour, in whatever means are possible or effective. This seems to reflect the broken failure the protagonist feels that he is. Unrelenting beats hit home a sense of overwhelming intensity.
The reflection of how bad or messy things have become is considered from the perspective of another and this is where Travis comes in. He roars in questioning and confrontation, and it’s clear there’s no happy ending. We’re taken to a bathroom scene, soaked in blood. It’s hectic and intense, and interwoven heaviness comes at the listener.
I found myself deep in the lyrics, which in themselves are full on. I’d describe it as looking directly at a gaping wound. I became struck with the idea that forcing the worst of things can be a means to remind ourselves what not to do. Of how hitting rock bottom can show you exactly where things aren’t working, and of what not to keep doing.
But the analytical mind steps aside voluntarily when you hear someone figuratively bleed emotionally in a song, and that’s what happens here: Aidan screams “How could you ever love me? I’m still fucking nothing.” It hits as hard as it reads, leaving a reverberation of a broken heart thundering, as irregular beats and echoes blanket the track and angular riffs hang in the air.
“You think you know, but you don’t know shit.”
I’m no drummer or producer but the drumming on Soul Burn is ridiculously good, and that includes the fourth track, “Pretty Stupid”. Lyrically the song reads like an open letter.. if the open letter was written with a knife into flesh, and was accompanied by a wired soundtrack of guitar flare and blast beats. It comes across as a purging of internal mess that the author was going through, and I’d expect that it was pretty cathartic to write.
I’m going to admit that my expectations about Soul Burn have been gradually crumbling away as I’ve progressed, with each track better after the last. But “Pretty Stupid” – especially from the moment around 0:37 – has blown them away completely, plunging me into something far removed from expected metalcore kind of territory. Ridiculously FAT and littered with sharp slices of guitar, the breakdown at this point comes across like a work of art, painted with instruments in a cavernous space.
For only 2:36 duration, “Pretty Stupid” stalks and staggers like it’s a fucking sumo wrestler at times, before launching itself out of a canon in some kind of warp speed insane run of syllables and a breakneck pace. This is so much more than I expected to appear on this EP. So many times through “Pretty Stupid” my jaw dropped and I had to pause and go back and re-listen. There’s a lot to unpack here, including what seems like a nod to Alpha Wolf’s “No. 2” (courtesy of the lyric “I’ve still got blood to bleed”), a slithering/whispering vocal effect, and an ending punch courtesy of a ridiculous breakdown with drippingly heavy and slow pace (“You should have buried me”).
This hectic song carries a lot within it, but comes across as someone wrestling with all that’s happened, all they’ve lost, where they’re at, and what they still have left. The aftertaste this leaves me with is something of strength.
“I’m sorry I fell apart and asked for death”
“You In Frame” is going to surprise listeners with the melodic/sung vocals that appear in the verses, especially because the song is the longest on the EP and not a mere momentary interlude. For my ears, it was a pleasant and welcome surprise and I love its inclusion on Soul Burn.
The softer song comes across as a surrender to the protagonist’s role in what’s happened, looking back at how life was. It amps up in severity at the chorus, where frustration carries things forward. Nostalgia gently rolls through the second verse, where something sweet had existed but no longer does. The line “Don’t leave the light on, I can’t come home” bellowed out into an echoing space of nothing comes across like a line drawn – as if to say ‘enough now’ and letting go, and ouch, it aches.
I definitely wasn’t expecting vocal harmonies and repeated choruses with “oohs” rippling through them. This coupled with ache-heavy screams, and the layered ending comes across something really satisfying and unique in terms of a song.
“Rid of me.”
Soul Burn‘s final track “Ultima Death” amps up the heaviness again. It could be considered to be the EP’s unofficial title track (as it includes the lyric “Predetermined soul burn”). I take it as a heart to heart moment with loved ones before someone decides to take their life, being completely up front about the risk of what they’re feeling/going through. As I expected from this topic, it’s fraught with tension and nervousness, where high guitar punctuates drum blasts.
What I didn’t expect is the beat machine interlude.. before slamming back out into crushing heaviness, nor the pinging affect raining down while Aidan screams (“RID OF ME”) in the background. I also didn’t expect what seems like an exercise in unpredictable rhythms before a love song is sung distantly in the background (seeming to be a different angle of “You In Frame”?) sees the entire EP to its close. Like.. what?
Man, Soul Burn is set to destroy expectations, blow minds, and maybe even bend some genre lines. Salivating fans enjoying the mosh-tastic heavy cuts have so much more to take in with these six tracks. This is such a feast that Dealer have created, and I’m a massive fan of how the quintet have taken the metaphorical bones of metalcore and created something different with it.
“Pretty Stupid” says “I’ve got nothing to prove”, and that’s exactly how Soul Burn feels by way of creative choices. The guys of Dealer have ‘been around the block’ before, and are connecting on this project with nothing to lose and nothing to prove to anyone. Don’t expect another Alpha Wolf. Don’t expect another Northlane. Don’t expect this to sound like anything else you’ve heard before. Expect something emotionally genuine and creatively unbound, because that’s what Soul Burn is.
Emotionally raw and honest, each song is a snapshot of something real. Instrumentally versatile, Soul Burn appeases the taste for hefty breakdowns, but also comes with fresh flavours of unexpected sounds.
How could you improve on this, really?