SOULBENDER, Soulbender (2004, Licking Lava)

The skull:
A broken up skull with horns. How original. But wait, this devil skull is also sporting a halo? A traditional signifier of holiness? Surely there must be some mistake. Surely Soulbender realizes that longstanding graphical tradition assigns horns to badness and halos to goodness. What could they possibly mean to suggest by thus combining them in a single figure? In a skull, no less! A skull floating over a generic yellow and brown background. Soulbender are totally challenging all my preconceived notions, here, forcing me to question everything I thought I knew. It’s like the very core of my being, my soul if you will, is being twisted into some new configuration, bent into… woah……………. Dude!

The music:
Soulbender are only barely metal, and at that, they’re the worst kind of metal: alt-metal. Think Alice in Chains, but slightly heavier. Like, if AiC listened to Tool but couldn’t quite figure out what they were doing. It’s Soulbender’s pedigree alone which (barely) convinced The Council of their worthiness for the Skullection, as the band includes Queensryche guitarist Michael Wilton, and My Sister’s Machine’s Nick Pollock on vocals. Granted, this is about as low-watt a supergroup as you could conceive, and they put their combined talents to even less fruitful use than most such assemblies, but if the Skullection is about anything, it’s about barely trying and hardly succeeding. Queensryche’s post DeGarmo wilderness years were marked by increasibly terrible albums, although in the recent brouhaha Wilton and company claimed to have been either disengaged from or shut out of the songwriting process altogether. But, if Soulbender is any indication, Michael Wilton was fully qualified all along to join Geoff Tate in the ruining of Queensryche. There’s not much worse than an album so calculatedly written to court commercial success as this was, but when the effort reveals an understanding of what the public wants that’s close to a decade out of date, the entire spectacle just becomes sad and embarrassing. Although, come to think of it, sadness and embarrassment is pretty much Wilton’s stock-in-trade anymore. It’s what he’s best at, even.
— Friar Johnsen