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While the B-movie horror scene on the album cover somehow invokes images of cheeseball, ham-fisted punk rock, the reality is that Soil is a metal band. Not nu-metal, or rapcore, or techno-metal, just plain ol' metal. Whereas an album such as this may have been considered old hat in the late '80s or early '90s, with its release in the late '90s El Chupacabra! was like a mildly retro-flavored breath of fresh air in a rapidly stagnating metal community. Big bar chords wrapped up in swirling, elaborate leads showed that Soil's collective denim jacket was covered with patches from the likes of John Bush (Armored Saint, Anthrax), Corrosion of Conformity (before they turned Southern rock), Testament, Alice in Chains, and maybe even a little bit of Skid Row (the rockin' stuff, not the girly ballads...well, maybe a little of the girly ballads). Well produced, the album is very straightforward with no wonky studio tricks or gimmicks -- just an affable mix of strong-lunged vocals (John Bush meets Bruce Dickinson meets Layne Staley) and woodshedding axe work ("Crucified" even features some very tasty twin-guitar lines). Though the band thankfully avoids it for the most part, the acoustic intro and throaty vocal take of "She" occasionally calls to mind the musical plague that is the genetically mutated Pearl Jam monstrosity called Creed. This song also effectively erases any sort of favorable tough-guy metal image the band had established with the album's previous cuts, as it is a sappy ballad with lyrics like "I never want to leave the warm embrace of my true friend." Album closer "Two Cent Friend" has fuzzy, chugging riffage aplenty, but it is hardly enough to overpower the residual bad taste of "She." All said, El Chupacabra!, though a scant five songs in length, is actually two albums in one: Listening to all five tracks, it is mediocre rock fare with gimmicky balladry thrown in, either to appeal to a female audience/bandmembers' girlfriends or to make a half-hearted grab at radio's brass ring. However, listening to the record and hitting skip before the acoustic strumming of "She" has a chance to sneak through makes this a straightforward and respectable retro-metal album showing Soil to be a band with a good enough grasp of the genre's past to play a decent role in its future. Oh, and don't forget to dazzle your friends as you casually point out that "el chupacabra," Spanish for "the goat sucker," is the name of the Puerto Rican/South American mysterious monster of unknown origins said to drain animals of their blood through puncture wounds in the neck, making its legend akin to that of the vampire. ~ Karen E. Graves, Rovi