(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new 11th album by Sweden’s Soilwork, which will be released on January 11 by Nuclear Blast.)
One thing which you may have noticed, if you’ve been visiting NCS consistently for any length of time, is that we sometimes purposefully refrain from covering what you might think of as “the big names” in Metal.
Largely this is because we feel that our time would be better spent focussing on smaller, and less well-exposed artists, but also due to the fact that these “bigger” bands invariably receive so much attention and fawning flattery (in fact I’ve just recently stumbled across a few suspiciously sycophantic reviews which seemed like they’d been half-written before even hearing the album), that any attempt on our part to offer a more nuanced or critical appraisal would likely just get ignored and lost in the flood.
Still, every so often one of us will stumble upon a particular take or angle that they feel compelled to follow up on, which is why you’re about to read my review of the soon-to-be-released eleventh album from those stalwart Swedes known as Soilwork.
Be warned though, if you’re expecting nothing but blind praise based on the band’s name-value alone, then you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re after a more measured appraisal of the album’s pros and cons, however, then please, read on.
Long-term fans (like me) should all be aware by now that pretty much every Soilwork album since Natural Born Chaos has largely lived or died on the strengths of its melodies, and Verkligheten is no different in this regard.
In fact it might just be the most melodic album of the band’s career, to the point where I recently made an off-the-cuff remark to some friends that it frequently reminds me of “…Fleetwood Mac, only with lower-tuned guitars and more blastbeats”.
And while I may have been joking around at the time, the more I’ve listened to it the more I’ve started to think I wasn’t all that far off the mark with this initial assessment, as there’s definitely a much more “classic rock” undertone to many of the riffs and melodies this time around, albeit cleverly filtered and distorted through the lens of the band’s more metallic sensibilities.
Nowhere is this more obvious than during the irresistibly catchy, crunchy stomp-along of “The Nurturing Glance” and the electrifying dynamism of “The Ageless Whisper”, both of which serve as a veritable highlight reel for the nimble, melody-injected riffage of Sylvain Coudret and David Andersson, and the effervescent, emotive vocals of Björn Strid, with the latter two likely drawing a touch of inspiration from their side-gig in The Night Flight Orchestra.
Thankfully, as great as these two tunes are, they aren’t the only killer cuts to be found on Verkligheten, which, for the majority of its run-time at least, finds the band firing on (almost) all cylinders, and displaying a sense of energy and engagement which was largely absent on the album’s rather flat and forgettable predecessor.
The early pairing of “Arrival” (which instantly highlights the fact that although new drummer Bastian Thusgaard might not be the most inventive player, he’s certainly got the skills and the speed to fill his mentor’s not inconsiderable shoes) and its stompier companion “Bleeder Despoiler” are classic examples of modern-day Soilwork in all their fleet-fingered, hook-filled glory, as is the heroic (and pleasingly heavy) “Witan”, while the shamelessly anthemic “Stålfågel” fuses the very best bits of Natural Born Chaos, Stabbing the Drama, and The Panic Broadcast into one brilliantly conceived and melodically-textured whole (although the much-touted guest appearance of current Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz makes little to no impact in the grand scheme of things).
The appearance of Amorphis frontman Tomi Joutsen on the meatier, and much more metallic, “Needles and Kin”, is far more effective however, adding a welcome mix of deathly heft and heavenly harmony without ever pulling the focus away from the song itself, which quickly stakes its claim as one of the record’s best tracks (and also features one of the album’s best solo sections too).
It’s not all rainbows and roses, however, as there are several songs (without even counting the superfluous intro track) which fall somewhat short of the band’s usually high standards (though I’m sure it’s not for want of trying).
“When the Universe Spoke”, for example, starts off strong, but features a chorus which never really ignites properly, leaving the song bereft of a truly defining moment. Whereas both “The Wolves Are Back In Town” and anticlimactic closer “You Aquiver” suffer from the exact opposite complaint, being overly chorus-focussed, to the detriment of the rest of the track.
Still, they’re all superior to the plodding “Full Moon Shoals”, whose generically groovy main riff and painfully saccharine chorus sound like store-brand versions of something you’ve heard a thousand times before, and even a surprisingly punchy (if all-too-brief) mid-section can’t rescue the track from the doldrums of mediocrity.
For all its faults, however, Verkligheten’s killer-to-filler ratio stands at a respectable 7:5, and it’s worth pointing out that even some of the lesser tracks are still more than serviceable when all is said and done..
So my advice is, even if you’re one of those people who’ve fallen off the Soilwork wagon over the years, to give this one a listen, and to keep your mind (and your ears) open to all it has to offer. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a real grower of an album whose irrepressible melodic energy and occasional bursts of scorching intensity, deserve to be given a chance to win you over.