Monday 21 January 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Soilwork, “Verkligheten”

By: Elliot Paisley

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 11/01/2019
Label: Nuclear Blast


“Verkligheten” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Verkligheten
2. Arrival
3. Bleeder Despoiler
4. Full Moon Shoals
5. The Nurturing Glance
6. When The Universe Spoke
7. Stålfågel (feat. Alissa White-Gluz)
8. The Wolves Are Back In Town
9. Witan
10. The Ageless Whisper
11. Needles And Kin (feat. Tomi Joutsen)
12. You Aquiver (feat. Dave Sheldon)

The Review:  

are a key example of a band being in the wrong place but at the right time. Their native Helsingborg is a small town in Sweden, closer to Copenhagen, Denmark than it is to melo-death mecca Gothenburg. Forming in late 1995, they were in prime position to take the place of At The Gates, frontrunners of the scene soon to disband and join the ranks among Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. However, this ultimately failed to manifest.

The band were never held in the same esteem as their contemporaries, and the reason why is curious. Could it be geography? Were they late to the party? Nevertheless, since their inception, the band have remained outsiders.

Their influence however must not be underestimated. Perhaps more than any other melodic death metal band, they have also had a remarkably apparent influence on the boom of American metalcore in the early 2000s, with such bands as Killswitch Engage, Unearth and particularly Trivium taking direct influence and appropriating the band’s flair for juddering rhythms and electrifying melody. Their work has even infiltrated the mainstream, as commercial heavyweights such as Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet for My Valentine have taken direct influence. They may not have been the originators, but Soilwork managed to wrangle a complex and whirling form of extreme metal and given it life in the limelight, despite not entirely enjoying such commercial success themselves.

Despite this, Soilwork could never boast about their consistency. While “Natural Born Chaos”, “Figure Number Five” and “Stabbing the Drama” each helped establish them as one of the leading lights of melodic death metal, the two following albums showed Soilwork making a beeline for the mainstream. Perhaps following in the footsteps of Dark Tranquillity, who embraced clean vocals and a gothic sheen, and In Flames, who explored alternative metal like that of Deftones, Soilwork began to take from the metalcore bands they had previously influenced. Both “Sworn to a Great Divide” and “The Panic Broadcast” felt derivative rather than defiant, and there was a worry that Soilwork were to fade from former glories, much like their contemporaries.

However, 2013 saw a tremendous return to form with the ambitious double-record “The Living Infinite”. Embracing their early victories and taking that formula into exciting new territory, the 20-song set helped establish Soilwork as a great band once again and quashed all doubt of their quality. It remains as one of the finest albums in their career Soilwork in good stead for the future. This campaign was furthered with the excellent 2016 effort “The Ride Majestic”, which was a leaner, meaner release than its predecessor and was welcomed by fans and critics alike. Improving on the progress made on “The Living Infinite”, the band made what was perhaps their most effective and successful album to date.

This has put “Verkligheten” in a curious position; on one hand, the band are in a strong position, having earnt back the trust of fans with the preceding two releases, but on the other, they now have a reputation to live up to. It is a relief to report that “Verkligheten” suffers no downfall, and instead further establishes Soilwork as perhaps a sole truly reliable band in melodic death metal.

The performances on this album are absolutely superb, from the opening moments of the instrumental title track, with it’s curious slide-guitar over tribal-drums aesthetic to the glorious string-bends which close the album, the band are on astounding form. This is the first album with Bastian Thusgaard, who has inherited the drum stool following the departure of Dirk Verbeuren who has recently become the full-time drummer for Megadeth, and he proves himself with an exceptional performance. Fiery and fluid, the percussion on this album mercifully swerves the traps that often laid within this style of music of feeling contrived and repetitive. It bolsters the album along and gives it a sense of pace that allows the album to feel light on its feet while also accenting the heavier passages.

The instrumentation is well-performed and tastefully composed, but perhaps the most impressive work on this album comes from vocalist Bjorn Strid, who has continued to improve album-on-album, with “Verkligheten” perhaps being his most accomplished performance yet. In a 20+ year career, to see a vocalist (particularly in metal) continuing to improve his craft is a rare thing. His screeches are furious and his cleans serene; it’s not a new formula, but when it is done to a high standard it remains refreshing.

The guitar-work is also electrifying, with soaring Maiden lead-wails providing a superb juxtaposition to the rhythm guitar’s punishing grunt. The album’s stand-out track “Witan” is a perfect example of this, with the low-end at its heaviest and the lead work at its most heavenly. Again, it’s not an entirely original formula, but when it is done with such conviction, it is still irresistible.

However, the album isn’t flawless. Perhaps most interestingly though, the primary flaws of this album are not really the fault of the band. The production job on the album, while complimenting the sweeter, more melodic passages of the album, can’t help but make certain passages feel less savage than they ought to. It’s far cleaner than it ought to be, and this is a pandemic among these types of bands; many of them appear afraid to embrace gritty production jobs, despite the fact that they would be far improved for it.

The band are their most electrifying when they let themselves off the leash and sound positively rabid, and at times it feels as though the band are restraining themselves. Closing track “You Aquiver”, while boasting some joyous melodies, does occasionally stray too far into Final-Fantasy territory, which is far from Soilwork playing to their strengths. It’s a markedly less-heavy album than what the band have put out recently, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it does show Soilwork moving away from the sweet-spot ever so slightly.

Despite these flaws, “Verkligheten” is still a great album. Soilwork may never be as good as In Flames, Dark Tranquillity or At The Gates at their heights; even their finest works don’t match up with “Clayman”, “The Gallery” or “Slaughter Of The Soul”, but in 2019, they are certainly one of the finest commodities within this style of music. Were it not for last year’s excellent “To Drink From The Night Itself”, a superb return to form by At The Gates, it would be difficult to find a peer for Soilwork in the modern age. “Verkligheten” may not be quite as exceptional as the preceding two albums, but it does more than enough to establish their dependability over 20 years in.

“Verkligheten” is available HERE

Band info: facebook