Thursday 10 January 2019

Soilwork - Verkligheten (2019)

Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 11 Jan 2019
Sites: Facebook | Metal-Archives | Official Website

Verkligheten is Soilwork's eleventh studio album, their first since 2015's The Ride Majestic and it sets 2019 off for the Swedes, well, rather majestically, I think.

A leisurely pulsing instrumental opener gives way unexpectedly to sheer speed, almost too much because the blastbeats outpace everything else. It seems weird for me, an old school speed metal fan, to wonder why the drums don't slow down at points. They're a delight on tracks like When the Universe Spoke because the guitars run with the drums like wolves chasing the moon, but they're a deliberate aural assault at the beginning of the album, perhaps because the track is called Arrival and it's a statement.

There's a lot more going on in Arrival than just hyperspeed drums, though, and that's what really highlights what this album has in store. The textbook states that Soilwork used to be a melodic death metal band before they shifted into metalcore, but really what they did was to continually diversify their sound and the vocal work of Björn Strid are a prime example of how they did that. They're not really a metalcore band, they just have some metalcore vocals.

Sure, his default mode features the shouts of a hardcore vocalist but he growls and he sings cleanly too, not always with harsh verses and clean choruses, but with interplay between those styles for texture and effect. Soilwork play with layers generally but that's most obvious in the way they layer Strid's vocals, which do vary.

Some tracks, such as Witan, follow the harsh verse, clean chorus approach but there are clean vocals underlaying the harsh ones. Others, like Stålfågel, are mostly clean with the odd shout or growl for effect, but with an additional and enticingly soulful guest vocal from Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy, which often sounds like how Joss Stone added an extra layer of texture behind SuperHeavy tracks that focused on the other singers. It really benefits the song, as White-Gluz's voice often hides behind Strid's, only to soar above it at the end of lines, which is delightful.

In fact, much of this album seems to have been designed to play with styles, almost asking us to set expectations so the band can flout them. The Nurturing Glance, for instance, is emphatically a power metal song, initially sounding like Accept, with a powerful riff and some reliable (and steady) drumming, only to launch into a chorus worthy of any symphonic metal band. When the Universe Spoke is an up tempo blinder except when it isn't, because it slows down to play with harmonies in ways that may remind of someone as unlikely as Radiohead.

There really is a lot going on in this musical stew, which emphatically rewards the repeat listener. There are elements from across the extreme metal spectrum, but also traditional parts, progressive parts and parts that come from outside the realm of heavy metal entirely. Bastian Thusgaard, the band's new drummer, is clearly a bundle of energy but he mixes it up as much as Strid does with his voice. Sven Karlsson is a highlight too on keyboards, whether introducing, layering or dancing with the vocals.

Verkligheten translates from the Swedish as 'reality' or 'truth' and I'll read that as a statement on the direction of metal today, which is that different styles don't have to remain separate. A decade ago, not everyone appreciated the musical changes that Soilwork made to their melodic death metal roots, bringing in comparisons to Linkin Park or even Nickelback. I know they lost fans, but the passage of time has, I think, come out on their side. Metal is all about mixing up styles nowadays and this is an agreeable example of that to kick off 2019 right, if in a lighter vein than the new Phlebotomized album, which drops a week later.

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