Style: Progressive Metal
Release Date: 1 Feb 2019
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I've heard a lot of praise for Soen and I can see why. This is very capable stuff, immersive on a first listen and with plenty of depth to explore on repeat. I've also heard that, for all their roots in death metal—with one founding member a former drummer for Opeth and Amon Amarth and another a former bassist for Death, Testament and Sadus—they sound just like Tool. Well, I can see that too, but they're clearly no longer clones, if indeed they ever were.
That Tool influence is impossible to miss on the opening track, Opponent, and it's there elsewhere too, especially on Covenant but in a whole slew of nuances and grooves throughout much of the material here. Much of it is due to a similar vocal approach from Joel Ekelöf, but it's there in the bass of Stefan Stenberg too. Apparently they see Tool as a genre as much as a band, which, frankly, I can't argue with too much.
Ekelöf is a real highlight here. This is exquisitely patient stuff that he elevates with highly confident vocals. His background was with a new wave band called Willow Tree but there are only hints of that style in evidence here, most of his sound being progressive in nature. He generally ignores verses and choruses for an approach where his voice is just another one of many instruments, albeit the primary lead.
Musically, the band are just as patient as Ekelöf's vocals. They do rock it up at points, such as on Opponent, Rival and the middle of Penance, but the dynamic range of some of these songs is pretty astounding, often shifting from hard to soft and back again. Martyrs is an impactful song that slips into a notably quiet section for a while, before setting forth once more through bass and drum. The power's there whether it's heavy or quiet, active or passive. It isn't an unusual approach for Soen either; they do something very similar on Lascivious.
If they used to sound just like Tool but they've diversified their sound, then there are other influences to find. The most obvious one to me leapt out on the title track and that's Pink Floyd. Lotus is very much laid back Floyd with their swells, recurring themes and even a patient David Gilmour-style solo. However, while there are little touches of Floyd to be found here and there throughout the album, most obviously in Cody Ford's soloing, it would be misleading to suggest that the band sound like Floyd.
It would be just as misleading to suggest that they sound like Audioslave or Radiohead. However, Penance gets very reminiscent of Like a Stone, mostly in the tone of Ekelöf's vocals but right down to some of the melody too, and the end of River has a experimental Radiohead texture to it. I heard Nick Cave at the beginning too, but again this is far from a Nick Cave album.
What it means to me is that this sounds like a Soen album, with an array of little influences from all over the musical map. It's patient and mournful and powerful and very much them. The most obvious criticism is the clinical nature of a lot of this, but there is soul to be found here, most obviously in the closing track, Lunacy. It's fair to say that Ekelöf doesn't explore a particularly wide range of emotion but it's not fair to say that he ignores it. There's a lot of emotion here; it's just that it's relatively consistent introspection with a side of mild depression.
I like this and I have a feeling I'll like it more and more as it grows on me. It's not thrilling me the way it is some people, but it's strong stuff indeed and, frankly, every track is a highlight in its own way.