This is an important album for Soilwork, not because it's their twelfth or because it's following the highly successful Verkligheten, but because it's the last to feature David Andersson, who passed a few weeks ago. He was an excellent guitarist, as his work for both Soilwork and their moonlighting outfit, the Night Flight Orchestra, shows, but he was also half of the creative process. He wrote or co-wrote the lyrics for nine of the fourteen tracks here and the music for seven. To suggest that he will be seriously missed is a massive understatement. Thank you for the music, sir. RIP.
And, that said, this is another easy to like album from Soilwork, but I had trouble truly getting my heart around it. I liked the title track, which kicks off the album like world music and ends like Pink Floyd, but spends its time in between as the melodic death metal the band are known for. I didn't love it, though, and found the vocal delivery from founder member Björn Strid oddly rhythmic as if he didn't want there to be anything there that could even be considered fancy, an odd decision, given where the music behind him goes.
And, while his delivery absolutely varies as the album progresses, I found myself with a relatively similar reaction to almost everything else. It's immediate stuff, easy to like on a first listen. That's not too surprising, but what surprised me was how little it grew on a second. None of these songs have got their claws into me yet and I'm on my third time through. Does that make it a consistent album? Sure. Does it make it a disappointing one? Maybe. I'm still enjoying it and three times is a lot of music, because this is a generous sixty-five minute release. So I wouldn't use disappointing. Maybe I should use underwhelming instead.
One thing I noticed was how much this often feels like a prog rock album and a commercial one to boot. It heavies up at points but, once past the title track, I didn't really feel like it was a melodic death metal album until perhaps nine songs in, when This Godless Universe kicks in hard after its delicate piano intro. Perhaps part of this is that Strid's harsh voice nowadays isn't much harsher than his clean voice, with just a little rasp added for effect. There are points where he duets with himself, harsh against clean and I kept forgetting. Clean seems to be his default now and he's not too fussed about that.
Maybe it's just that the heavier material was shunted down the track listing. This Godless Universe is second half, where it feels far more at home with Golgata and the excellent closer On the Wings of a Goddess Through Flaming Sheets of Rain than it does the softer, more commercial material in either half but especially the first. There are songs here that feel like heavier versions of what the Night Flight Orchestra might record, especially Death, I Hear You Calling. Dreams of Nowhere fits that bill too, though it also heavies up when Strid goes harsh and the guitars join him.
Talking of On the Wings of a Goddess, it's the epic of the album and my favourite song, perhaps by a distance. As its seven and a half minute running time suggests, it covers a lot of ground, but one of the things that leapt out at me was how furious the drumming was. It's not just that the song is a heavy one, because it isn't throughout, but Bastian Thusgaard seems to want it to be. I would be stretching to suggest that he's run out of album and wants to finally let off some steam, but I'd be lying if the thought of it didn't spring quickly to mind, especially as the guitars don't play along in the first fast section but absolutely join in for the second, as if he'd talked them into it.
After this one, I'd be hard pressed to call out a favourite. This Godless Universe is up there, but I'd probably end up plumping for Morgongåva/Stormfågel, which is telling because it's an interlude, one of a couple here with The Everlasting Flame the other. It's nothing particularly special, but it features some gorgeous liquid rock guitar and it feels refreshing every time through. It's a great piece, but it's an interlude and the fact that it's up there fighting for my next favourite song tells me that I don't like this album as much as the last one.