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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Soilwork - The Living Infinite (2013)

Band: Soilwork
Country: Helsingborg, Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

I've been a Soilwork fan since I first started getting into death metal (melodic death metal, but I digress). Despite my interest in the genre waning in the last couple of years, Soilwork are a band I continue to come back to. With the second departure of founding member guitarist Peter Wichers, I was a bit worried about how the band would adapt their sound on here.
I have to be honest about the fact that when I first heard the tracks released from this album, Spectrum of Eternity, This Momentary Bliss, and Rise Above The Sentiment, I was quite surprised by them. While all three tracks were certainly Soilwork being themselves, they were the most intense I had heard the band in quite some time. The instrumentals simply floored me with how intense the band were going with Dirk Verbeuren providing more blast-beats than I ever expected him to bring into the band and guitarists Sylvain Coudret and David Andersson bringing a much more technical and progressive flair to the riffing that the band really hasn't exhibited too often before now. But relying on those three tracks still left me feeling somewhat curious if that was the way that this entire double-album would sound because the band weren't straying too far away from their more structured approach to songwriting despite bringing a more technical flair to their instrumentals. So it is with great pleasure that I am able to say that the band definitely do make the most of both albums.
The first album is definitely the sort of album that is sure to please any fan of the band's more recent material. For me, the songs, while exhibiting that more technical flair, still share a very similar stylistic comparison to the band's last couple of albums. The songs are more straightforward and direct, with the structures not deviating too far from what the band have done in the past. I will say that this first album was certainly more aggressive than I would have expected despite the band keeping in line with the aggressive verse and melodic chorus formula. Bjorn Strid is exhibiting more intensity in his performance on here than he has in at least the last decade or so, and I was constantly being surprised by how little reliance the band was using clean vocals. Though that's not to say there's aren't exceptions on here, with songs like Tongue and The Windswept Mercy standing out on here by breaking the mold not only musically but also vocally as well, the latter - in my opinion - being among the best songs the band has ever written. We also have tracks like Let The First Wave Rise that brings back a bit of an early Soilwork vibe as well. I should also mention that no matter how many times I hear Realm of The Wasted, the chorus always catches me off-guard. Despite all that, to me, this first album is Soilwork being Soilwork. They are demonstrating great songwriting and breaking out of their boundaries just enough to make it interesting, but it's definitely still them. I've always known that Soilwork could write an album's worth of good material, the real test was going to be whether or not they could make a second album to stand up with it.
Knowing that the second album featured both an intro track and an instrumental, I was somewhat skeptical of where the band was going to take this second album. While I think that the opener Entering Aeons is somewhat unremarkable - it's not bad, just nothing amazing - that instrumental interlude, Loyal Shadow, is actually a really impressive piece of work showing off the band without the reliance of Speed's vocals to provide the main grabbing point. But frankly, the eight other songs that make up this album totally surprised me. Each of these tracks just hit me with not only how interesting the riffs and structures were but also with how powerful the choruses were. I still remember the first time I listened to Long Live The Misanthrope and feeling like I had just been hit with a ton of bricks once that chorus hit because the rest of the song is pretty winding and aggressive. In my opinion, I do think that the second album is more interesting than the first one was and has songs that I found to be more catchy. It's also a bit darker and atmospheric (in spots) than I've heard the band since Figure Number Five. Over the several times I've listened through these albums, it appeared to me that this second disc featured the band adding a slightly more progressive edge to their sound; or to hopefully clarify, I found the first disc to be Soilwork doing their style of melo-death with some more progressive touches, the second disc was Soilwork going into progressive-death metal with melo-death touches - but maybe that just sounds like rubbish to whoever's reading this. After all Rise Above The Sentiment is a pretty typical sounding Soilwork track, but when stacked up against tracks like the straight-up prog-metal (not Dream Theater sounding) Antidotes In Passing or the death-doom closer Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard, it works as a nice straightforward and direct melo-death track. Make of it what you will, at this point I sort of feel like I'm just rambling.
So, in the end, I can't say that I agree with the many of other reviews that have been calling this album a masterpiece, but I do have to agree on the fact that it's pretty damn good. It's definitely the band's crowning jewel thus far in their career and hopefully the band continues to pursue their more progressive side on future releases. It's definitely one of the best albums I've heard this year and I don't think I'd be wrong in assuming that it will be listed among the year's finest. Don't miss out on this one.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Tongue, The Windswept Mercy, Long Live The Misanthrope, Antidotes In Passing, Parasite Blues

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