REVIEW: SOEN – “Lykaia”
Progressive metal supergroup Soen are back after a mere two years with a new offering of dark, moody prog metal entitled ‘Lykaia’ and it’s a work that is sure to bring joy to fans of the band and the genre as a whole. I’ve been aware of the band for a while now, but never followed their career very closely. My main interest in them was the presence of former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, whom I’ve loved since getting into that band back in 2001. And I’ve missed his drumming a good bit, so I leapt at the chance at hearing and reviewing what he and his current band mates are up to. I’ll also be honest and admit that I shied away from Soen a bit over the years due to the constant comparisons to TOOL who, contrary to popular opinion, I think are more than a little overrated. Are there similarities? Listening through this new album, I’d have to say sure, but Soen are now doing their own thing, and have their own approach, and that is where the inevitable comments and comparisons between the two will end.
‘Lykaia’ begins with the powerful and heavy “Sectarian” and the sound and approach of the album as a whole is established from the very first notes. Soen are not a flashy prog metal band in the likes of Dream Theater or others, but are more focused on solid song writing and letting the small, but vital, intricacies move the music forward and progress into a cohesive whole. The style is in part reminiscent of the less extreme, but still metal, passages of early Opeth, which is not at all to suggest they’re copying that sound, but the vibe is certainly similar. To heighten the similarity, vocalist Joel Ekelöf sounds uncannily like Mikael Åkerfeldt throughout. Obviously what his voice sounds like compared to someone else’s isn’t his fault, but the similarities must be mentioned regardless, and most importantly the vocals are very strong through the whole album.
‘Lykaia’ continues through its 51 minute running time to ooze quality and craftsmanship, with each song being a well constructed world unto itself, whose only interest is to follow the creative muse, and do what the song requires. The perfect example of this is the forth song, and by far my favorite, “Opal” which runs about 7 minutes. Short by prog standards, but the guitar work of Marcus Jidell, and the bass of Stefan Stenberg fuse perfectly with the light touch and flavor of Lopez’s drumming. This perfect marriage and timing of Lopez is highlighted at the 3:50 mark when the song builds, and over the top he plays a simple cymbal or bell pattern which raises the intensity and togetherness of the song to another level. Though seemingly minor it is absolutely sublime, and a moment I anticipate and am rewarded by with each listen. It’s a small thing, a small touch, one which many might not think anything of, but I believe quality art is made of small details that stick with the listener or viewer, even if missed or ignored by others. And this album is quality art.
It is not perfect, however, and I naturally have some critiques as well as praise. The most serious of which is even though all the songs are well crafted, there is a sameness about them that is honestly rather monotonous. Once you hear the first song, and absorb it, you pretty much get the sound of this album. They establish their sound, and don’t deviate much from it, which is perhaps why the enjoyment and interest in the songs come from repeated close listening to see how they work and build. But a bit of sonic variety would certainly be welcome in my mind. I would also like to hear the bass lifted a bit in the mix, particularly in the heavier portions where it gets a bit lost. Jidell’s work shines in the quieter middle sections, so hearing his bass lines a bit more clearly in the heavier would not be amiss.
‘Lykaia’ is ultimately a prog metal album of very high quality, and one that should be on the radar of any metal fan. Although there are strong similarities between songs, and sometimes other bands, the songs and album Soen have created are meticulously crafted by musicians playing and writing at the top of their game, to produce a heavy, melodic, and frequently emotional journey of moody metal. Not a masterpiece perhaps, but highly recommended.