REVIEW: SOILWORK – “Verkligheten”
Soilwork have been a consistent operator throughout their career. From their inception they took the powerful Swedish melodic sound that their peers created, and fused it into their own style, which quickly saw the bands star rise amid their commitment towards releasing good music. Fast forward two decades and ten albums later and the band is still forging ahead, despite numerous line-up changes and other hurdles that have presented themselves. While the members may have changed, the band’s mentality has stayed the same, and their desire to release good music has continued to push Soilwork forward and has given life to the bands 11th studio album Verkligheten (English: reality).
Anyone that has followed Soilwork over the past decade has a very rough idea of the path that the band’s sound has been taking, with releases like The Ride Majestic and The Living Infinite almost cementing them into their own niche that satiates fans on either side of the metal or melodic rock spectrum. Verkligheten builds on these foundations to create an album that is not only reflective of the band that Soilwork has grown to become, but indicative of the band that they wish to be.
One of the biggest strengths of Verkligheten, and a musical aspect that is synonymous with Soilwork itself, is Bjorn “Speed” Strid’s vocal and lyrical abilities. It seems that having spent some time since The Ride Majestic contributing to his other project The Night Flight Orchestra has only helped Speed hone in on the softer side of his vocals that feature quite prominently on Verkligheten. This doesn’t mean that Speed ignores his harsher vocals, as Verkligheten sees Speed covering his full vocal spectrum – exhibiting some of his cleanest harmonies on Full Moon Shoals or The Ageless Whisper, while also offering what could be considered his crispest growls and screams on When The Universe Spoke. While it’s no secret the power that Speed’s vocals have provided in the past, there seems to be a more seamless flow in Verkligheten between harsh and clean than there was on previous tracks like Let This River Flow. Additionally, the vocal inclusion of Tomi Joutsen from Amorphis as a guest artist towards the end of the record on Needles and Kin adds flourish to an already powerful track, while also offering a point of reference to compare the growth in Speed’s harsh vocal delivery.
Lyrically, the songs on Verkligheten delve into the bands often utilised social realism and escapism tropes. While they aren’t drastically different to those that have been offered in previous albums, there is a much clearer correlation between the lyrics and music on this album. It’s this linkage that helps emphasize the meaning of each song, and it’s a precarious balance that Soilwork have got right on Verkligheten.
Acting as the perfect accompaniment to the vocal delivery, the musicianship displayed on Verkligheten is another example of how the band has grown over the past three years. By using different stylistic approaches to their song writing, the band has been able to create a collection of songs that sound familiar, yet vary greatly in their delivery. From the rock chanting nature of The Nurturing Glance, to the relatively empty, yet melancholic nature of Witan, or the slower paced Bleeder Despoiler, each song embodies a central feeling of Swedish melancholy at its core. This melancholy has been a part of the band’s song writing previously, but reverberates so strongly through each melody on Verkligheten that it gives the album a unique sound. While this has been a song writing pattern of the band’s over the past few albums, Verkligheten has really taken it to another level.
Another key highlight across Verkligheten is the marked improvement towards the dual guitar work of David Andersson and Sylvain Coudret. These two have always been a great match for each other, but the melodies present on this record are their greatest work yet, and amongst an album of twelve songs it’s very difficult to find many faults with the guitar work period. Maybe its the aforementioned Swedish melancholic undertones bleeding into the melodies to make each unique guitar passage stand out, but Andersson and Coudret have crafted something special here. While it would be quite easy to point to particular sections in every track across the album that offer breathtaking guitar work, it is guitar solos like the one in Stålfågel or The Nurturing Glance that really exemplify what these two have put into Verkligheten. These two guitarists have laid down some of the best solos that the industry will have seen over the past few years, and it is going to be very exciting to watch some of these played live.
It is important to point out that this great guitar work would not be possible without the immense foundation laid by the drumming of the band’s newest member Bastian Thusgaard. Filling a role that has been occupied by world renowned drummers can’t have been an easy task, but Thusgaard has provided drums on Verkligheten that sound like the input of someone that has been with the band for two decades. Tracks like The Wolves Are Back In Town, and Arrival are carried by his tenacious drum beats, while the subtle fills that litter the remainder of the album add a touch of panache to the songs. Drummers are often the understated members of the band, but Thusgaard has left a memorable impression on this record.
Although there is a ton of great praise for the record, the album is not without its faults. While there is a fairly solid flow present throughout, the album could have done without the instrumental opener which seems misplaced, or thrown in as somewhat of an afterthought. Its a solid piece musically, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t fit with everything else that the album has to offer. Additionally, while often an integral component to some of the tracks, it can be quite difficult to hear the keyboards/programming in the mix — a minor inconvenience when you consider that the overall album mix is really quite good.
With the release of Verkligheten, Soilwork seems to have reached a point in their career where they understand the music that they enjoy writing and performing, and also seem to have found the sound that fits right for them – something that might have been a bit confused in the bands earlier years. As a whole package, Verkligheten ticks all the right boxes; however, it isn’t going to instantly blow everyone away. With that being said, the strength of the band’s song writing, coupled with its overall sound and energetic vibe will ensure that this album will pick up fans over time. Verkligheten isn’t the sort of album that is a ‘one-and-done’ listen, and will require repeat visits and time to absorb and appreciate the subtle nuances that the band has specifically crafted — but it is an album that is well worth that continued investment.