REVIEW: SOEN – “Lotus”
Swedish progressive metal band Soen have since shed away the Tool comparisons that they were met with on the first album, ‘Cognitive’ (2012), holding on to their own sweet spot among today’s finest progressive acts with the next pair of ‘Tellurian’ (2014) and ‘Lykaia’ (2017). Both are among the best releases of their respective years, combining catchiness and groove with melancholic vocals. With the addition of a new guitarist, Cody Ford, and a bigger presence of the keys, their newest effort ‘Lotus’ promises to explore new territories.
The album starts off with “Opponent”, very similar in its opening riff to “Sectarian”, with a slight modification in the chords. The keys first appear as harmonies during a soft section and a pause is used to good effect, as distant guitar touches and bends flow about. “Lascivious” continues with bass and vocal duo until a heavy riff settles in. The atmosphere is generated by the keys and soft bends while the vocals rise in intensity during the chorus. Joel Ekelöf’s signature delivery with slightly nasal finishes on the high note is at the forefront of this chorus.
While the album is already looking promising two songs in, “Martyrs” takes things up a notch. Opening with quick riffing akin to ‘Lykaia’, it then switches to soft passages with bass and catchy drum beats. Martin Lopez is a master of beat construction, and almost never needs to get show fully busy to prove his mastery of the instrument. The second verse collapses into a wonderful piano melody, as it slowly intensifies into the chorus with a magnificent scream. “Lotus” is this album’s equivalent of “Lucidity” except it hits even harder. Vocal lines are beautifully delivered, the lyrics take a poignant turn and bluesy guitar bends float around. A stunning guitar solo follows, expertly constructed around the song’s primary melodies. The song ends on the sole vocals with the phrase –
‘And the demons that are left on your side, will leave you on your own’
“Covenant” and “Penance” bring back the grooves, though the former employs a few generic riffs and passages that sound like they’ve been done before by the band. The latter takes off slowly as Lopez extends his range, before turning on the heaviness right prior to the second chorus repetition. The second softer track, “River”, doesn’t quite hit the mark that the first did. The vocals are still adequate, and the acoustic guitars are a pleasant change. But the ensuring bends are derivative and repetitive, and the nasal vocal outro comes off as mildly jarring.
Thankfully, the album ends with two bangers. “Rival” is everything that I love in a Soen song: fun riffs, a few surprises (in this case – intermittent double bass thuds and audible key twiddles) and a catchy chorus. Heavy guitars and bass combine to form a head-bang worthy bridge. “Lunacy” has the most addictive vocal passages on the album. ‘Go back to the shadows, back to the shadows’ in the first verse and ‘In my head, it ain’t over’ on the chorus have been stuck in my head for an unnaturally long time. The album ends with a soft guitar section and a final few words, ultimately leaving you wishing for more.
In terms of sound, the overall production is markedly improved over ‘Lykaia’, whose mix was relatively unbalanced. The vocals and drums mixing, in particular, are more than satisfactory, while the subtle keys touches are audible enough to make an impact. In terms of overall consistency, the only slight negative is that ‘Lotus’ doesn’t have the relentless hooks that ‘Lykaia’ did, but the band’s progression on other fronts makes up for them. As a potential point for improvement, the band could work on integrating the keys as a more prominent device rather than one that just provides harmonies and atmosphere.
‘Lotus’ is another step forward in Soen’s evolution as a band, emphasizing on deeper lyrical themes and atmosphere, while reinforcing expert vocal delivery and catchy songwriting.