The Swedish melodeath giants, Soilwork are back in 2022 with Övergivenheten (Swedish for “Abandonment”), as a thematic follow-up to pre-pandemic 2019’s Veklighheten (Swedish for “Reality). Truth be told, I was a megafan of Soilwork right up to 2005’s Stabbing the Drama and it was very formative in my metal journey. That said, I largely moved away from Soilwork after that record, and completely lost track of the band past The Panic Broadcast. It was an internal debate of nostalgia and curiosity to see what one of my adolescent favorites measured up against my more developed sensibilities.
The Soilwork of Stabbing the Drama is not the same as the one we get on Overgivenheten, and that is both a great thing and a retrospective disappointment. Where Soilwork ruled the roost of thrashy riffs with large melodic choruses with soaring clean vocal sections that instantly stuck with you, newer Soilwork is an amalgamation of prog/classic rock, some mix of old-school heavy metal, and smatterings of the thrashy goodness that made Soilwork special. All tied up with the sterile ribbons of over-produced and hammy choruses, that feel more artificially inserted and commercial rather than a natural progression from the mood created by the riffs.
My complaints with the most recent Arch Enemy record Deceivers can be applied to Overgivenheten as well, although to a smaller extent, in that melodeath being a very cheesy genre lacking many nuances and a genre squarely in the general public’s rearview mirror. For a band to excel in that genre, there needs to be a lot of innovation, and Soilwork does not seem to be innovating in an exciting way. Sure there are keyboard arrangements all over the record, and an added emphasis on acoustic guitars, Soilwork is clearly borrowing more and more heavily from their prog-rock side project The Night Flight Orchestra. In fact tracks like “Death, I Hear You Calling” could be on a TNFO record, and nobody would bat an eye.
With twelve tracks and a couple of filler interludes, Overgivenheten is severely bloated and could have been well served by an aggressive editor’s blade. The album and the band are best served when they lean on their heavier elements, like the blast-beat laden sections on “Electric Again”, “Vultures”, and “This Godless Universe”, but even these “brutal” tracks, get dunked in the cheese fondue pot that is the clean-choruses. Standout tracks were hard to pick out, as most of the record began to blend together into a mishmash of classic-rock lethargy punctuated by bizarre melodic black punches. “Is It Your Darkness”, “Golgata” and a few others did try its best to harken back to the Stabbing the Drama-era thrash-forward melodeath phase and immediately jump out at you and have a great aftertaste, but these tracks are so few and far between, that I found myself casting the entire record into background metal very quickly, and that is never a good sign for this genre.
This is a severe pity, as Soilwork is packed to the brim with stellar musicians. Guitarists David Andersson and Sylvain Coudret are fantastic musicians, and Andersson’s riffs are quintessential to Swedish modern melodeath (like Jesper Stormblad from In Flames). Drummer Bastian Thusgaard is proving to be an asset to the band and fills the gigantic shoes left to him by genre demigod Dirk Verbeuren (now of Megadeth). The drum arrangements on Overgivenheten are among the most enjoyable parts, so kudos to Thusgaard. Keyboards and bass are well placed, with a larger emphasis on letting the keys breathe in their own space. It is very little that can be said about vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid that hasn’t been said in countless reviews and opinion pieces over his decades-long career. His vocal range continues to be among the best the entire genre of metal has ever seen, and his versatility gets enough room to be flexed on this record. His falsettos are positively operatic in how grinningly cheesy they are. However, his gruff vocals are growing increasingly “tired”, and there is a fear that he may forsake them completely as age overtakes him on future records. Hang in there Speed!
Övergivenheten continues the new trend of commercial melodeath with a few throwback moments to what made Soilwork quintessential to the genre. Enjoyable moments buried by mountains of Guitar Center bloat keep the record from timelessness.