Soilwork are one of the international success stories of Sweden’s melodic death metal scene. They belong in the same bracket as In Flames and have tasted mainstream popularity in America and Japan besides northern Europe. Like Arch Enemy, they arrive at album number twelve with an expectant fanbase and a glowing reputation as one of the great touring acts of the modern age. Though featuring just one founding member in vocal extraordinaire, Björn Strid, the band have achieved some remarkable achievements since the departure of guitarist, Peter Wichers, most notably with 2013’s acclaimed double album, The Living Infinite. They show no nostalgic tendencies to return to their melodeath roots on Övergivenheten, but they avoid the trap of falling into a heavy metal cliché in the process.
The Swedes have always had a colourful meadow of sounds since 2002’s Natural Born Chaos, and they explore all shades of their repertoire on the opening title track, draping the intro in delicate guitar-plucking and cascading Greek techniques with dreamy Pink Floyd soundscapes. You know it’ll be an epic when you hear the military snares enter and the pick-slide announce the arrival of the distorted guitar assault at the one-minute mark. Björn Strid chooses a hardcore screamo personality for the verse parts but shoots into his trademark soprano thunder for the chorus as if swapping Machine Head for Devin Townsend in the blink of an eye. How effulgent is this music once it takes full possession of your body?
As a band that incorporated alternative metal and metalcore elements into their music in the mid-2000s, Soilwork are no stranger to staying in line with current trends, yet they take a step back into the arena rock of the 1970s when searching for inspiration on ‘Nous Sommes la Guerre’. The sultry French whispers and Boston hooks give way to celestial arpeggios and a vocal line that bears more than a passing resemblance to Duran, Duran’s ‘Ordinary World’. How do they find the poignant introspection of Katatonia among this rock extravaganza? It’s a question they choose not to answer, as if stunned by their own decision to search for elusive debris in this rabbit hole. ‘Electric Again’ is a sop to the die hard fanbase who want a harder edge of extreme metal with an epic chorus assault, while ‘Valleys of Gloam’ could be from the Devin Townsend Project’s Transcendence LP in its emotion and reach. Every song unites around a rousing chorus that will make you want to clutch the air like an ancient Greek philosopher addressing a crowd of citizen soldiers.
The divisive aspects of Övergivenheten will no doubt centre on the band’s decision to embrace the classic rock of the 1970s. ‘Is it in Your Darkness’ mixes Carcass with Kansas and includes blast beats and demolishing thrash riffs to satiate your appetite, while ‘Vultures’ takes the same approach but aims for a surprise rapprochement with the prog metal of the title track. It all culminates on standout song, ‘Death, I Hear You Calling’, which is a shameless nod to ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ by The Scorpions, with an Arch Enemy production and an infiltration of gnarly death metal vocals among the magical harmonies. They try it again on ‘Dreams of Nowhere’ and achieve similar results. It’s impossible to dislike this music despite its suitability for a Hollywood nostalgia film about the glorious 1970s.
Soilwork are a band with roots in death metal, and they make sure to end this hour-long affair with a reminder of their pedigree. ‘Golgata’ and ‘Harvest Spine’ take thrash metal and the hostility of death metal for their components and meld them into a hurricane of competing whirlwinds when you most need to be uprooted. This is a clever move and one that should appease those that want them to return to 2000’s The Chainheart Machine for inspiration.
They could take to the road with any of the metal gods in support of this album, although Övergivenheten should ensure top billing for Soilwork in Europe without the draw of a Megadeth or a Judas Priest to put them in front of the masses. It may represent yet another transition for the band, but it’s one that works for them here.
Release Date: 19/08/2022
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Standout tracks: Övergivenheten; Electric Again; Death, I Hear You Calling
Suggested Further Listening: Countless Skies – Glow (2020), Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence (2016), The Defaced – Charlatans (2022)