Written by: AP on 12/01/2019 19:15:13

Soilwork may not have been festooned with the mainstream success of Arch Enemy or In Flames, nor did they ever achieve the cult status of At the Gates, but the Helsingborg-based outfit has nonetheless long been regarded as one of the heavyweights of melodic death metal. The group’s 23-year career thus far has seen its ups and downs but in general, Soilwork has been a reliable source of some of the catchiest material in the genre without having to sever the connection to its more extreme roots. Indeed, even though this eleventh and latest studio album, “Verkligheten”, is of course a lot more polished than the material that Soilwork produced in the ‘90s and ‘00s, there is no semblance of having ‘sold out’ like some of their countrymen, with especially the old-school death metal background of new drummer Bastian Thusgaard helping to keep the pop somewhat at bay.

Thusgaard, who hails from Denmark, has a past in bands like Dawn of Demise and he makes no secret of it once the titular intro gives way to “Arrival”. The track sounds modern and has a very melodic character, but does not skimp on blastbeats or double-pedalled bass drums either during the intense pummeling it administers. But while the extremity of death metal lingers just beneath the surface of most of these songs, there is another, different kind of influence that has begun to seep into the music as well. By now, most people should be aware that vocalist Björn ‘Speed’ Strid and guitarist David Andersson have been investing a lot of time in an AOR side-project called The Night Flight Orchestra, and if you listen to the material on “Verkligheten” closely, you should be able to tell that the two musicians have ported over some of their ideas for that outfit to create a record that actually sounds like a marriage of classic rock and melodic death metal. The likes of “Full Moon Shoals” and “The Nurturing Glance” witness Soilwork at their catchiest yet, with Strid’s clean voice soaring more melodiously and exultantly than ever in the choruses, and the riffs that Andersson and his colleague Sylvain Coudret bring to the table often taking on an extravagant and sleazy character. In fact, some of the more bombastic songs that Soilwork present here, such as “Stålfågel” and the penultimate “Ageless Whisper”, sound unmistakably like the AOR genre given a metallic paint job with extra distortion and growling by Strid in the verses. And while this novelty is likely to dissatisfy some of the band’s fans, it seems to provide that final nudge Soilwork needs in order to achieve the popularity for which they are destined.

As mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, however, Soilwork is not about to follow in the footsteps of their arena courting compatriots. No — “Verkligheten” is still a heavy and hard-hitting piece of metal at its core despite the melodic elements receiving a steroid injection. Anyone left in doubt should direct their attention at the headbanging groove at the heart of “Bleeder Despoiler”, the thunderous blastbeats steamrolling the way for an acerbic tremolo riff in “When the Universe Spoke”, and the jagged rhythms and desolate melodies in “Needles and Kin”, which sees Amorphis frontman Tomi Joutsen invited for a vocal duet in the chorus. With so many of the major actors in melodic death metal having long since abolished the ‘death’ component of their sound, Soilwork’s efforts here should thus provide a welcome refuge for the fans left stranded by their heroes of old. “Verkligheten” sounds nice and familiar, but thankfully it also introduces a number of tweaks that ensure it never feels like Soilwork is treading water — most notably the aforementioned blending of AOR influences into the band’s signature sound.

The main difficulty I have with the album is that it does not offer much variety. “Verkligheten” is a streamlined piece of music, and it maintains a high standard throughout, implanting a plethora of slick melodies and infectious hooks into the fabric of one’s memory during the 12 tracks and 50 minutes of runtime it spreads across. But it also contains plenty of moments that pass by without raising much of a ruckus and songs that, on repeated listens, are likely to be skipped altogether. As such, “Verkligheten” relies too heavily on the strength of its singles to shoulder the entire weight, and it could have been more prudent to replace the more anonymous tracks like “Stålfågel” and “You Aquiver” — the latter of which features a barely noticeable guest appearance from Exes for Eyes’ Dave Sheldon — with further experiments on how the band might continue to push the envelope on future releases. Still, these minor criticisms should not discourage prospective listeners from getting their hands on what is nonetheless a catchy and rock solid piece of melodic death metal with integrity still intact.


Download: Arrival, Bleeder Despoiler, The Nurturing Glance, The Ageless Whisper, Needles and Kin
For the fans of: Arch Enemy, Mercenary, Raunchy, Scar Symmetry
Listen: Facebook

Release date 11.01.2019
Nuclear Blast

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