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Soen - Memorial CD (album) cover




Experimental/Post Metal

3.54 | 31 ratings

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4 stars Swedish prog rock/metal heavyweights Soen are back with their sixth studio album, Memorial - and it's yet another masterpiece in a catalogue that is growing to be one of the most impressive and consistent in the whole genre. With Memorial, the Swedes continue the subtle evolution of their sound towards heavier modern metal territory they started with their previous LP Imperial, merging a harder American alt-metal edge with the unmistakable Scandinavian melancholy and majesticness that has always characterized the band's output.

The contrast between these two aspects of Soen's sound has never been starker, which is part of what makes Memorial such a splendidly dynamic and wholly entertaining record. There are very few traces left of the mid-paced songwriting and mild-mannered delivery that have characterized much of the band's pervious records. These have been instead replaced by a fury and raw energy that pervades nearly all aspects of the new songs. Martin López dispenses with much of his signature syncopations and polyrhythms to instead favour a steadier and more direct drumming style, providing a mighty solid backbone to the arrangements. Meanwhile, Joel Ekelöf injects tons of rasp and distortion in his normally silky and restrained vocal delivery. The melodies he sings on the new songs are also more direct and rudimental than what he has used us to, which suits perfectly his harsher signing style. Perhaps even most notably, many of the songs are fast-paced and infused with a cornucopia of very headbangable riffs that give the guitars a dominant role in the arrangements ("Sincere", "Unbreakable", "Fortress", "Incendiary", "Icon"). Even Cody Ford's solos often stray away from his typical Gilmouresque approach and towards more uptempo and dissonant playing.

Against this backdrop, the sparse moments of melancholy and mellowness acquire an even stronger and more spellbinding presence. "Sincere", "Unbreakable", "Fortress", and "Incendiary" all contain sudden drops in volume and intensity, as the fury of the songs' verses and choruses gives way to delicate, semi-acoustic passages in the bridges. Meanwhile, songs like "Hollowed", "Tragedian" and "Vitals" slow down the tempo to ballad-speed, providing cleverly-placed changes of pace to the album as a whole. The progressive and experimental elements of the music also gain prominence in the context of the generally heavy and hard-hitting songwriting, like the sinister and dissonant instrumental bridge of "Icon", the computerized vocals on the verse of "Violence", or the majestic use of synthetized strings in the title-track that provide a chilling throwback to the use of Mellotron in classic prog rock (King Crimson).

Memorial is a phenomenal album that works on many different levels. It's lot of fun to listen to, by virtue of the sheer energy of its songs. But there are also tons of different layers in the music, which get better and better with each new listen as one uncovers new depths in the arrangements and songwriting. The first six tracks, in particular, are among the best the Swedish band has ever penned, with the title-track and the emotional ballad "Hollowed" (featuring a beautiful cameo by Italian pop singer Elisa) deserving special mention. The album's second half may be a touch less compelling, as tracks like "Incendiary" and "Tragedian" cannot perhaps reach the level of awesomeness of earlier songs. But the progressive tour-de-force "Icon" and the incredible soul/jazz ballad "Vitals" close the album in a spectacular way, almost compelling the listener to press "PLAY" again. In fact, I am finding it nearly impossible to put this record down: it has been haunting my CD player for weeks now, with no intention to leave any time soon. Album of the Year? Very, very possibly so.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

lukretio | 4/5 |


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