Soilwork – Verkligheten

Out on Nuclear Blast Records

What is it with the surströmning-eating cretins in the country of Sweden that makes them so great at writing melodies? From the world-conquering ABBA to the modern pop goddess Robyn, the umlaut-spouting northeners seemingly can’t stop themselves from writing their way into the hearts and the charts of people around the world. This natural inclination even influences the most extreme variants of musical exports the country has to offer. Be it black metal or cybernetic gore-grind, you know it’ll only be a matter of time before the swedes has packaged it into a technicolor extravaganza fit for the biggest outdoor festivals in Europe.

            This is exactly what they did to the then-young genre of death metal in the 90s. In Flames, Dark Tranquility and At the Gates took the brutal bashings of death metal and combined it with more listener-friendly elements pillaged from NWOBHM, before gracing it with their native country’s supernatural ear for melody. Soilwork was also an integral part of that early scene, and along with the aforementioned bands they’ve forged on through the years, releasing albums at a clip while steadily becoming more accessible (notable exception is At the Gates, who even after an extended break sounds more or less like they did in ’95). For bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquility this commercialization dovetailed with a decline in the quality of their artistic statements. For Soilwork, the trajectory has looked a little different.

            As a matter of fact, my favorite album of theirs was released in 2013, 15 years after their debut full-length. The Living Infinitewas a flawed but incredibly engaging and ambitious venture, being as it were a double album with a run time closing up on 90 minutes. The album combined the usual blasting ferocity and sky-cleaving leads with a healthy dose of bluesy rock riffs, a sound that has been continued into the present day.

            Verklighetenis cut from the same cloth as The Living Infinite, although with a more reasonable running time of 50 minutes. The tracks are still adhering to verse-chorus structures, Björn Strid is still alternating between his classic scream and soaring cleans, and the band is still chucking out hook after hook like their Swedish citizenship will be revoked if they don’t manage to rack up those streaming numbers. The production is incredibly crisp and streamlined, leaving just enough space in the mix to accommodate some baroque flights of fancy.

            The intro produces a sense of occasion; pounding drums, piano and slide guitar building up an anticipation for the band to come storming in “Spectrum of Eternity”-style on the real opener, “Arrival”. This opening proves appropriate for the album in question, since most of the tracks on Verkligheten starts off with a similar configuration of atmospheric lead guitar, piano and tom hits, before blasting off into the song proper. 

            “Arrival” is a fine Soilwork track, the aggressive thrashing spiked with an ample helping of melodic uplift. The following couple of tracks enters more arena-oriented territory, while introducing some riffing that comes dangerously close to summon the duck-walking spirit of Angus Young. This progression reaches an unexpectedly extreme conclusion, when the verse of “The Nurturung Glance” rides in on a star-spangled riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Ted Nugent record. The perplexity is quickly offset by the arrival of track number six, “When the Universe Spoke”.  This track is better than any modern melodeath bop has the right to be, and is a perfect distillate of all modern Soilwork can be. From the fiery verses, to the evil Judas Priest pre-chorus, to the mother of leads rearing her head during the intro and chorus; there is no reason to not lose your shit when this jam blares out of the speakers.

            The second half of the record does not scale the same heights as the first six tracks. Their commercial notions threatens to overwhelm the material on tracks such as “Stålfågel, Witan and “The Wolves are Back in Town”, which is the biggest offender of them all. It doesn’t help that the surplus of clean vocals on Verklighetenshines a light on Strids lyrics, which seem hell-bent on communicating something to the listener, but are to oblique to actually do so. Take some unflattering studio touches like strings seemingly ported out of a Game of Thrones flash game on “Needles and Kin”, and the under-utilised features by Tomi Joutsen and Dave Sheldon near the end of the record, and the last 20 minutes starts to pale.

            This is still an impressive effort from the swedes, and well up there as one of the better examples of big-stage melodeath done right. Even though the formula is familiar, Soilwork still shakes the template up enough to make Verklighetena mostly entertaining, sometimes engrossing listen. I don’t think this album will knock The Living Infinite down from the position as Soilworks best effort, mostly because of the latter’s sheer audacity. But it is very satisfying to see a band in a comfortable spot still willing to try on new costumes, pushing and tweaking familiar formulas in search of the perfect song. Out of all the bands that helped create the melodeath genre still writing today, Soilwork seems to find the most joy in creating.

7.0/ 10 

Lvcifyre – Sacrament EP

Out on Dark Descent Records

Lvcifyre is a band I already have a fair amount of experience with; from the cavernous rumble of 2011’s The Calling Depths to 2014’s hellacious Svn Eater. Unfortunately, I was just 15 summers into my stay on earth when the first one dropped, and my ears and brain hadn’t yet developed a taste for Lvcifyre’s brand of uncompromising death metal. Three years went by, and thanks to then recent exposure to bands like Aosoth and Grave Miasma, Svn Eater went down like an Aperol Spritz after 5 hours of skiing down an Austrian hillside.

            Five(!) years later and we have another set of charcoal- and gut-smeared tracks from the somber ensemble. Sacrament is an EP of four new originals in addition to a cover of a track by the speedy thrash-precursors in KAT. The whole ruckus is over and done within about 22 minutes, which is just enough time to start craving the saturation and closure of a full-length project. Hopefully we won’t have to starve for another five years for that to come about.

            “The Great Curse” lurks into view with 90 seconds of animal noises and an atmosphere as thick as tar. It feels like being haunted by the charred remains of Sleipnir in a tucked-away part of hell, until suddenly the infernal racket of three English lads comes creeping across the audio field. The band promptly swings into gear; drums blasting away, guitars engaging in dissonant conversation like a fog-choked Immolation. The production is pretty much caked in atmosphere and malevolent character, filled to the brim with vocal outbursts and reverbed guitars screaming in the distance. The whole concoction is about as evil as a locomotive run by feeding the furnace endangered birds-of-paradise. A supporter on bandcamp summed it up neatly when he proclaimed Sacrament sounds like “listening to the color black”. I see no reason to dissent.

            Thankfully it’s not an “all bark, no bite”-scenario. Lvcifyre’s songwriting chops have developed substantially across every release to date, and that evolution doesn’t slow down with Sacrament.The title track features a wellspring of engaging material wrapped up neatly in a six-minute packet of fire and brimstone. “Shadowy Wing” is a short but sweet attack on the senses and sanity of the listener, frenetic drum work and a darkly theatrical vocal performance erupting like fireworks in the deepest pits of hell. The beginning of “Deaths Head in Crown” calls forth images of bassist Cvltvs reluctantly summoning some unknown entity, before getting absolutely obliterated by the uncontrollable power he has willed into existence. Sporting plenty of violent blasting and an immense landfall of a riff, it sounds like being swallowed by a house fire

            The four original tracks make for a pretty strong statement, never doing disservice to the unique brand of atmospheric carnage peddled by the band. A cover of a (although killer) pretty straightforward speed/ thrash number might not be exactly what you are hoping for after five years of impatiently waiting, but it’s a pretty engaging finish thanks to the band’s unhinged, fiery energy. Lvcifyre has silently become one of the most distinct forces of evil in the underground metal scene, continually proving to be willing to expand on an already successful formula. I sincerely hope we have some more Lvcifyre coming our way in the near future, but if not, Lvcifyre has already left a burning, fuming hole in the annals of modern metal. Do not sleep on this bedlam.

8.5/10

Kever – Primordial Offerings EP

Out on Dark Descent Records

Kever is an atmospheric OSDM-outfit from the underground metal scene in Israel. Despite Primordial Offerings being only the second of two EPs currently available by the group, it’s clear to see that their tenure as ambassadors of the Israeli scene has provided them with ample tools to carve out a promising lane in the Death metal underground. Their style can best be described as an updated take on the classic sounds of Morbid Angel and Death, featuring some studio embellishments by way of keys and choir vocals.

            “Intro: Primordial Offerings” makes for a fitting introduction to the EP of the same name. We’re first met with a clanging, alarming 30-second soundscape providing a panoramic view of the newly-razed hellscape of some recent civilization. Steel rods poke out of piles of concrete while trills and peals of bells fill the air between the crumbling high-rises. The background radiation of this scene stays with us through the record as Kever fleshes out the different elements of their sound throughout the following four tracks.

            “Lords of Karma” is the first proper track, introducing all the stylistic traits of the underground act. The usual blasting, rolling and reinforced tremolo-riffing of the Florida-sound meets with the sky-trailing leads of mid-period Death. The delayed, reverbed and boosted guitar solo is evidence of the modern studio setting, and so are the various atmospheric touches of pads, keys and choral vocals scattered around the EP. The production is meaty and punishing; clear and crisp without draining the band of necessary grit. The drums are balanced and punchy, and the often multitracked vocals are imposing in their mid-range ferocity. The only casualty of the mixing is the bass, which although audible for parts of the EP largely slaps about in the distance like the ghost of an enraged salmon.

            Next comes “Back from the Netherworld” blasting out of the gate like an armored SWAT officer shield-surfing over the bodies of his massacred unit. The track stays true to the sound of the band while injecting some bounce and swagger into its DNA. “Act of Oblation” furthers this development with some groove-adjacent riffs that sound like a Pantera raised on Bolt Thrower’s War Master. The multifaceted song slows down for an apocalyptic and doomy-bridge, before beating the listener over the head with a calcified twinkie for its final minutes.

            The EP ends with “The Ceremony”, the longest song of the bunch. The song is by far the most varied of the five, featuring billowing synths; Seasons in the abyss’ ominous, chiming guitars; even a D-beat section in the midst of it all. Structuring all of these disparate elements turns out to be a bit of the challenge for the group, as the track comes across as a bit disjointed. This is the only particularly noticeable misstep on the record though, and it’s a minor one at that.

            Kever has crafted a promising extended player, that stands as a solid experience on its own while pointing towards the possibilities yet unexplored for the band. The skillful handling of the varied material on the EP makes it apparent that the Israelites have the chops needed to assemble a compelling full-length project. Whatever Kever decides to do next, I will make sure to grab any future records upon release. If you have a 23-minute opening in your listening schedule, I would advise you to give Primordial Offerings a listen.

7.0/10