Monday, March 26, 2012

Soen - Cognitive

Soen
Cognitive
Spinefarm Records

Although having played a part in helping to establish Amon Amarth (Playing on the band’s debut ‘Once Sent From The Golden Hall’ in 1998), Swedish drummer Martin Lopez will always be remembered for his contributions to Opeth, having played on 1998’s ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’, and featuring on every one of the band’s releases through to 2005’s stunning ‘Ghost Reveries’. After leaving Opeth in 2006 officially due to health reasons (Although it has since come to light that Lopez was no longer interested in Opeth’s lengthy touring and a general lack of interest in making music in Opeth after ten years with the band), Lopez disappeared into a self-imposed exile for the better part of the next four years. But while little was heard from Lopez, it didn’t necessarily mean that he was completely inactive on the music front. In fact, Lopez was very busy. Having founded Soen back in 2003, it wasn’t until Lopez parted ways with Opeth that he was able to fully commit his time to the project. In the years since then, he spent his time finding the right mix of musicians. By 2010, Lopez had managed to secure a solidified line-up to include ex-Willowtree vocalist Joel Ekelöf, guitarist Kim Platbarzdis and ex-Death/Testament/Sadus/Iced Earth bassist Steve DiGiorgio – and the underground was abuzz with talk to Lopez’s new musical venture. Two years later, and Soen have finally unveiled their debut offering in ‘Cognitive’ – and the end result is an album that’s sure to attract divided opinions.
Despite being described as ‘something completely different’ by Lopez, there’s no mistaking the similarities between Soen’s debut effort and the collective works of A Perfect Circle/Tool. While there are worst acts than A Perfect Circle and Tool to be influenced by, one has to question where the line between influence and plagiarism is drawn given that Soen’s musical direction and sound is very much alike.
After a rather short introductory track entitled ‘Fraktal’ (Which involved some back-masking, heavy bass and some very Maynard James Keenan influenced vocal lines), Soen gets straight into the heart of things with their first real offering ‘Fraccions’. Again, the similarities between Soen’s offerings and Tool are unmistakable. From Platbarzdis’ angular riffing, DiGiorgio ever-present bass work, Lopez’s rhythmic drum/percussion work and Ekelöf’s carbon copied Keenan-like melodies and delivery are so Tool like that you’d be hard pressed to tell any real differences. Of course, Soen do inject a little of their own personality into the song in places (The odd guitar riff, bass run and drum fill stands out here and there), but for the most part, ‘Fraccions’ is every bit like a Tool song, without really being one.
‘Delenda’ on the other hand is something a little more Soen like, with the progressive riffs and overall song structure leaning towards a more restrained and mellow Opeth/A Perfect Circle vibe, while the percussive driven ‘Last Light’ is by far the most ambient and mellow track on the album, and another prime example of where the band step beyond being an obvious clone to really produced something captivating.
In terms of highlights, ‘Oscillation’ is a definite high moment on the album with its heavier and minimalist guitar approach, progressive underpinned rhythmic grooves and some stunningly simple (But effective) melodies from Ekelöf, while ‘Purpose’ and the closer ‘Savia’ are follow-up favourites that showcase a little more of Soen’s individual spirit than some other tracks on the album. One last track worthy of a special mention is ‘Ideate’, which boasts an interesting mix of ethnic instrumentation, samples, small clutches of vocals from Ekelöf and some truly haunting tones from Platbarzdis used to great effect.
In a lot of ways, I can understand why some people will view Soen’s debut effort as a disappointment. After all, the Tool comparisons are just too obvious to miss. But in having said that, not everything on ‘Cognitive’ is a complete reworking of Tool’s sound and style. Soen do have a sound of their own, and it can be heard on some tracks, even if it’s only on a few tracks in total.
Performance wise, everyone within Soen absolutely shines – even Ekelöf, who despite lacking a bit more character and range, and who seems to have completely dropped the approach he had in Willowtree for something more akin to Keenan these days, manages to inject a lot of emotion into his performance. Unfortunately, strong performances and a few original ideas isn’t enough to make ‘Cognitive’ stand out on its own, and distance itself enough from its primary influences.
There’s no denying that Soen are an interesting act, and full of first class musicians. But hopefully with their next release, they’ll impress even more with greater originality in their song writing.

For more information on Soen, check out - http://www.myspace.com/soenmusic

© Justin Donnelly