Saturday, August 10, 2013

Soilwork - The Living Infinite

Soilwork
The Living Infinite
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment

Few would disagree that the first four releases from Swedish outfit Soilwork helped shape the modern melodic death metal scene as we know it. They may not have been the first (I think most would agree that At The Gates were the undisputed founders of the movement), but Soilwork were one of a handful of acts that helped keep the spirit of the melodic death metal sound alive, and push it well beyond its preconceived boundaries.
But outside of their first four albums, the Helsingborg based act has been somewhat hit and miss, with most of the blame squarely placed on the band’s willingness to move beyond the melodic death metal sound to take on a greater melodic groove based sound, and the inevitable changes within the band’s line-up which saw the band inclined to remain in a holding pattern rather than capitalise on their continued growth as a solidified unit. But despite their rather patchy track record following the release of 2002’s ‘Natural Born Chaos’, Soilwork managed the completely unexpected and released one almighty comeback with ‘The Panic Broadcast’ in 2010. Defying the general perception from most that the band’s glory days were over, the band put together a damn near perfect release which combined the extremities of their former releases alongside the melodic nature of their sound in the latter years. In short, ‘The Panic Broadcast’ was a surprisingly strong album from the Swedes, and one of 2010’s best metal releases.
Three years on and the band have returned with their ninth full-length release ‘The Living Infinite’ – which is surprisingly not a single album, but a double album!
If one was to look over history, releasing double albums have always been viewed in hindsight as a mistake. More often than not, double albums could have been cut down to one truly solid single album (Perhaps even a classic), but is instead fleshed out with a whole lot of filler.
And then there’s the change of guard to take into consideration. For the second time in the band’s history, lead guitarist/song writer Peter Wichers has once again left Soilwork, which has led many to speculate that the band will once again deliver an underwhelming follow-up to their last album.
But against the odds, Soilwork (Who comprise of vocalist Björn ‘Speed’ Strid, guitarist Sylvain Coudret, bassist Ola Flink, keyboardist Sven Karlsson and drummer Dirk Verbeuren) found a replacement for Wichers in David Andersson (Who is a member of power metal outfit Meanstreak, and played alongside Strid in The Night Flight Orchestra), and delivered another truly inspired release in ‘The Living Infinite’.
Clocking in at just a touch under eighty-five minutes in total, and featuring twenty tracks, ‘The Living Infinite’ is an album that takes a while to digest. But having given the album plenty of time to sink in, it’s clear that Soilwork have managed to avoid the double album curse and produced a double album that is all killer, with virtually no filler.
After a brief cello introduction (Provided by Hanna Carlsson), the band get straight down to business with the hard hitting opener ‘Spectrum Of Eternity’. This track is the perfect marriage of older and latter day Soilwork elements, with the aggressive and fast paced melodic death metal music complimented by Strid’s mix of clean and screamed vocals. Strid’s ability to craft a memorable chorus is without question, but on this track, it’s the contrast between the heavy and the melodic that proves that the song writing chemistry within Soilwork is very much intact – despite the absence of Wichers.
From here, the band keep up the consistency, with ‘Tongue’, ‘Let The First Wave Rise’ and ‘Realm Of The Wasted’ best representing the band’s return to heavier form on the first disc. That’s not to say that the first disc is one dimensional, because dotted in amongst the heavier efforts, the band showcase their more melodic/groove driven sound with tracks such as ‘This Momentary Bliss’, ‘Vesta’ (Which is initially introduced by some unexpected acoustic work), ‘Whispers And Lights’ and ‘The Windswept Mercy’ (Which features a guest backing vocal appearance from New Model Army’s Justin Sullivan).
While the first disc covers a mix of old and new Soilwork sounds, it’s on the second disc that the band experiment a little more with their sound. And while experimentation and Soilwork hasn’t always been two words that work well together, it has to be said that the pair are a perfect fit here.
The opening instrumental piece ‘Entering Aeons’ is something a little different for the band, with the overall atmospheric guitars and drums providing an ominous and menacing introduction to the blistering thrashing blast of the follow-up track ‘Long Live The Misanthrope’. Again, the duality of aggression and melody has been perfectly delivered by the band on this track.
From here, Soilwork take a bit of a different route with the rather laid back and atmospheric ‘Antidotes In Passing’, the progressive tinged instrumental piece ‘Loyal Shadow’ and the simplistic/yet captivating closer ‘Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard’. But while the second disc does have its moments of the unexpected, the band haven’t completely alienated listeners, with the savage ‘Leech’, ‘Rise Above The Sentiment’ and ‘Parasite Blues’ (The latter two are without a doubt the best evidence of the newly formed guitar tandem of Coudret and Andersson at their best) sounding very much like Soilwork at their most recognisable – and best.
Contrary to expectations, Soilwork have not only managed to survive a major line-up change, but release a double album of new material that actually keeps the listener engaged throughout both discs.
A few years ago, I hailed ‘The Panic Broadcast’ as a true return to form for Soilwork. Three years on, and against all the odds, Soilwork have outdone themselves and delivered yet another outstanding release in ‘The Living Infinite’.

For more information on Soilwork, check out - http://www.soilwork.org/

© Justin Donnelly