Silver Lining Music
After 2021’s «Imperial», which, for some, sailed too close to the eurometal wind, there is much to like for the fan of Soen in their new record «Memorial». For a start, there is the track list, each song given a single-word, elusive title. There’s the socio-political subject matter which has been a hallmark of their lyrics. There are familiar musical motifs as well, with dense riffs punctuated by octaves or chords at the higher end. Some of the melodies will remind the listener of material from «Cognitive» and «Tellurian», as well.
The album starts strongly, with «Sincere», which is complex and fast-paced, driven by Martin López on drums and Oleksii Kobel on bass. This sets the tone for much of the rest of the record – this is a record where the rhythm section are very much at the fore, as on all Soen’s records. «Unbreakable» follows suit, almost as if it is the second part of «Sincere», following a similar political theme. Later on, «Incendiary» and «Icon» occupy similar musical territory. The band are on comfortable ground here, with songwriting in a style which their fans will appreciate and which is hard to get wrong – the staccato riffs with octave fills, the soft break-down middle-eights. Cody Lee Ford has a few solos as well, nimble as well as melodic, with a blues edge, on «Unbreakable» and «Icon».
However, there is also a fair amount on the album which is different to earlier records. The vocal performances on «Sincere» and «Violence» have a delivery which separates them from the other songs on the record and the earlier albums, and although the quality of Joel Ekelöf’s voice is surely a big part of Soen’s appeal, it is good to find him trying something new. There are also some curious pieces of music, like the middle-8 on «Icon», which is by far the most progressive aspect of a record which does not otherwise stand out as a progressive album.
That said, it is certainly a metal record and the level of musicianship on display from the whole band puts it in the «progressive» space. However, the songwriting sits in a more accessible place. There are many anthemic choruses on the record, especially on «Violence», «Sincere», and the title track «Memorial». However, it’s in these moments of radio-friendliness that some may find the album a little difficult to swallow. In some cases, the choruses are so much more obviously anthemic, they cast an awkward shadow on the verses.
«Vitals» which closes the album is in some ways the most daring piece, an offbeat piano ballad, and in this case, the big sing-along chorus really works, perhaps because this is the piece with the greatest musical authenticity of the pieces on the record which seek to do something different. Lars Åhlund’s keyboards are more in the foreground on this record, and in this moment, his playing shines. And then the record is gone, faded away with the last few piano notes. It is as daring a close as the opening is driven, powerful, arresting.
All in all, it’s an album which has much which is broadly easy on the ear and plenty of familiar material for fans of Soen, but it lacks the kind of progressive sophistication of their early records and remains too much in the theatrical metal arena for the undersigned, too calculating in its desire to deliver the sing-along melodies loved by fans of more middle-of-the-road stadium progressive metal.
4/6 | Alex Maines
Release date: 1 September 2023