SOILWORK


"Stabbing the Drama" (Nuclear Blast; 2005)

Reviewed by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

There's bad and good news about Soilwork's new album. The bad news is, if you're expecting the overt progressive-mindedness of "Natural Born Chaos" or "Figure Number Five," forget it, make your peace. The good news is that, for all of its decidedly straightforward streamlining, "Stabbing the Drama" finds itself down a new turn from an unexpected but logical fork in the road on this band's fearless path towards metal immortality. In layman's terms, Soilwork still kicks ass.

What will be shocking to many fans of this Swedish metal unit is how Soilwork adopts more of a mainstreamed Ill Nino and Mushroomhead-type formula, along with some heated Soulfly riffage (hint hint: the verses on "Distance"). The main notable is how Bjorn "Speed" Strid's clean vocals are more prevalent than on previous efforts. Perhaps it's the better production of this album, but Speed's upgraded vocal presence will remind almost instantaneously of Ill Nino's Cristian Machado. Hear him hit a falsetto on "Nerve," wowzers! Even better, listen to his tricky (and entertaining) vocal swervings on the chorus of "Observation Slave." The man fell into some sort of inspired moment during the recording process; that, or someone knew Speed had the capability to belt out such competitively enticing vocals and prodded them out of him. Kudos to such evident courage.

"Weapon of Vanity" and "The Crest Fallen" are steadfast, headbanging jams with enough horsepower to risk a ticket if you're driving along to "Stabbing the Drama." Speed comes drastically close to Slipknot's Corey Taylor in rap-style vocal execution during the verses on the latter song, while his bandmates follow suit in Slipknot-laden accordance. The differentiating factor for Soilwork is the pop-like chorus and the wicked-as-sin bridge. Meanwhile, "Nerve" sounds more like Arch Enemy and In Flames than Soilwork, which is what longtime fans are going to have to begrudge the band if they want to derive pleasure from "Stabbing the Drama." Pretend the lush "As We Speak" and "The Flameout" from "Natural Born Chaos" don't exist while listening to "Stabbing the Drama" and you should do fine. 

If you're having trouble adjusting to the retooled Soilwork sound, there's still enough out of the band's trademark trick bag to warrant your time, such as the wicked neck-snapping pace of "Stalemate," or the always dependable guitars of Ola Frenning and Peter Wichers. Complete with steady Ill Nino and In Flames-like drumming from session drummer Dirk Verbeuren, Soilwork has metamorphosed into less of an art metal band into a piston-chugging hit machine. For neophyte Soilwork fans, you're undoubtedly going to dig this harder than the first time you heard Arch Enemy's "We Will Rise." Perhaps you are the lucky ones, because you'll get to discover this band's roots, which will be like digging up the roots of Max Cavalera -- it's that profound a difference.

Speed amusingly tears the snot out of the reserved melody by screaming madcap on the verses of "Fate in Motion" before summoning a lionhearted performance on the chorus. He's what makes the drastic transition of Soilwork so much easier to bear. Nonetheless, before anyone has a chance to accuse Soilwork of selling out, they explode immediately after "Fate" with the thrashy-as-hell "Blind Eye Halo." Likewise, the powerful closer "Wherever Thorns May Grow" should restore hope to fans that, while Soilwork is seeking a new direction, they still honor their past.

Okay, so many of you might have a little trouble accepting the direction Soilwork has taken on Stabbing the Drama but you can't fault them for following their destiny. Some bands have the potential for greatness, and it's obvious someone has recognized such potential in Soilwork and has nurtured it to a tee. In other words, there was no stopping this. If that still doesn't let them off the hook with you, let me offer a bit of consolation: be glad you weren't around when Motley Crue released "Girls Girls Girls." 'Nuff said.

For more information visit http://www.soilwork.org


"Figure Number Five" (Nuclear Blast; 2003)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Soilwork, hot on the heels of the success of "Natural Born Chaos," made quick work in the studio and managed to put out another eleven tracks of taut metal that push the boundaries of aggression and melody. 

A lot of folks have complained that Soilwork are moving toward a more 'nu-metal-ish' sound. I say, so what?. Yes, Soilwork are completely different than they were during the days of "Steelbath Suicide" and "The Chainheart Machine." While they sounded more like the compatriots Dark Tranquillity than In Flames in the early days it's safe to say that they have moved in a more 'pop' sounding direction, but they aren't clones of their Gothenburg brethren. And if being different means taking on a 'nu-metal-ish' sound then so be it. 

Other folks dismissals aside, my chief complaint against Soilwork is that they have fallen into a bit of a formulaic trap. Not that there's anything wrong with that the reason being that they are quite good at what they do. Finding eleven interesting ways to keep basic metal songs interesting with enough memorable riffs and huge vocal hooks is a pretty steep challenge in my book. Most of the eleven tracks on "Figure Number Five" stand on their own which makes it difficult to pick standout tracks and I'll actually pass on that challenge at this time. I prefer to look at Soilwork's music as extremely satisfying melodic metal that has moved eons past the band's prior success.

New keyboardist Sven Karlsson, formerly of Evergrey, makes an immediate impact contributing five songs to the album. Karlsson's keyboards basically stay true to the ideal that they keys should play an understated, but important, role in the Soilwork sound. The difference that Karlsson's brings to the table, besides making the keyboards a bit more prominent in the mix is the fact that the melody played by the keys is more quickly establishing the song's melody during the introductions.

Bjorn 'Speed' Strid continues his successful journey to balancing growling vocals (mostly in the verses) to super-sweet chorus melodies that basically serve as the song's anchors. Guitarists Wichers and Frenning opt for short solos that complement the melody yet still make a dramatic statement. Bassist Ola Fink and drummer Henry Ranta are a steady force on every track yet the band's added emphasis on heavy/light and gruff/melodic dynamics have made their roles much more important.

"Figure Number Five" was produced by Soilwork. It's pretty obvious that Soilwork are comfortable with their progression over the years to take rein of the production decisions while in the recording studio. It doesn't hurt that the band has six full-time members which adds to the creative decision-making over the output.

Soilwork: Bjorn 'Speed' Strid on vocals, Peter Wichers on guitars, Ola Frenning on guitars, Sven Karlsson on keyboards, Ola Fink on bass, and Henry Ranta on drums. Jens Broman of Hatelight provides backing vocals on the title track and Richard Larsson plays tambourines on "Brickwalker."

For more information visit http://www.soilwork.com


"A Predator's Portrait" (Nuclear Blast; 2001)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Soilwork's third release, "A Predator's Portrait," was one of the more highly anticipated releases that I've ever waited for. And it was everything I expected and more.

While the opening track, "Bastard Chain," sounds like it came right from the recording sessions of Soilwork's previous effort, "The Chainheart Machine," the majority of the tracks on "A Predator's Portrait" have been toned down without losing the band's trademark intensity. The orgasmic dual guitar pyrotechnics still explode like Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing on steroids so you know what makes Soilwork so fun to listen to in the first place hasn't gone away. Meanwhile, the keyboards remain an understated but integral part of the Soilwork sound - you may not immediately recognize the keyboard's contributions, but you'd notice it if they weren't there.

Soilwork's approach works best on songs like "Needlefeast" and "The Analyst" where the aggressive guitars, keyboards, and clean vocals combine into a potent mix of aggression and melodic sensibility. "Structure Divine" puts the up-tempo, staccato verses right up against a melodic chorus that seems completely natural while lead melodies unforeseen in the Soilwork catalog weave their way like a snake in the grass. The title track closes out the CD with fervor and aplomb.

"A Predator's Portrait" includes clean vocals and this new dimension actually serves to make Soilwork's songs better by providing a shiny luster to the band's aggressive approach. 'Speed' Strid still sounds like the younger brother of Tomas Lindberg due to his aggressive and raspy approach, but now seems more comfortable with his delivery.

With the merger of Nuclear Blast and Century Media I thought this might be a chance for Century Media to get rid of some of their artwork problems by predominantly using the Nuclear Blast artwork department. Alas, it seems Nuclear Blast has caught whatever disease Century Media has because the artwork for the first-press run of "A Predator's Portrait" has a track listing for an eleventh song "Asylum Dance," but the CD doesn't contain it. I understand this has been corrected by removing the track from the artwork in later pressings. Perhaps the song "Asylum Dance" is something collectors will be looking for?

I have surmised from Soilwork's previous two efforts that Soilwork truly love and enjoy the style of music that they are playing.

"A Predator's Portrait" was produced by Fredrik Nordstrom and Soilwork at Studio Fredman. The production is stellar as usual as to be expected when Nordstrom is involved.

Soilwork is Bjorn "Speed" Strid on vocals, Peter Wichers and Ola Frenning on lead and rhythm guitars, Ola Fink on bass, Carlos Holmberg on keyboards, and Henry Ranta on drums. Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) makes a guest vocal appearance on the title track.

For more information visit http://www.soilwork.org


"The Chainheart Machine" (Century Media/Listenable Records; 2000)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

On the surface of things it might be too tempting to say that Soilwork is "more melodic death metal from Sweden"; however, there's too much excitement within "The Chainheart Machine" to make such simple statements. As we've all learned from the success of In Flames and Dark Tranquility, melodic death metal is a genre-breaking style that fans of metal the world over are taking to quite easily. Soilwork continue the wave of the metal future with added percussive elements and classic metal touches. 

Debating the relative merits of Soilwork vis--vis In Flames and Dark Tranquility would be futile. Thus, characterizing the unique aspects of Soilwork becomes quite simple. Soilwork draw comparisons to metal's melodic heyday with a sound that could easily be classified as a modern update to the likes of Judas Priest and Accept while still rooted in the death metal style. 

The nine tracks on "The Chainheart Machine" are solid all the way around. However, three tracks stand out: "Spirits Of The Future Sun," "Machinegun Majesty," and "Room No. 99" - all three are phenomenal tracks that are mind-blowing in their ability to encompass the speed and melody of today's metal while still paying homage to the kings of metal that have preceded them. "Bulletbeast," "Generation Speedkill," "Millionflame" are great tracks as well. 

Whilst most melodic death metal sweeps the listener in with aggressive hooks, Soilwork are a bit more forceful (and traditional) in grabbing the listener by the throat with pounding rhythms, persistent urgency, melodic keyboard passages, and enticing guitar work. 

There is one defining characteristic that Soilwork brings to the melodic death metal scene - honest to goodness guitar solos! The guitar solos are not the short, four bar variety heard lately; the extended guitar solos play on at great length and sound like tributes to conquering armies. 

The combination of death metal with melody has proven to be a much more alluring form of heavy metal than I'd ever have given it credit for. Melodic death metal is gaining wide appeal with a variety of audiences no doubt due to the high-energy approach, breakneck changes, and (to use a Soilwork phrase) "diabolic speed." There are absolutely no letdowns on Soilwork's "The Chainheart Machine." Balancing the speed of thrash, the melody of NWOBHM, and the harshness of death metal is no easy feat, but Soilwork have pulled it off in grand style. 

Experiencing "The Chainheart Machine" is like being run over by a freight train - and liking it. It would not surprise me if demolition crews used "The Chainheart Machine" as a soundtrack for their daily work.

"The Chainheart Machine" was produced by Fredrik Nordstrom (In Flames, Dark Tranquility). The production is well above average; the music is very dense and it takes a while to sort our all the musical ideas, but the effort is worth it.

Soilwork is Bjorn "Speed" Stid on vocals, Peter Wichers and Ola Frenning on lead and rhythm guitars, Ola Fink on bass, Carlos Del Olmo Holmberg on keyboards, and Henry Ranta on drums. 

For more information visit http://www.soilwork.org


Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright 2005 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 24 Sep 2017 15:29:53 -0400.