Swedish melodic metallers return for a solid, if inconsistent, neon soaked inspired journey through a retro backdrop.
Verkligheten (Translated from Swedish meaning ‘Reality’) marks the longest duration between major releases in the band’s history, a gap of just over three and a half years, following on from 2015’s The Ride Majestic. In that time, frontman and vocalist Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, released three albums under his classic rock project, The Night Flight Orchestra, and it is clear that the influence shows and the lines between the two bands begin to blur.
The album starts with a beautiful and uplifting, but brief, instrumental synth piece leading in to arguably the album’s best song, Arrival. This was the first single to be released alongside the announcement of a new tour, and the album cycle release and it set the bar for a high standard. Right away, the soaring lead playing and bright upbeat energy of David and Slyvain’s masterful guitar playing, coupled with the powerful blast beats of album newcomer drummer Bastian Thusgaard set up Bjorn’s charging growls excellently from beginning to end. Bjorn, as ever sounds amazing.
Arrival was the barrier to entry as far as I was concerned and I become somewhat worried with the release of the two other singles that followed, Full Moon Schoals and Stålfågel. These two songs represent a progression to a tamer but tighter focus on the main chorus hooks as opposed to the rest of the song, where the intros in both of these tracks, coupled with verses, felt like a means to an end rather than the main event.
That said, both of these songs feature ear-worm choruses that sound big, anthemic and are among some of the biggest highs on the album that are bursting with passion and feeling. This is however where the album begins to show its biggest weakness, and in short, it is the fact that the beginning being so promising only sets up the middle portion to ultimately fall behind as a result.
The mid portion of the album, largely spanning the length between tracks; When the Universe Spoke and Witan, in my opinion blend together in a way that makes them hard to distinguish and analyse entirely on their own. When every song on this release features a stellar chorus that bolsters them from being average, it can be hard to get too excited about Soilwork just going through the motions and playing to their formula strengths a little too closely to their chest.
It is the last few songs here that not only excite and invigorate, but also serve to essentially pump a breath of life into an album which would otherwise feel too long and too samey for the sake of it. The Ageless Whisper and Needles and Kin are classic Soilwork to a tee, benefiting from that fresh gleam of paint and their cleaner production as of late. It makes me wish that we got more songs here that played to the unique strengths of the band’s more memorable elements rather than seemingly flying through on auto-pilot.
I mentioned The Night Flight Orchestra earlier, and the amount of albums released in such a short time, because there is clear NFO influence bleeding through into Soilwork here. I for one am a massive fan of both bands, however I feel that in removing some of the grit and sharp edge to the guitar tone, the impact of some of the riffs is diminished in places. It’s very clean, almost to a sterile shine that, whilst fitting in astoundingly well with Bjorn’s angelic and moving clean vocals, unfortunately weakens the power and effect of his growls and harsh vocal performance.
What we have as a result is a fun, enjoyable album that does not quite reach the heights of what I believe to be their finest hour, 2013’s double album The Living Infinite, or is it as aggressive or dark as their previous album, 2015’s The Ride Majestic. Soilwork are a band that have carved out an identity all their own, it seems in trying to shake up their tried and true formula, they may have sacrificed some of their core as a result.
I read one review saying that this would be the darkest and most epic Soilwork album ever written, and whilst I can see where they are coming from, I cannot compare Verkligheten’s themes, instrumentals etc. to prior works like The Chainheart Machine, Stabbing The Drama or A Predator’s Portrait, at least when it comes to what to expect.
This is a newly refined and hungry version of Soilwork, adapting and learning from years of outside influence and once again carving out their own path as they forge ahead anew. This album takes risks and simultaneously takes it safe in places, however you can never move forward and make progress without a little trial and error. In conclusion, this is a catchy, fun and heavy album that does just enough to carry through its lengthy fifty minute run-time whilst losing a little identity in the progress, and the band’s bravery should be commanded. Sail on Soilwork, sail on!