Reviewed By Chris Gibbs
When former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez announced the formation of his new progressive band Soen in 2010 with bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Testament), the possibilities of how it would sound were tantalizing. Combining such impressive musicianship with the relatively unknowns in vocalist Joel Ekelöf (Willowtree) and guitarist Joakim Platbarzdis, the result was their 2012 debut, Cognitive. While impressive, I did find it to be a rather flat and unsatisfying record with too many impassable similarities to Tool and an overall lack of cohesion, hooks, or crescendos in not just the music, but Joel’s vocal delivery.
Their 2014 sophomore effort, Tellurian, sans DiGiorgio who was replaced by Stefan Stenberg, changed not just mine but the world's perspective on Soen as it is a brilliant record that adorned end of year lists and received well-deserved praise and acclaim, and for me, is still on high rotation today. The path towards forging some kind of individuality and identity began with blending many top shelf progressive elements and incorporating melodic but heavy Opeth grooves in a time where that band was repeatedly travelling back to the 1970s.
2017 is the year of their third record, Lykaia, with yet another line-up change in new guitarist Marcus Jidell and keyboardist/guitarist Lars Ahlund, but this does not falter Soen or this release one iota. The minute album opener, “Sectarian”, bursts from the speakers - Soen are still drawing inspiration from Tool as evidenced by the thick bass line of Stefan’s during the verses, the scratchy riffing of follow up “Orison”, and the punching arrival of “Opal” are slightly reminiscent of Lateralus - but those aforementioned thick Opeth grooves and riffs are also ever-present and are such an honest, joyous welcome to the ears every time they’re heard.
Martin Lopez continues to sustain his reputation as one of modern heavy music’s essential drummers and musicians, incorporating an endless array of percussive instruments alongside his signature rhythm, locked in with that gorgeous bass tone that is clearly present throughout the entire eight songs of Lykaia. The wonderfully warm and rich analogue production hands down trumps the rather compressed sound of Tellurian, especially the drums.
The star, however, is vocalist Joel Ekelöf. He has constructed and presented listeners with what is easily the performance of his career by breaking out of the Maynard James Keenan-infused mid-range croon that he seemed heavily stuck in and would not reach the highs that the music so desperately called for and limited the impact and climax of some fantastic songs. By achieving this amazing milestone, the likes of “Opal”, “Jinn” - with his own take on Mikael Åkerfeldt -, and the brilliant “Sister”, Joel sings and soars in a much higher register on songs with hooks galore that honestly stick in your head for days.
Concluding with the excellent “Paragon” and its jaw dropping, explosive Pink Floyd guitar solo, it marks an absolutely perfect ending to an almost perfect record. The iTunes version and the limited edition disc do both contain separate bonus tracks - “Vitriol” and “God’s Acre” respectively - and both are quite decent, lengthy compositions at eight minutes each and are worth getting your ears around but do not stack up against the quality of the main release. Lykaia is most definitely the sum of all of its parts and its parts are borderline faultless.
More from Soen
- Cognitive [review]