By Ola Mazzuca
When I first entered the realm of extreme sounds, I became obsessed with the melodic death metal scene. In high school, I delved into Soilwork’s 2002 release, Natural Born Chaos, swinging dark brown and green hair to throttling track “The Flameout.” But I’ll never forget reading the liner notes, as I learned that my name wasn’t just for females after all, and a male metal guitarist – a skilled one at that – shared this trait with me. Even though Ola Frenning is no longer in the band, bassist Ola Flink remains, and I still think it’s cool. I have to admit – it’s probably the main reason why I’ve respected Soilwork for all these years, but their music is pretty wicked, too.
With The Living Infinite, the Helsingborg metallers deliver aggression that’s clear and contagious. Produced by legendary Swede Jens Bogren of Opeth and Katatonia fame, with contributions from stellar guest artists, Soilwork’s latest is a true epic. A two-part release with double-entendre tracks, the band’s growth is audible in every note.
Graceful strings by cellist Hanna Carlsson establish the record on “Spectrum of Eternity” before Bjorn “Speed” Strid dives in with his signature abrasive voice. Shining melodies on “This Momentary Bliss” and “Realm of the Wasted,” highlight strengths of each member, from Strid’s enunciation and powerful chorus delivery to Dirk Verbeuren’s beat of the battery. Justin Sullivan of UK post-punkers New Model Army adds a nice touch on “The Windswept Mercy,” by complimenting Strid with his softer, sedate voice.
The most outstanding element of The Living Infinite is Soilwork’s success in contrasting elements so staple to their genre, yet so uniquely crafted since their inception. “Vesta” is a great example as Sylvain Coudret and David Andersson exchange guitar roles, with an acoustic intro reminiscent of a Ravi Shankar piece. Strid spits the chorus with such emotion, and it carries the song into a blissful interlude before a heavy, lyrical closure.
The second segment of The Living Infinite begins with “Entering Aeons,” a fitting title for its monumental, progressive sound. But there’s no mercy as “Long Live The Misanthrope” is a thrashy piece with Andersson’s perfect offbeat syncopation and blastbeats. Strid’s lyrics mark the power of solitude well, yet the album as a whole is written with universal aim. Concepts of inner struggle, loss and determination are the perfect ingredients for individual interpretation.
“Antidotes In Passing” is a gorgeous, string-laden piece that makes Soilwork sound more like a plain old, contemporary rock band than Swedish skids. It’s refreshing to hear, and whether they execute this structure on “Loyal Shadow” or stir things up on their multi-layered finale, “Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard,” the band is stronger than ever in their field. After 18 years of experience fusing the Gothenburg model with grooves inspired by the classics, Soilwork haven’t lost their touch. So what’s in a name for these modern metal experts? Certainly not a unisex one, but an epithet of authority for honing a distinct sound.