Album Review – Soilwork / Verkligheten (2019)

One of the biggest exponents of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene returns in full force with a fresh, groovy and addictive album of first-class heavy music.

Although most people consider Helsingborg-based metal masters Soilwork to play a fusion of Metalcore and Melodic Groove Metal nowadays instead of the Melodic Death Metal we got used to from their early albums, I personally still see them as one of the biggest exponents of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene, having influenced (and still inspiring) countless bands worldwide, like for example Trivium. And to prove how relevant and ass-kicking the band is after all these years on the road, frontman Björn “Speed” Strid and his henchmen David Andersson and Sylvain Coudret on the guitars, Sven Karlsson on the keyboards and newcomer Bastian Thusgaard on drums are releasing upon humanity the superb Verkligheten, the eleventh studio album in their undisputed career.

Verkligheten, which by the way is the Swedish word for “reality”, is not only the first Soilwork album to feature Bastian on drums as the replacement of longtime member Dirk Verbeuren (who left the band to join Megadeth a couple of years ago), but it also marks the longest gap between their studio albums to date, with their previous installment, The Ride Majestic, having been released nearly three and a half years earlier. Well, at least the wait was absolutely worth it, because if there’s one word that can be used to describe the music found in Verkligheten is “addictive”. You won’t skip any song from the album, and as soon as it’s over you’ll go back to the first track and listen to everything all over again, which in other words means we’re undoubtedly facing a very strong candidate to be elected one of the best albums of 2019.

The title-track Verkligheten, a Western movie-Tarantino-inspired instrumental intro, flows smoothly and serene, inviting us all to join Soilwork in the realm of Melodic Death Metal with the crushing Arrival, presenting some pulverizing elements from Black Metal added to their core musicality, in special the demonic blast beats by Bastian, all enhanced by its classic lyrics beautifully declaimed by Björn (“The sky reflects in my hands / You took my world ’cause you can / Is it just me or is the light / Oh read me, you dust ridden seer / And prepare for the night”). The album couldn’t have started in a more thrilling and vibrant way, I might say. Moving on with the music, speed and violence are replaced with heaviness and an enfolding melody in the headbanging Bleeder Despoiler, where both David and Sylvain are on absolute fire with their scorching riffs, not to mention how the background keys by Sven and Bastian’s rhythmic drums complement each other flawlessly, and the band keeps blowing our speakers with their very melodic and fierce music in Full Moon Shoals, where once again all instruments are thoroughly connected, resulting in a dense and visceral sound complemented by another shot of their pensive and poetic words (“Anyone would cure it with blindness / There were moments where I thought I could be / A man who’s aching for the hour of closure / Darkness clearly kept on covering my needs / But it’s not what it seems / It’s just an inner endless shriek”).

Blending the most slashing elements from Rock N’ Roll, Melodic Death Metal and even Industrial Metal, Soilwork offer us an amazing composition titled The Nurturing Glance, perfect for banging your head, singing along with the band or simply enjoying Björn’s flawless vocal performance accompanied by the precise beats by Bastian, whereas in When the Universe Spoke  a serene intro explodes into top-notch Melodic Death Metal infused with Metalcore and Groove Metal nuances, with both Björn’s clean vocals and harsh growls being potentialized by the strident riffs by the band’s guitar duo (as well as the insane drumming by Bastian). Futuristic waves ignite what feels like a hybrid between contemporary Arch Enemy and Soilwork entitled Stålfågel (or “steel bird” from Swedish), featuring the stunning Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy as a guest vocalist. Björn and Alissa vigorously kick some serious ass together, while David and Sylvain hypnotize us with their riffs and solos in one of the top songs of the album without a shadow of a doubt, and putting the pedal to the metal this Swedish institution fires more of their razor-edged metal music in The Wolves Are Back in Town, showcasing headbanging beats, extremely melodic and sharp guitar lines, and yet another demolishing performance by Björn, spearheading his skillful horde like the true frontman he is.

Verkligheten Digipak CD Cover

Witan also presents a nice balance between harmonious and aggressive sounds, with Björn focusing slightly more on his clean vocals, flowing like a fast arrow until The Ageless Whisper comes ripping our hearts and minds in a solid display of modern-day Melodic Death Metal. Moreover, Bastian pounds his drums like there’s no tomorrow, while the band’s guitar duo continue to grind their axes with a lot of precision and energy. Then featuring guest vocals by Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis), Needles and Kin is classic Melodic Death Metal presenting a vibrant fusion of rage, electricity and harmony with the intricate beats by Bastian dictating its rhythm and pace, all boosted by David’s superb guitar solo, before the closing tune You Aquiver, with guest Dave Sheldon (Exes for Eyes, Annihilator) on the guitar, brings to our ears a good mix of their more ferocious side with the whimsical and ethereal sound of the keys by Sven, with best metal (and even non-metal) albums of 2019. Furthermore, what Mr. Björn “Speed” Strid & Co. did in their new album might not be a revolution in music (as some very demanding fans always expect from their favorite bands), but it’s indeed a solid statement that Melodic Death Metal is still alive and kicking, and that Soilwork will continue to be a reference in the genre no matter what happens to the band. Fortunately for us fans of heavy music, the band is far from calling it quits, which means we’ll certainly have the pleasure of enjoying more of their crisp and vibrant metal with their future releases, and if they’re just half as good as Verkligheten we’ll have a very good reason to celebrate and to keep banging our heads together with those Swedish metal icons.

Best moments of the album: Arrival, The Nurturing Glance, Stålfågel and The Wolves Are Back in Town.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2019 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Verkligheten (instrumental) 1:44
2. Arrival 3:47
3. Bleeder Despoiler 3:36
4. Full Moon Shoals 4:46
5. The Nurturing Glance 5:24
6. When the Universe Spoke 5:22
7. Stålfågel (feat. Alissa White-Gluz) 4:25
8. The Wolves Are Back in Town 3:24
9. Witan 3:48
10. The Ageless Whisper 5:01
11. Needles and Kin (feat. Tomi Joutsen) 4:57
12. You Aquiver (feat. Dave Sheldon) 4:03

Band members
Björn “Speed” Strid – vocals
David Andersson – lead guitar
Sylvain Coudret – rhythm guitar
Sven Karlsson – keyboards
Bastian Thusgaard – drums

Guest musicians
Alissa White-Gluz – guest vocals on “Stålfågel”
Tomi Joutsen – guest vocals on “Needles and Kin”
Dave Sheldon – guitars on “You Aquiver”
Taylor Nordberg – bass (live)