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)

Advertisements

Album Review – Rifftera / Pitch Black (2015)

Don’t be afraid of the dark and let this high-end futuristic Melodic Death Metal album satisfy your metallic desires.

Rating4

rifftera-coverAfter releasing a couple of demos in the past few years, it’s time for Finnish Melodic Death Metal band Rifftera to strike the world of heavy music with their debut studio album Pitch Black, a slashing feast of metallic and melodic tunes tailored for fans of Soilwork, In Flames, Arch Enemy, Megadeth, Trivium, among many other amazing heavy bands. In other words, if you’re one of those people who believe harmony and violence should always walk hand in hand to generate good music, Pitch Black will satisfy you in every sense, keeping you entertained from start to finish.

In my humble opinion, what really makes this promising band formed in 2010 in Vaasa, Finland stand out from other similar bands is the harmonious complexity of their compositions, which ends up helping the band tell the different stories within each song of the album, their evolution and consequences. For instance, although Pitch Black has only eight songs it goes on for over 54 minutes, an average of almost seven minutes per song. Not only that, I believe they wouldn’t have been able to produce an album so unique and complete without the futuristic sounding of the synths by keyboardist Antti Pöntinen, who is capable of leading the musicality even with all the heaviness of guitars, drums and harsh screams surrounding him.

And it’s those electronic effects generated by Antti that start the party in Back To Life, a violent Melodic Death Metal song that blends the Gothenburg sound with a more modern Finnish touch. In addition, singer/guitarist Janne Hietala does an awesome job delivering sheer rage through his vocal lines, enhanced by the song’s strong riffs and catchy chorus. Then we have One Step Closer,  where its synths remind me of some sounds from the classic album Turbo by Judas Priest, adding a lot of energy to the savagery brought forth by the other members of the band. However, in the faster and more brutal tune Lightbringer, synths remain in the background while the songs vicious riffs by Janne and Mikko and the nonstop drums by session drummer Thomas Tunkkari take the spotlight. It seems they love the “harsh screams during most parts of the song/clean vocals on chorus” formula, and they prove they have a very good reason for that, as this song is a pure delight for fans of Melodic Death Metal from Scandinavia.

Rifftera-PromoAshes Fall is another track full of melody and anger where a solid instrumental perfect for headbanging takes over the ambience, with its second half being truly melancholic, in special its guitar riffs and solos. The only negative comment in this song is that this time the chorus is not so powerful, harming the final result a bit. On the other hand, their Thrash Metal vein arises in the superb Rotten To The Core, featuring Swedish singer Björn “Speed” Strid from Soilwork, a flawless exhibit of melodic riffs, solos and drumming with spot-on lyrics about how all politicians are always deceiving us with their greedy lies and false promises (“How would this time be any different? / Haven’t we learned before? / How would this one make any difference? / You know one / You know ’em all”). It’s impossible not to love this whirlwind of ruthless Melodic Death Metal, one of the best contemporary compositions you can find anywhere, and I believe this is the path Rifftera should take in their future releases. Fans will surely have a good time inside the circle pits when this song is played, with kudos to Janne for sounding as choleric on vocals as the musicality demands.

They keep their music at a high level in Open Wounds, with Thomas contributing to its progressiveness and rage behind his drums, and pay attention to how the keyboards remain sharp and enhance the eerie atmosphere amidst the nonstop metal sounding. In the also wonderful The Ruins Of The Empire, the initial riff is so thrilling it’s hard not to play some air guitar and bang your head to it, with the sick growls by Janne during the chorus taking it to a deeper level of fury. Furthermore, there’s even time for a keyboard solo in this excellent tune, and it’s also remarkable how the professionalism and quality of the sound elevate the final result considerably. And finally, it looks like the last part of the album is dedicated to the heavier and darker side of Rifftera, which is confirmed in the title-track Pitch Black.  Its acoustic intro sets the tone for their most epic creation, flirting with Symphonic Black Metal so obscure and heavy it gets, with some moments reminding me a little of the guitar duos from the epic songs by Iron Maiden. It’s a sonic exhibit of wickedness and despair, almost a metal opera with imposing synths and orchestrations leading the music to a climatic ending.

In summary, if Melodic Death Metal is what you love the most in life, don’t be afraid of the dark and go check Rifftera’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, and buy your copy of Pitch Black at Record Shop X or Inverse Store, you won’t regret that at all. These talented Finnish metallers put their hearts and souls into the making of this high-end futuristic album, something you can feel in each and every song, turning it into a must-have item in your collection of melodic and angry tunes.

Best moments of the album: Lightbringer, Rotten To The Core and The Ruins Of The Empire.

Worst moments of the album: Ashes Fall.

Released in 2015 Inverse Records

Track listing
1. Back To Life 5:22
2. One Step Closer 5:53
3. Lightbringer 5:27
4. Ashes Fall 7:03
5. Rotten To The Core (feat. Björn “Speed” Strid) 6:20
6. Open Wounds 5:24
7. The Ruins Of The Empire 6:40
8. Pitch Black 11:48

Band members
Janne Hietala – guitar, harsh vocals
Mikko Kuoppamaa – guitar, clean vocals
Antti Pöntinen – keyboards
Jupe Karhu – bass

Guest musicians
Björn “Speed” Strid – additional vocals on “Rotten To The Core”
Thomas Tunkkari – session drummer