Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Soilwork's 'The Ride Majestic' - Album Review

In the world of melodic death metal, Soilwork are a slight enigma. Other Gothenburg bands like In Flames and At the Gates seem to focus much more on the 'death metal' side of melodic death metal; with the melody coming from NWOBHM-inspired guitar leads. Coming slightly later than the genre's founding fathers, Soilwork have always placed a greater emphasis on melody than their peers. The use of clean vocals and big keyboard arrangements makes the band stand out from the crowd, and this works as the band's unique selling point. As a result, Soilwork would sit on a bill with Killswitch Engage as well as they would with Arch Enemy - such is their versatility. The band has hit a bit of a purple patch recently, with 2013's epic double album The Living Infinite proving there was life after founding guitarist Peter Wichers' departure the previous year. David Andersson stepped up to the plate to fill the songwriting void left by Wichers and creates what could be the band's best album. The Living Infinite is one of the most consistent double albums I have ever heard. I often find that they are full of filler songs, but the vast majority of tracks on The Living Infinite are excellent and show the band at the top of their game. Andersson's new songwriting partnership with frontman Björn 'Speed' Strid has developed here on The Ride Majestic, the band's tenth album. Strid's mix of clean and harsh vocals works as well here as it ever has, and Andersson links up with fellow guitarist Sylvain Coudret well to create the band's trademark twin-lead guitar sound. Long-time bassist Ola Flink left the band before work on this album began, so Andersson and Coudret share the bass guitar work throughout. Markus Wibom has since been announced as Flink's replacement. Sound wise, The Ride Majestic is similar in style to The Living Infinite. There are some changes however. Where The Living Infinite focused on big, memorable tunes; The Ride Majestic flirts a little more with the progressive side of the band's songwriting. The songs here are not as immediate as on the previous album, but they are still very good. I feel that the production is a little thinner too, and sometimes feels a little cluttered when there is a lot going on. A little more sonic clarity would have been preferable. That being said, The Ride Majestic is still a really enjoyable album. It is worth sticking with, as each listen opens up more of the album's great moments, and shows the veteran melodic death metal band still have a lot to offer.

The album gets off to a melodic start with the memorable title track. Clean guitars soon give way to a heavier sonic palate and an explosive verse that sees Strid using the harsh end of his delivery to great effect. The song is very typical of Soilwork's modern sound, and makes use of the chemistry of Andersson and Coudret; who make a formidable team. Drummer Dirk Verbeuren also impresses here, with a good mix of styles: ranging from thrashy double-bass drumming in the choruses, to a more laid back arrangement for the pre-chorus. It is a catchy opener, and does well to draw you in. Alight in the Aftermath is less accessible, but is more interesting as a result - and really shows what Coudret brings to the band from a songwriting point of view. It is a very heavy song, with lots of elements from extreme metal thrown in. Verbeuren's blast beat drumming kick you in the teeth and make you take notice, and Strid's vocals are really throat wrenching. It has a progressive feel too, as it changes mood often throughout. The part that moves from a heavy, almost death metal section into a groovy mid-paced riff with some 'pretty' Strid vocals is one such moment that stands out. The heaviness comes back though, and flirts with black metal somewhat with more blasts and really high, screeched vocals. Death in General strips back the extreme aspects and gives you something more like you expect from Soilwork. The verses are very laid back for the band, with a slight alternative rock feel; before the soaring chorus kicks in and takes you right back to the feel of The Living Infinite. There is a really good guitar solo here, that has quite a lot of David Gilmour's less-is-more style to it, that fits well within the confines of the song. It is a simpler song, but it is one that sticks in the brain with it's solid melodies. Enemies in Fidelity is the song chosen by the band to shoot a video for, and I can understand why they chose it. From outset, this was one of the standout songs. The verses are classic Soilwork, with big riffs and some epic harsh vocals from Strid. The chorus has a unique feel though, and Sven Karlsson's keyboards play a big role to create a dreamy soundscape that Strid sings over. His clean voice can be beautiful at times, and this is an example of that. It works really well, and the song stands out as one of the album's best. Petrichor by Sulphur (whatever that means..) is up next and it is a fairly standard song from the band. While it does not stand out like some of the others here, there is still plenty to like here. Some of the dual guitar riffing is excellent, and the multiple sections the song moves through keep it interesting. The Phantom follows and features the guest vocals of Pascal Poulsen (Odium). It is a bit of a strange song, with some haunting clean vocals that sit over some pretty heavy riffs, and bursts of harsh vocals to shake things up. They keyboard-led section about half way through is excellent, and shows Karlsson's skills, before Andersson takes off with a great guitar solo.

Although called The Ride Majestic (Aspire Angelic), this second title track bares little resemblance to the album's opening number. It is a good song in it's own right though, with some really memorable riffs and excellent drumming. It has a big tech metal feel in places, with lots of schizophrenic guitar patterns and choppy rhythms. There is a great instrumental section that features solos from Coudret, Karlsson, and Andersson; showcasing the instrumental prowess of the band. Whirl of Pain slows things down a little after plenty of fast numbers. It has some serious groove with a slow, crunching riff and hypnotic clean sections. Little keyboard melodies do their best to cut through the mix of guitars, and help to add an extra dimension to the song. The chorus is quite dramatic however, with a really emotional vocal delivery from Strid that shows what a great vocalist he can be. A heavier section follows, with fast drumming and a dense keyboard sound to envelop everything else. After a pretty heavy start All Along Echoing Paths becomes another rather standard Soilwork anthem. It contains one of the album's best choruses however, and this manages to raise the song beyond being just 'average'. The big melodies that come from the speakers during it are seriously infectious. The instrumental section and solo from Andersson towards the end are excellent too and have a real progressive feel to them. Shining Lights is another song penned by Coudret and it has the same mix of styles and feels as Alight in the Aftermath. His influence since joining the band in 2008 seems to have been inject a bigger dose of prog into Soilwork's sound - and to write songs like this. It is not as good as his earlier offering, but it contains a great guitar solo from him and plenty of solid riffing. His solo style is explosive and fast, a little like something you might expect from a Slayer album. The album's closing number Father and Son, Watching the World Go Down is an interesting one. Nathan Biggs (Sonic Syndicate) adds his vocal talents here along with Strid, and Karlsson's keyboards are very prominent and create a special feel for the song that evolves over multiple listens. His soaring leads are especially effective during the choruses as Strid really belts out the lyrics. Another great solo follows the heavy breakdown, and a final reprise of the chorus leads us nicely to the end of the album. Overall, The Ride Majestic is a strong album from Soilwork; but it is not one that reveals all it's magic at once. I feel that the band have got into a groove now, and have been perfecting this more mature sound since 2010's The Panic Broadcast. Fans of the band will obviously enjoy, and anyone who likes melodic metal with a slightly different edge ought to check it out.

The album was released on 28th August 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Enemies in Fidelity.

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