Album Title: Lykaia
Label: UDR Music
Release Date: 3 February 2017
I’m a relatively late convert to the Soen cause having only discovered the Swedish band via their previous, sophomore release, ‘Tellurian’, although it is an album for which I have a lot of time. However, I can safely say that ‘Lykaia’ is another step up in almost every regard and as such, this is an album that any self-respecting prog fan needs to hear. In fact, given many of the other ingredients within the Soen sound, you don’t even need to be a fervent fan of progressive music to fully appreciate this record. I could end the review there, but I won’t as there is a lot more to say.
The truly great thing about Soen, particularly on ‘Lykaia’ is that they don’t sound like anyone else. There are definite nods towards the likes of Opeth and Tool, but ultimately, Soen have cultivated their own sound. Given that I’m not a fan of either Tool or Opeth, that bodes well for me when listening to this.
I also hear inflections of Katatonia although this similarity is born out more from the overall tones on ‘Lykaia’ than the music itself if that makes sense. With Soen here and with Katatonia, I get that same sense of frustration, despair and darkness of the human psyche as well as an overall sense of a claustrophobic urban dystopia where negativity is rife and constantly threatens to stifle anything more positive and hopeful, albeit not always successfully.
The subject matter explored on ‘Lykaia’ is difficult to fully decode but I think that this is part of the charm of Soen’s music. There are definite religious connotations and themes about the journey of mankind but the lyrics force you to think and also to use your imagination, which I like. And they’re definitely not light-hearted or facile, something else I welcome with open arms.
What strikes me when I listen is the assured nature of the band and their output. It doesn’t sound forced or contrived; instead, I get the sense that what has been created has come about because of a clarity of purpose as well as a strong focus and belief, not to mention the accomplished performances from within the Soen collective. My conjecture is that something this creative and effortlessly stunning could not have materialised otherwise. Everything sounds just right, whether it is an intense or groovy rhythm, a carefully-crafted melody, a powerful riff or a majestic vocal. In fact, the word ‘majestic’ fits the entirety of ‘Lykaia’ perfectly.
All of this is even more impressive given the fact that the band boast two new members for this recording. Avatarium guitarist Marcus Jidell has joined the fold alongside keyboardist/guitarist Lars Åhlund. They both slot into Soen apparently seamlessly and effortlessly alongside existing members Martin Lopez (drums), Joel Ekelöf (vocals) and Stefan Stenberg (bass). The music output certainly has its differences to ‘Tellurian’ and to ‘Cognitive’ before it, but it feels like the result of an increasing maturity rather than a premeditated change of direction brought about by the line-up alterations. Confidence breeds quality and this is a perfect example.
Another really wonderful aspect of ‘Lykaia’ is the way in which it has been recorded. The accompanying press release talks of a deliberate shunning of more modern, synthetic and digital methods in favour of something more authentic. And be left in no doubt that this is evident. Whether it be heavier and more abrasive in tone or softer and more introspective, the music has a gorgeous organic feel to it. The instruments therefore sound more honest and vibrant, warts and all. That’s not to say that there are many warts to be heard, it just means that the performances have been captured as they were played without too much studio enhancement or tweaking. Credit for much of this must go to Marcus Jidell who handled the production of ‘Lykaia’ and who has done a most excellent job. I would venture to suggest that those who choose the vinyl option are in for a treat.
‘Lykaia’ is one of those albums that is best enjoyed as a whole, as the smooth transitions from song to song mean that the record has the feel of one distinct body of work. And, at around 50 minutes in length spread across eight tracks, the complete work sits at a nicely digestible length, a length that flies by at times. However, it wouldn’t be a review on the Blog of Much Metal without going into further detail about some of the aural pleasures to be found.
The records gets off to a seriously powerful start via ‘Sectarian’. It demonstrates quite a Tool-esque prominent bass line which works alongside the bold tom-heavy, almost tribal-sounding drumming in providing a strong and striking backbone to the track. The rhythm-heavy beginning eventually gives way to a strong, beguiling chorus that makes an immediate impact but which only gets better with repeated listens. Vocalist Ekelöf has a rich timbre and a hypnotising delivery that adds gravitas to the composition, not to mention a certain amount of palpable melancholy – a trend that continues throughout ‘Lykaia’.
‘Orision’ begins with a seriously cool and understated riff and then opens up into a sumptuous chorus that contains a delectable melody. Later, the track then falls away into minimalist territory, dominated by pervasive atmospheres, led in part by Åhlund’s keys. It is a real grower, almost surreptitiously becoming a favourite.
The exquisite and tenderly performed composition, ‘Lucidity’ follows and my heart is won over. The heavier guitars are stripped away in favour of a more subtle and soulful approach from Jidell, who never ceases to amaze me with his touch and feel with the guitar. The guy is able to say more with one or two notes than others can with a full-on shred or lightning fast solo. There are hints of Opeth to be heard but equally, I can hear echoes of Wolverine thanks to the sense of bleakness and emotional fragility brought to life via Ekelöf’s vulnerable-sounding performance. The result is a truly profound listening experience.
‘Opal’ closes in simple yet eloquent fashion after spending the majority of its length indulging in something altogether heavy and dramatic. ‘Jinn’ introduces some of the most beautiful melodies on an album full of melodic highlights. Here, they have a real bittersweet feel to them; euphoric and intensely sad at the same time. It is a personal favourite, one of the most immediate tracks on the entire album, if also one of the most poignant and emotionally draining. Oh and there’s the middle eastern flavour to the closing bars which sounds as if it should be incongruous but actually fits perfectly.
Lopez’s drumming and Stenberg’s expressive, rumbling bass dominate the early stages of ‘Sister’. The song builds and becomes very intense, one of the heaviest compositions on the record. However, it shows measured restraint by always remaining one step away from exploding into full-blown anarchy. ‘Stray’ delivers yet more stunning, heart breaking melodies atop a driving rhythm whilst ‘Paragon’ closes a fabulous album in a suitably classy manner. Beginning quietly, the song gently builds to a mid-song crescendo with agonised wailing guitars that sound like the breaching of an immense dam of human emotion, where all the frustration, anger and bitterness floods out, only to revert to calmer climes in the blink of an eye.
I had come to ‘Lykaia’ hoping for an album from Soen that I could like and from which I could take some genuine enjoyment. What I hadn’t bargained on was an album that would very quickly make a profound and indelible impression on me, to the extent where I have found myself listening to nothing else for the past few days since I first heard it. ‘Lykaia’ isn’t far away from being the perfect record and I implore you to listen and to revel in its many treasures. Nicely done, Soen, nicely done.
The Score of Much Metal: 9.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day