Album Title: Övergivenheten
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Date of Release: 19 August 2022
I find it absolutely fascinating how the pandemic has affected different people, and bands, so differently. Some found it a positive and ultimately helpful experience, whilst others really struggled. Based on the tone and honesty of the press release that accompanies this record, as well as the music itself, it would appear that Swedish melodic death metal band Soilwork found themselves closer to the latter. ‘Övergivenheten’, the title of their twelfth full-length studio recording, translates to ‘The Abandonment’, is a stark example of this. However, whilst it hasn’t been an easy time for the sextet, they have used their experiences as something of a catalyst and inspiration for their latest offering. Therefore, whilst there is a thread of darkness that runs through the album, the quality of the material has not suffered; if anything, it’s the opposite.
Right off the bat, I’ll declare that ‘Övergivenheten’ is a little too long, as it stretches well over the hour mark. But this aside, it would not be totally remiss of me to suggest that the record sees Soilwork at their most experimental and varied, not to mention their creative best. This album delivers both the familiar and the slightly different, as inspiration has poured in from all corners. Acoustic elements, more progressive sounding passages, atmosphere, folky aspects, it all combines to good effect, once you get your head around the fact that this isn’t an all-out melodic death metal blast akin to ‘Figure Number Five’, ‘Stabbing The Drama’ or ‘Natural Born Chaos’, which still remains my personal favourite to this day.
To illustrate this point, you need to go no further than the second track on this album, ‘Nous Sommes La Guerre’ – when was the last time Soilwork released a single track that pushed the seven-minute mark? The answer, having gone through their entire back catalogue with the diligence you’d expect of a seasoned reviewer, is never. The fact then, that the album closes with the seven-minute ‘On The Wings Of A Goddess Through Flaming Sheets Of Rain’ only reinforces the fact that there’s something a little bit different in the air with Soilwork on ‘Övergivenheten’.
Never ones to benefit from the most stable of line-ups, ‘Övergivenheten’ sees another new member enter the fold in the form of bassist Rasmus Ehrnborn for whom this is his first appearance on a full-length album with Soilwork. He joins vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid, guitarists David Andersson and Sylvain Coudret, drummer Bastian Thursgaard, and keyboardist Sven Karlsson. This further tweak to the line-up might have had an effect, as well as Speed’s continued involvement with The Night Flight Orchestra, which is a much more chilled and relaxed affair than Soilwork. Whatever the reason though, after an initial period of acclimatization, I have got fully on board with the music that we’re served up here.
Naturally I have my favourites within the fourteen compositions on ‘Övergivenheten’, but there is nevertheless a remarkable consistency on the record, from the opening title track to the last dying notes. Regardless of where the mood takes them, each of the compositions offers something of note, with several going even further and sending shivers down my spine or, as I have found, wanting to sing along despite the fact I’m on a packed train or negotiating the equally busy London Underground.
Somewhat conventionally, though, there’s no other place to start than with the opener and title track because eyebrows are immediately raised thanks to an acoustic guitar and plucked banjo intro, that’s then laced with rich synths to create quite a dramatic beginning. The intensity is gradually increased, only for Speed’s harsh growl to cut across a more familiar soundscape of heavy guitar riffs, thunderous rhythms and a catchy melody line. With nearly half the song done, the sextet waste no time in putting us under their spell with a melodic extreme metal workout that sees growls and those unique clean tones do battle with moments of gentle calm, almost folk-like in texture and delivery. I wasn’t sure to begin with, but ‘Övergivenheten’ has thoroughly won me over now.
Speaking of not being sure, I wasn’t initially that keen on the aforementioned ‘Nous Sommes La Guerre’ either. With spoken-word vocals in French, and a much more relaxed, atmospheric vibe, it is not what I was expecting, arguably more at home on a Night Flight Orchestra album perhaps. But the vague progressive vibe, as well as a lovely ebb and flow, alongside flamboyant lead solos has eventually won me over. I’ll be honest by saying that it is unlikely to be a personal album highlight, but it has enough about it to stand proudly on the album.
If we’re to spend a little time investigating my favourite cuts then, I need to reference songs like ‘Electric Again’, ‘Dreams Of Nowhere’, and ‘Harvest Spine’. The first of this trio is well-named because it is an electric track, coming out of the speakers with a speed and intensity of which most black metal bands would be proud. The blast beats are brilliant, as are the sharp, fast-picked riffs. It settles down a little but maintains its aggressive intent all the way through to the chorus which then sees the song release into a glorious hook-laden melody toped off by Speed’s equally glorious clean tones. The introduction of a violin in an unexpected quieter passage reintroduces that folk feel, before the pace returns alongside a great lead guitar solo. If anyone queried whether Soilwork had lost their edge, this is one powerful statement that puts these thoughts to bed.
‘Dreams Of Nowhere’ sets off at a brisk pace also, but with a much darker, oppressive atmosphere. I like it, and it helps to mask what’s to come in the shape of the biggest and best chorus anywhere on the album. Those familiar with Soilwork will know all about their ability to switch between heavy and melody on a sixpence, and this is another classic example. Again, double pedal drumming is used liberally whilst riffs scythe and Speed snarls with utter contempt, only for it all to be replaced by something so catchy and melodic that it makes my heart ache. What makes the whole thing even more magical, is the way that a more solemn, bittersweet melody is introduced during the song, which is then fully reprised on the ensuing instrumental interlude, ‘The Everlasting Flame’, a stunning violin and piano piece that again tugs at the heartstrings. It’s an ingenious idea and works brilliantly.
The final track of this trio, ‘Harvest Spine’, is one that sprang up on me from nowhere, only to resolve to be a genuine favourite. In keeping with the other two, the key to its brilliance is the juxtaposition between aggression and melody, albeit the contrast is maybe the least pronounced of the three. It is also arguably the most ‘classic’ Soilwork song in terms of its overall feel and delivery. Nonetheless, the chorus is stunning, as is the musicianship throughout, especially the fast-picked melodic riffing that stands out brilliantly, enhanced by the judicious use of the keys.
Worry not though, if you are thinking that the remainder of the album is less appealing, because in truth, it’s not. The onslaught offered by a frantic ‘Is It In Your Darkness’ is very nicely done. Equally enjoyable is the mid-tempo hard-rock-infused swagger of ‘Death, I Hear You Calling’ which has a fun feel and sing-along chorus despite the apparent dark tone of the lyrics.
To be honest, there’s quality and entertainment everywhere you look on ‘Övergivenheten’. After a slightly slow start, I have to say that I really like the way that Soilwork sound on this latest endeavour. Those wanting a full-on melodic death metal assault may find things a little more difficult to absorb and appreciate, but otherwise, prepare to be thoroughly impressed. And in any case, it isn’t as if Soilwork have thrown out the rule book entirely here; instead, they have introduced a few new ingredients into their songwriting that has served to spice things up and keep the listener on their toes ever so slightly. I like that, especially when the end result is as powerful and richly entertaining as it is. In 2022, Soilwork have released a body of work by the name of ‘Övergivenheten’ that might, in time, be considered to be one of their very best. And I don’t say that lightly.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%