One of the downsides of writing for a major metal website is that sometimes you need to stop listening to ABBA and instead take in some good old progressive metal. Such is my struggle today, but Soen have done a great job at making this particular sonic exploration an exciting one. While they certainly struggle with the modern limitations of the genre and don't break any new ground, their latest offering Lykaia is a strong statement and one that certainly has me curious to hear the band evolve. I think fundamentally my issue is that this band at first glance seems so intriguing. Their album art is top notch and the band and album name are both mysterious. The boar imagery they use is exciting to an old doom nerd like me too because it suggests that there is a sort of antedeluvian might to the music on the record. Hell they even have a former member of Opeth so it's gotta be excpetional right? Unfortunately this is not the case – what we get is some fairly standard prog metal that wouldn't seem out of place on a package tour with Binary Code or even Between The Buried And Me.
Like I said, nothing about Soen is bad, it simply feels like a lot of their ideas are retread. The guitar playing for example is top notch, but when it comes down to it, we already have a lot of progressive metal out there with off kilter rhythms, strong clean vocals and synths padding out the sound. It feels like even though Soen certainly show off powerful musical chops throughout Lykaia they aren't able to really make them shine and really represent all that they are capable of. What's frustrating is that there are moments where the sound is really as full as it should be and you can hear the band shining. There are moments when the guitar solos are on point and the harmonies utterly kill it. By the same token there are moments when you listen to a riff and wonder, haven't The Zenith Passage done this before? I'm not sure if that's a question of me not being sufficiently involved in the scene or a more general plague that progressive rock is facing right now. I want to hear Soen drive more towards what makes them special, the triumphant vocals and the harmonies that go right to the heart, rather than the oftentimes forgettable instrumental passages that define so much of the record.
Ultimately what this band is facing is the bitter reality that great musicianship does not equal great songwriting and though they might have some very solid ideas to develop they don't really have the ability to capture the listener for an extended period. I could definitely see this band coming out on top in the end though, they have some truly exciting ideas cooking behind the scenes and you can really hear the guys pushing towards something greater. They avoid some of the more typical wanky ideas that made djent so boring by the end, but they still haven't yet started t show songs that sound that far beyond local band level. I know that sounds really crass, and I don't want to put down a group of such solid musicians, but there isn't anything to truly latch on to here and when all is said and done, when you have a vocalist this good you should really be pushing to emphasize that power. So yes, this is a band to watch, but perhaps one that needs time to grow.