Album Review: SOILWORK Verkligheten
Soilwork has been one of the biggest names in Swedish metal for roughly twenty years, with their temperamental fusion of abrasive hooks and chaotic instrumentation repeatedly proving to be a winning formula. The same holds true for the quintet’s latest venture, Verkligheten. Arriving three-and-a-half years after The Ride Majestic (their longest gap between studio LPs), it very much continues where that record left off, offering another thunderously catchy—if also overtly unvaried—journey that devotees should adore.
The group sees Verkligheten (which translates to “reality”) as their “attempt to try and go somewhere else, to express all those things that are born in between hypnagogic states and frenzies of hyperrealism.” They add that age and a multitude of hardships—including losing longtime drummer Dirk Verbeuren to Megadeth in 2016—have forced them to deal with “the ghosts of [their] subconscious and the coldness of existence”; fortunately, though, each member uses those traumas as motivation for superlative expression (including Verbeuren’s replacement, Bastian Thusgaard, who helped take their sound to new “sonic vistas”). As a result, Verkligheten oozes impassioned reconciliation at every turn, with a little help from guitarist Dave Sheldon and vocalists Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) and Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) along the way.
As much as Soilwork excels at guttural radiance, many of the best moments on Verkligheten are discerningly accessible and atmospheric. The brief instrumental title track, for instance, sets the stage with a modestly sullen blend of trudging syncopation and clean motifs to prepare you for the haunting assault to come. Later, “Full Moon Shoals” modifies that ethereal mood beneath its onslaught and contains likely the most fetching chorus of the whole set. The subsequent “The Nurturing Glance” achieves a similar balance, while the bookends of “When the Universe Spoke” and “The Ageless Whisper” exude introspection in their warm guitar lines and subtle synths. As a closer, “You Aquiver” is anthemically dense and proud, too, so it’s pretty much as inviting as anything else here.
Naturally, White-Gluz and Joutsen make “Stålfågel” and “Needles and Kin,” respectively, two of the standout heavy hitters. Specifically, they find the guest vocalists uniting with co-founder Björn "Speed" Strid for monstrous magnificence around relentlessly coarse percussion and guitar work. Elsewhere, “Bleeder Despoiler” provides one of the full-length’s most beguiling riffs in the midst of its torrential anarchy, and both “The Wolves Are Back in Town” and “Witan,” while blander, still invigorate with their ceaseless disorder.
Those praises notwithstanding, Verkligheten unquestionably suffers from monotony overall in terms of its song structures and textures. As contentious as it is to say, a lot of it sounds too alike to truly appreciate on a track-by-track level. Sure, Soilwork still deserves accolades for successfully upholding its style after so many years, but when that recipe is this limited (especially in the face of so many more wide-ranging contemporaries and successors), it can’t help but be detrimental.
Even so, Verkligheten’s pros definitely outweigh its cons. Thusgaard, in particular, never misses a beat in terms of fitting in and matching the excellent skill of his bandmates. Likewise, the remaining quartet channel and exercise their demons with enough melodic, erratic, and technical bravura to shine (even if they come across as restricted when the LP is considered cumulatively). In any case, Soilwork has stood the tests of time and turmoil to create something that fans are almost guaranteed to enjoy, and that alone is worth applauding.