|Soen – ‘Lykaia’ (UDR Music)|
|Written by Jonni D|
|Friday, 17 February 2017 04:30|
Three records into their career, it seems that Soen may finally be about to receive the recognition they so rightfully deserve. A band made up of tremendous pedigree within the extreme metal world, the progressive outfit have often been criticized for the stylistic similarities in their music to that of Tool. Although a hint of their influence was evident, it was always an unfair accusation: while both bands play expansive yet technical prog rock, Soen always possessed enough of their own distinct character to set them apart from the alternative metal legends. With the release of ‘Lykaia’, those detractors are forced to re-evaluate those criticisms, as Soen have crafted a masterful, emotive album unique to them which, at the risk of sounding cliché, can only be described as a true musical journey.
‘Lykaia’ refers to the ancient Greek religious festivals, in which human sacrifices were carried out in the hope to obtain the ability of werewolf transformation. The album runs with the idea of the darkness and primal nature of such religiosity, particularly from a lyrical and vocal standpoint; sombre and melancholic, there is a pained delivery to Joel Ekelöf’s voice and a sincerity that elevates the music surrounding him. Without ever aping the Tool frontman, he bears the fragility of Maynard James Keenan on a song like ‘Jinn’, while reflecting the ritualistic theme on the chant-like vocal of ‘Orison.' Elsewhere, on ‘Sister’ he evokes the forceful, yet folky tone of Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, the pleading chorus indicative of the emotional intensity he displays across the album without ever resorting to aggressive vocals. It’s an engrossing performance from Ekelöf, bearing the command of an orator but also a real sense of tangible, dramatic poignancy.
Soen chose to forgo digital techniques and recorded ‘Lykaia’ using analogue production, and the results benefit greatly from that decision. The album has organic warmth to its sound, which works well in its juxtaposition with the darker lyrical themes of the album. The human component of ‘Lykaia’ adds a great deal of life to the songs; every tiny fret buzz and cymbal overhang left untouched like fingerprints of the musicians responsible.
Of course, it would all be for naught if the music itself was not up to scratch, but this is easily Soen’s most accomplished album to date. Drummer Martin Lopez, formerly of Opeth, has gone down a similar path to his previous band, as ‘Lykaia’ has a far more progressive rock feel than the mix of prog and alternative metal of 2014’s ‘Tellurian.’ From the jazzy backbeat of ‘Orison’ to the mournful guitar solo on ‘Lucidity’ that homages David Gilmour’s work; the album traverses a broad range of soundscapes, particularly shimmering in the more subdued and ethereal moments. Marcus Jidell shows himself to be a master of his craft, expertly allowing his guitars to take a backseat to the stellar rhythm section for these moments, in doing so making the heavier segments all the more crushing. When the riffs do appear, they make their presence palpably known. ‘Sectarian’ opens with a jagged-off kilter riff which is by equal measures exhilarating and disorientating, while the show-stopping ‘Opal’ sounds like an adrenalized version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir.’ These are the times when the album is at its most accessible, and they are sprinkled across the track listing in just the right amount.
Critiquing the individual components of ‘Lykaia’ is a difficult proposition, as it really is an album designed to be appreciated as a whole body of work, with the listener fully engaging with the spectrum of sounds Soen have constructed. It’s also a wonderful case in the argument for the more traditional methods of recording music, as these songs live in an atmosphere that Pro-Tools could never hope to create. Hauntingly serene, yet pummelling when called for, ‘Lykaia’ stands toe to toe with the best releases in the genre, and cements Soen’s individuality and their status as a serious creative force.
‘Lykaia’ is out now.
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