Soilwork
A Whisp of the Atlantic EP

It’s been a weird year for everyone, but a good one for Soilwork fans. If you’ve been following the band on social media, you’ve enjoyed a steady drip of new tracks/videos throughout 2020: “Desperado,” “Feverish,” “Death Dealer,” and “The Nothingness and the Devil.” (There was also a new Night Flight Orchestra album back in February, and as a special bonus, Speed and friends used the pandemic to remotely collaborate on fist-pumping metal renditions of classic 80’s movie theme songs. That project is called At the Movies and you can find it on YouTube. There’s a successfully-funded comp on IndieGoGo too.) Anyway, this new 39-minute EP collects those four singles, plus the title track, which is almost longer than all of the other tracks combined (!).

Soilwork themselves call this EP their “most daring and pretentious release to this date.” Pretentious, huh? If you search out the philosophical concepts of the lyrics, you can decide for yourself (though I will say that spelling the title with “Whisp” instead of “Wisp” is odd). Musically though, it’s not pretentious at all – but it is a grander canvas and more diverse palette than we’ve heard from the band before.

Now, it’s too easy to just say that the 16-minute title track automatically qualifies as prog. Not quite. It doesn’t feature a lot of the noodly time-signature gymnastics that usually come with the genre, but “A Whisp of the Atlantic” is a multi-part composition. It’s got shifting moods and pacing and textures – everything from blistering battery to lurching stomp to moody interludes. It’s just less Yes, and more Alan Parsons Project (side B of The Turn of a Friendly Card, in particular).

Onto those new elements: I love the wistful piano-driven intro, later repeated in the song’s final moments. Piano also continues on through much of the song as a pounding heartbeat, and it works well to offset the more muscular guitars. Speed also explores a variety of vocals, with a more theatrical and varied delivery than usual. There’s a restrained croon, a hoarse rasp, and a growl that’s more layered and guttural than his normal roars. I think some of these new tricks are more successful than others, but thankfully his powerful cleans are as rousing as ever.

And then there’s the brooding jazz-noir midsection, easily the most adventurous and surprising thing we’ve heard from the band. There’ve been saxophones in metal before (avant-garde black metal from Oblomov, Ihsahn, and Leprous), but a trumpet solo? That’s new. The only thing here that’s really jarring is the skrawky guitar solo around the 5 minute mark – I find that whole passage to be jangly and cacophonous, but it’s also short-lived and we move back into a smoother section before long.

As for the other tracks, they’re all good solid modern Soilwork tracks: heavy and melodic and well-crafted and it’s great to have them all packaged up together. “The Nothingness and the Devil” is a propulsive burner with a slightly mournful screamed chorus that could have been included on The Ride Majestic. It’s also noteworthy for its moody Pink Floyd-inspired outro, with long, sustained guitar notes that could have come from a David Gilmour guest spot.

“Feverish” is ragged and relentless, the most aggressive thing here. The hyperspeed, blastbeating pace – which continues even below the hooky chorus – gives drummer Bastian Thusgaard a chance to really stretch his legs. However, the repeated bellowing of “Feverish like this!” throughout the verses and choruses grates on my nerves. (It’s probably going to get skipped more often than not when I put this EP on.)

I like “Desperado” a hell of a lot better – it’s got a killer central riff, a memorable chorus, and a faintly detectable but still furious undercurrent of strings. Nice touch. And finally, we have a great closer in “Death Diviner” – it’s more mid-paced than the others, but I love the interplay of Speeds’s clean verses and the hypnotic, repeating circular riff. Another huge heroic chorus too. Would not have been out of place on Verkligheten, in fact I prefer it to a few of that album’s cuts (and that was my #1 album of 2019, so that’s saying something). 

So all in all, shit year in general, unexpectedly good year for Soilwork fans. Their expanded palette shows real creativity and ingenuity in an often staid genre, and I hope that the ambitious, multi-part title track is a portent of things to come in 2021 and beyond.  

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
December 7th, 2020

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