Soen
Tellurian

When it comes to progressive metal/rock I’m usually pretty careful with my selections. As much as I enjoy the stunning musicianship and fluid yet unpredictable arrangements, too often prog sacrifices actual songcraft by over indulging, or is simply too bombastic or cheesy for my tastes. Fortunately when the genre hits the spot it can also be some of the most exhilarating music around. Case in point is this stunning sophomore album from Sweden’s Soen. I must admit Soen has largely escaped my radar until recently, but having caught wind of the band I tracked down their impressive debut Cognitive (2012). Despite its flaws and the derivative elements that divided listeners and drew strong comparisons to Tool, there was still plenty of quality about the debut. I can certainly understand the Tool comparison, particularly on a musical level, but the songwriting, excellent musicianship and standout performance of vocalist Joel Ekelöf (Willowtree) counteracted the more derivative songwriting elements. It also helped having a rhythm section of founding member Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) and bass extraordinaire Steve DiGiorgio in tow.

Tellurian finds the band building on the strengths of their debut but also growing and evolving into a far more distinctive and confident musical force, blitzing their debut in the process. The Tool influence remains present but is far less overwhelming, while nods to Opeth and Katatonia shade rather than dominate their palette. Essentially it’s the shaping of their own identity that separates Tellurian from its predecessor. Soen have crafted something far more substantial and unique with Tellurian; an intricate and textural album of tremendous depth and focus. The songwriting is significantly more progressive, emotion-packed and adventurous than Cognitive, creating an intense, densely crafted listening experience that’s alternately heavy, melodic and hauntingly beautiful. Musically Soen are still very much driven by the phenomenal drum and bass combo of Lopez and talented new bassist Stefan Stenberg. The duo guide the songs with complex, syncopated and groovy rhythms, while the guitars of Joakim Platbarzdis add textural, atmospheric embellishments or more forceful chunkier riffing during the album’s heavier moments. It’s a wonderful balance that showcases Soen’s masterful grasp of dynamics, the knowhow of when to display some restraint, and the talent and versatility of the individual musicians.

The intricate, progressive element of Soen’s sound thankfully doesn’t come at the cost of catchy, memorable songwriting. Quite the opposite in fact, as Tellurian is front loaded with powerhouse vocal melodies and choruses from the vastly improved and assured performance of singer Joel Ekelöf. Fragile and restrained one moment, soaring majestically the next, Ekelöf is certainly the album’s most potent weapon. His stellar vocal hooks and harmonies demand attention, yet they stay grounded within the context of the shape-shifting, carefully constructed and instantly memorable compositions. Meanwhile, the versatile guitar work, inventive drum patterns and distinctive basslines are not to be easily outdone, each member forming a vital cog in the band’s creative process and seamless transitions, while collectively the musicianship reflects the confidence, talent and chemistry the band members share.

After a short, percussive intro, Tellurian detonates one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard this year with the brilliant first single, “Tabula Rasa”. The song represents a masterclass of complex, emotive and hooky songwriting. It’s the official beginning to Tellurian’s epic, free-flowing creative arc and one of numerous standout songs peppering the album. “Kuraman” couples impactful heavy riffing with quieter melodic passages, superbly executed soft/loud dynamics and sublime vocals. More restrained songs, like the delicate beauty and stunning vocal melodies of the vaguely Opethian meets Katatonia balladry of “The Words” resonate with incredibly heartfelt emotion that stays with you long after the album subsides. Drenched in melancholy and sadness, the heart-wrenching “Pluton” is the epic album centrepiece that deftly balances haunting vocal harmonies and mellow passages with explosive heavy moments and expressive basslines.

As far as weaknesses go there’s very little to be found here. Aside from the forgettable intro each song delivers something interesting and noteworthy, the performances are flawless, and despite lacking the sonic dynamics of the songwriting, the production is at least quite polished and well mixed, and the recording is certainly not as flat or lifeless as the production on the uneven prog of Cynic’s Kindly Bent to free Us. The unusual artwork actually does a pretty good job symbolizing the dynamic, robust and evolved musical beast Soen have developed into on Tellurian. Now that they have emerged from the imposing shadows of their influences, the sky is the limit to what Soen can achieve.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
December 15th, 2014

Comments

  1. Commented by: Jason

    Sounds interesting. I can get down with stuff like this if done right, so I’ll check ’em out. I get a chuckle out of that cover though.


  2. Commented by: Luke_22

    Yeah it’s an incredible album, if you can get on board with the vocals there’s much to enjoy here. Personally I think the vocals are amazing and the musicianship and songwriting is top notch. Interesting choice of artwork but I like it.


  3. Commented by: Vance

    Tried so hard to like this, but damn that guy’s voice is so pretentious and grating. So it’s very interesting to see other comments in here gushing about how amazing they are. It kind of makes me feel like I am missing out on something :)


  4. Commented by: Luke_22

    Yeah I thought his vocals would be a sticking point for some but for me they just clicked. Hence it storming its way to top spot on my end of year list.


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