Soilwork
The Living Infinite

Wow. x2.

Soilwork have returned with their strongest release to date, and they’ve done it with a double album. This means they’ve just topped themselves – and likely the rest of the entire melodeath genre – twice. These two albums coalesce everything that’s always been dazzling about Soilwork, from the early shredfest barrage of Steelbath Suicide and The Chainheart Machine, to their prescient inclusion of soaring and anthemic clean choruses on A Predator’s Portrait, Natural Born Chaos and Figure Number Five. Those albums are considered by many to be the band’s peak, but not so anymore – The Living Infinite exists in some rarified heavenly plane far above that. It’s a culmination of everything the band has learned so far, clarified into two discs of brilliant songwriting, vicious energy and virtuoso musicianship.

Remember when you first heard that keyboard-fueled clean chorus in “As We Speak” (from 2002’s Natural Born Chaos)? It was simultaneously aggressive and gorgeous, and I still recall a mixture of awe and excitement because it wasn’t just fresh, it was transcendent. Well, this pair of albums captures that lightning in a bottle and then uses it to flash-fry your ears again and again with a rhapsodic blend of melodic death and progressive metal, purified and crystallized into hyper-addictive ear candy.

Disc 1 is more muscular and groove-oriented, and disc 2 is a bit more progressive and layered, and each features 10 catchy, twisty Soilwork scorchers. No fat, no filler, just solid muscle. (Well, all but the last track on disc 2 which is kind of a downer, but still, 19/20 is a hell of a score for any band).

“Spectrum of Eternity” starts the assault with an exhilarating blastbeat and equally thrilling chorus. Ultra-melodic monsters like “This Momentary Bliss,” “Long Live the Misanthrope,” “Drowning with Sorrow,” “Vesta,” “Realm of the Wasted” and “Rise Above the Sentiment” take hold with gleaming, hook-filled singalong choruses, each designed to burrow into your brain and erase anything you’ve ever heard from other bands like Scar Symmetry or Arch Enemy, let alone In Flames (now a shadow of a shadow of their former selves). Knuckle-breaking gallops exchange rhythms with massive grooves in “Leech,” “Let the First Wave Rise,” “Parasite Blues” and “Tongue.” Both of the title tracks are just flat-out amazing. There’s even a gorgeous, mellotron-infused ballad in “Antidotes in Passing,” which is the best Opeth track I’ve heard since “Burden” off of Watershed (yes, that includes the entirety of Heritage). I’ve been listening to the albums non-stop for the past week and I still can’t really pick favorites. They’re all just so damn fantastic.

Each member of the band sounds as if he’s been lit from within by divine inspiration. Guitars (Sylvain Coudret and newcomer David Andersson) are full of bluesy and bludgeoning power, with leadwork and soloing that’s near-baroque in its intricacy. Longtime bassist Ola Flink and drummer Dirk Verbeuren handle their rhythmic battery with grace and fluidity – the equivalent of steering a locomotive like a high-performance sportscar. And Sven Karlsson has been completely unleashed on this album, from tasteful up-front synth lines on many of the tracks to rippling, progressive duets with the guitar solos to a near-constant foundation of glorious Hammond organ throughout both discs.

As always, the songs’ main vocals are an endless eruption of Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid’s throaty growls, roars, shouts and screams, but now these are layered beneath many of the clean choruses as well. There are even stunning cleans against pummeling blastbeats in “Let the First Wave Ride,” more of that please. Almost every track features a massive hooky clean chorus, but many have equally delicious pre-choruses as well. These songs are so dynamic and varied that Speed has many opportunities to stretch, play and soar, and he charges every moment full of passion and fury. It’s a career-topping performance, and although Speed was already one of my favorite metal vocalists, The Living Infinite cements him as one of the best and most versatile metal vocalists on the planet. Christian Alvestam who?

The big question here is what, if any, involvement Peter Wichers had with the creation of this masterpiece. Wichers was one of Soilwork‘s chief songwriters, and after the Wichers-less Sworn to a Great Divide, I had to assume his return was a big part of why The Panic Broadcast was such a promising return to form. However, he left again – this time, for good – before The Living Infinite, citing family concerns and “creative differences.” Whatever he had in mind, I can’t see how it could have been better for the band than what they’ve turned out in his absence. I’m not as confident with this guess as I was when Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater, which (in my estimation) gave the band a creative reset and resulted in their finest hour in more than a decade (A Dramatic Turn of Events). Still, it does make you wonder where the disconnect was behind the band’s closed doors.

No matter though, as any discord there resulted in an absolute treat for the rest of us. The songwriting is so effortless and excellent on The Living Infinite, so elevated above their previous output, it’s almost as if the band traveled far into the future and returned with Soilwork‘s Greatest Hits to share with you now in 2013. Or rather, given the stellar output of the band’s earlier releases, The Living Infinite could be considered their Greatest Hits 2 and 3.

I just recently went through the exercise of picking my top metal albums of 2012, and although there were a ton of high-quality, exciting and artistically respectable albums, nothing really set me on fire the way The Living Infinite does. I love these albums. They’re a double-dose of pure metal pleasure, and a phenomenal leap forward for the band. At this point, they’re also the two albums to beat at the end of the year.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
March 11th, 2013

Comments

  1. Commented by: stiffy

    LOL! Excellent. This is a surprising album. Especially since the entire band has been reshaped except for two guys. High caliber shit.


  2. Commented by: timmy

    Right on, Jordan!


  3. Commented by: Luke_22

    Man I lost interest in these guys a long time ago, but this sounds like it might be the surprise packet of the year. Great review, I’ll check this out for sure.


  4. Commented by: Noch

    Great, in-depth review of an extremely in-depth record. I’ve been doing much press coverage for this one myself and I openly admit, in everything I write/publish, that I never expected to be so floored by this release. Actually, when they announced it would be a double-album, I expected the lameness of TPB would be spread across an hour and a half of far beyond awkward boredom; and I say this with much regret as I’m a long-time fan of these guys. But holy fucking hell, The Living Infinite RIPS. It indeed encompasses all the best aspects of Soilwork’s approach to songwriting over the span of their career. All the hype around it is justified – I didn’t buy into the general enthusiasm at first but they gave me a run for my money and I couldn’t be happier with the idea that this will def make my year-end list.

    \m/ The word wow certainly is accurate here.


  5. Commented by: Staylow

    Excellent review Jordan, and I couldn’t agree more. Upon initial listens (more or less as just background music) I thought “yeah, sounds like Soilwork”, but man, after spinning this in the car under much closer scrutiny, it took my head clean off. Will no doubt be in my top 3 at years end, if not AOTY.


  6. Commented by: MyTwoCents

    I must agree that this album so far definitely is an Album of the Year candidate for Metal, and easily the best thing Soilwork has done since Natural Born Chaos. I knew this album was good, but seeing the songs performed live really drove it home.

    Having said that, I don’t know if I agree this album is their best ever. Chainheart Machine through Natural Born Chaos were in my opinion the apex. I can’t call this album necesarilly better than those three, but it certainly fits right in with them. Also,I would be crazy to argue that it doesn’t sound like a culmination of everything they’ve done over the years.

    Still, great review, and I am beyond happy that at least ONE of my favorite bands is still trying (I must unfortunately agree with you on In Flames, and I have been nothing but disappointed in Arch Enemy after Wages of Sin). I would love to see a Soilwork and Scar Symmetry tour in the future.


  7. Commented by: KickMyJunk

    Overall, I love both albums. There are probably about 4 or 5 songs that I feel are good, if not great, but there’s nothing to complain about here. The songs that are great, and there are many, are really fucking great.


  8. Commented by: Jerome

    Hi,

    Excellent review Jordan.

    This new album is definitely a master piece, the guitars are flying everywhere, the drummer is surprising but exactly where we want him to be and the singer is giving his best performance yet, with every kind of singing nailed: death, black (few, but still nailed) and especially the clear chorus with the second voice at the third of the first! Amazing job, amazing album, it’s great to have them back.

    But be carefull before you listen to it, some songs can’t get out of your and you’ll find yourself singing out loud the chorus of “This Momentary Bliss” or “Spectrum of Eternity”!


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