Released: 2007, Nuclear Blast
Swedish band Soilwork have slowed down in recent years – they’re releasing albums in two year intervals as opposed to their prolific output at the turn of the millennium, releasing an album every year between 2000 and 2003. SWORN TO A GREAT DIVIDE follows on from 2005’s STABBING THE DRAMA, which many felt was a slight improvement on the crapfest that was FIGURE NUMBER FIVE. So what lies in store for fans in the band’s seventh studio album?
It’s not hard to dislike this album. And I do. FIGURE NUMBER FIVE marked the fact that Soilwork had turned “mallcore”, and while I dislike slinging around a term like for metal bands as a form of criticism (other than the proper mallcore ones), it was justified. STABBING THE DRAMA brought back glimpses of what this band was about (although what they were originally about is subject to debate as well, which I’ll come back to later), in that there were harsher vocals, more complex guitars and a notch-above-formulaic song structures. SWORN TO A GREAT DIVIDE I think will show that they have gone backwards, perhaps even to their doom. Finally.
Firstly, the vocals. Now, “Speed” Strid has hardly had a harsh vocal line since THE CHAINHEART MACHINE, but here he has truly turned to the dark side. So-called melodic singing, or “emo crap” as I like to call it, infests this album with its disgusting odour. Okay, Speed has never had the most powerful of growls – he’s nowhere near the rib rattling depths that proper death singers could conjure, he was always somewhere near slight-sore-throat level. But was it really necessary to write most of an album in “softie” vocals? Grow a pair man.
The guitars here are properly crap. Whatever stick you can throw at Soilwork, they always had brilliant guitars, courtesy of Ola Frenning and the departed Peter Wichers. They had the Tipton/Downing or Murray/Smith quality to them. They could solo with the best of them, and we see this in STEELBATH SUICIDE and especially THE CHAINHEART MACHINE, and they had some decent riffs as well. Here, melody, composition, riffs, hooks and anything else that one would wish a guitarist to have are sacrificed for mallcore single-note downtuned so-called riffing. Simple power chords outline the choruses, solos which never take off and flounder when they do, and the aforementioned stop-start riffing beloved by Fear Factory and Slipknot are a real turnoff. There’s only one song when the guitars actually had some bite to them, “The Pittsburgh Syndrome”, where it manages to combine some standard Gothenburg/deathstyle riffing into a song. Other than that, it’s really sad.
There are a few improvements in SWORN. They removed most of that shit techno crap, synth and doctored vocals that made listening to FIVE so painful. I think many fans will thank them for that. It’s well-produced and it’s heavy, pity that most of the aggression is lost with the down-tuned guitars and the pussy vocals. And if you ignore the lyrics, they have some okay songs like “The Pittsburgh Syndrome”, “Sworn To A Great Divide”, and at a stretch, “Silent Bullet”.
Now I do dislike this album, but I think it’s fair of me to say that Soilwork have never really had a consistent sound ascribable to them. You can’t point to them as being a standard so-and-so band, because with every album, they have modified their sound slightly but noticeably. Therefore, to judge them on what they have done and should have been is slightly unfair. You could say Metallica disgraced their legacy with LOAD, or that In Flames dishonoured THE JESTER RACE with REROUTE TO REMAIN. You can’t say that about Soilwork. They may have started as a Gothenburg melodic death band in the footsteps of the mighty At The Gates, In Flames and even Dark Tranquillity. But along the way, and pretty early on, they’ve turned aside to look to a different fanbase. And that’s fair enough. Just don’t expect me to recommend this to a metalhead. I’m sure that fans of emo, mallcore, metalcore, nu-metal and all the other trendy stuff will enjoy this album as something heavier and more complex than their usual fare. To me, this sounds like Hoobastank with distortion and a drummer. Make of that what you will.