Released: 2005, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
With their new STABBING THE DRAMA release, Soilwork is now six albums (in seven years!) into a successful career as one of the forerunners of the Swedish melodic death metal scene. NATURAL BORN CHAOS saw the band venture into a more melodic sound at the hands of Devin Townsend and its hurried follow-up, 2003’s FIGURE NUMBER FIVE, continued on that path, as well, but STABBING THE DRAMA seems to have taken a step backwards—in a good way—as if it were the “lost” transitional album between 2001’s A PREDATOR’S PORTRAIT and 2002’s NATURAL BORN CHAOS. The songs on this release incorporate all of the lush melodies and clean vocals of the last two albums but with less of a dependency on keyboards and a greater focus on the guitars of Peter Wichers and Ola Frenning. It is immediately apparent that Bjorn “Speed” Strid has been working on his vocals, as well. Not only does Strid maintain the aggressive death vocals of the band’s early works but his clean vocals have improved leaps and bounds even over FIGURE NUMBER FIVE. Also of note is that Scarve’s Dirk Verbeuren filled the vacant drum position in the studio. The last album was the swansong of Henry Ranta and the all-too-brief tenure of Rickard Evensand (who jumped ship for Chimaira after six months on tour) passed without getting anything down in the studio. Verbeuren is a solid drummer and whether or not he will remain a permanent fixture in the band has yet to be decided, but his work on STABBING THE DRAMA makes a good case that he is the right man for the job.
The more subdued presence of keyboards on STABBING THE DRAMA is first felt on the title track. Next to the sampled opening, guitars are at the forefront of the mix and Sven Karlsson’s ivory tinkling has taken more of a back seat. NATURAL BORN CHAOS and FIGURE NUMBER FIVE became overly dependent on the keyboard sound which, along with the slick production of those albums, made the band seem too polished—almost enough to question their use of Pro-Tools in studio as a possible crutch. STABBING THE DRAMA’s production (courtesy of Daniel Bergstrand) is still glossy but with more of an emphasis on instruments commonly associated with a metal band rather than a European pop band. Speaking of guitars, the metallic crunch of “Weapon of Vanity” and “One With The Flies” combined with the swirling solos found on tracks like “Stalemate” show that Soilwork can, indeed, still deliver the goods. Frenning and Wichers attack their instruments like hungry wolves putting some edge back to the music that was lost on recent releases. “Blind Eye Halo” comes completely out of left field with a whiplash-inducing pace and blastbeat assault that is easily the heaviest track Soilwork has ever laid down. At the other end of the spectrum is a track like “Nerve,” which is mid-paced and could be considered Soilwork’s power ballad (if power ballads had double bass). Whatever Strid was doing between FIGURE NUMBER FIVE and STABBING THE DRAMA has paid off in spades as his range is much broader and diverse than ever before...he even croons during a middle passage of “The Crest Fallen.” His vocals in the choruses of tracks like “Distance,” “Nerve,” “Stabbing The Drama” and “Weapon of Vanity” reach new heights and are a real delight to listen to. On the other hand, “Fate In Motion” sees Strid go on another tangent with a hardcore rasp that he has never explored in the past…and hopefully never will again. This track reeks of nu-metal influence and let’s all hope that Soilwork does not try to conquer the North American market by overtly pandering to it like In Flames did.
STABBING THE DRAMA is not the perfect Soilwork album by any means (many of the tracks follow the same formula and the occasional riff teeters on the cusp of nu-metal) but the band seems to have found their sound. They began heavy, went melodic, and have met somewhere in the middle with this release. I’m happy to see a harder edge to these songs and less dependence on the keyboard element and over-production of their last two releases because Soilwork is a “guitar band” who just happens to have a vocalist with killer pipes. With Strid’s expanded vocal talents and a more organic approach to songwriting, STABBING THE DRAMA should bring back some fans lost on the melodic backroad the band took with NATURAL BORN CHAOS and FIGURE NUMBER FIVE, but it also holds all the potential of further lifting Soilwork out of the European metal underground and on to greater commercial success.
KILLER KUTS: “Stabbing The Drama,” "One With The Flies," “Weapon of Vanity,” “Nerve,” “Distance,” “Blind Eye Halo”