I bloody hate snakes. I don’t wanna look at them and I don’t want them anywhere near me. However, if there’s an exception that makes me excited, it’s this black mamba on the cover of Soen‘s new album. Their previous release, Lotus, was my favourite album of 2019 and naturally I have massive expectations of Imperial. This will be the fifth full-length album for the Swedish supergroup, founded by ex-Opeth man Martin Lopez and vocalist Joel Ekelöf.
Soen has always been a band that’s had a lot to say with their music, their lyricism has been incredibly meaningful while also being simple enough to be relatable to nearly anyone. As the years go by there seems to be more and more material for the band to work with and they are absolutely thriving. Beginning with “Lumerian,” the band waste no time to get rather heavy. The opening track is quite catchy and immediately showcases the vast talent of Ekelöf, whose enchanting vocals draw you in in a quite soothing way, which is then, very impressively, followed by a technically fantastic scream in the middle of the song. Somewhat surprisingly though, the song doesn’t really show off as much progressive elements as we’ve come to expect from the band.
“Deceiver” brings drummer Martin Lopez to the foreground as he leads the rhythm of the song masterfully. It’s also apparent at this point that the album is expertly mixed and produced and the band has clearly spent a long time polishing it to get it just right. “Monarch” begins with a quite jarring alarm, one that reminds me of a nuclear disaster. The track itself though, talks about the expectations put on men and how emotions are seen as a weakness. The vocals have a great echo effect on the verses and this is a prime example of Soen’s fantastic ability to write great lyrics that focus on very real issues, yet work very well with their music and don’t come off as awkward. It’s the heaviest song Soen have ever done, according to Lopez, which is heavily aided by Cody Ford’s guitar work.
Who are the ones we are sending to die?
Starry-eyed youth in disguise
Carry a banner of misleading pride
They are the ghosts of our timeSoen – “Monarch”
Giving the drums and guitar a bit of a break, “Illusion” offers a much calmer energy and it’s the kind of song that once again lets Ekelöf’s vocal feeling shine fully as the guitar is soft and playful in the background. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the songs on the album are super long, though, and the next track, “Antagonist,” is actually the longest at just over six minutes. With the song being the first single from the album, most fans are probably well acquainted with it by now and I’ve no doubt it’ll be included on every setlist in future concerts – which are planned to start in December as Soen embarks on their tour. Lopez is once again fantastic on this track and leads it forward beautifully, while the lyrics offer a line that’s stuck with me and despite its simplicity says a great amount and probably describes the band’s views well – “Life isn’t just to survive.”
Where do I heal when the river runs dry?
How do I sweeten the bitter?
A word decides our fate
And our silence condemnsSoen – “Illusion”
“Modesty” begins a with a slightly different feeling, once again calmer, and offers some nice bass lines at the start. The album is on the short side with about 40 minutes in length, which is a bit underwhelming as Lotus’ nine tracks equalled to 54 minutes. Imperial, however, uses its time very cleverly and “Modesty” is followed by “Dissident,” one of the proggiest tracks on the album, which also lifts up the energy again. The track features a lot of cool passages, both vocally and instrumentally, and just feels very complete and thought-out. Following this, is the album’s last track, “Fortune” – a song with a fairly positive message that we are unused to from Soen and metal in general. It’s a good choice to finish off the album, as it does give a sense of closure with the help of the keyboards, although I will say that the lyrics are just a tad on the cringey side. But that may just be my cynicism showing through.
The fifth chapter of Soen came with massive expectations, but did it fulfill them? Honestly, I think it pretty much did. I would have loved a bit more prog wankery, a nine minute behemoth of a song and just overall a slightly longer album, but what’s there is brilliant. Soen manage to make space for every member of the band, for every instrument to shine through and captures a special feeling that they’ve had on their previous records as well. With their stunning poetry, combined with the very well produced sound and the enormous talent of the band, Imperial will be a good contender for one of the best albums of the year.
– Didrik Mešiček