No matter where you started with Soilwork, they’re probably not in the same place as when you started, you know? Over the course of 20+ years, from their young upstart roots as per the movement that heralded the poor yet aptly named New Wave of Swedish Death Metal to their streamlined commercial modern metal anthems in the mid 00s to the current wave of classic rock and prog-influenced metal of the past few years, the band has been nothing if not consistent in playing with the formula they helped create. The last few years have been especially fruitful, culminating in Övergivenheten, delivering equal parts ripping metal riffs and gigantic anthemic choruses that, contrary to the album’s translation, show no signs of the band abandoning the progress they’ve made in tweaking their signature sound.
It feels good to write that because, with all honestly, my love of Soilwork has often come in spurts of hot and cold. I came to the band having missed their early more overt death metal completely, coming aboard with 2002’s Natural Born Chaos. That and follow-up Figure Number Five almost turned me off completely due to the overly processed and slick Devin Townsend production (which is weird considering I love that sound on Devy’s own albums) and so maybe its the lack of Devin and my own contrarian nature that really fell for the band with Stabbing the Drama, which emphasized the hooks but with a much drier, aggressive production that let the guitars cut into you. There’s never been anything but love for how vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid can instantly pivot from foaming bark to rallying AOR choruses, but as that became more and more accentuated I bowed out again, briefly re-appearing for the holy-shit comeback of 2013’s The Living Infinite before ducking out again.
That is until 2019, when I was immediately grabbed by the artwork for Verkligheten. The music inside showed a band getting rougher and more directly acknowledging their dearth metal roots, but with enough sonic weirdness to really bring out something new in their sound. 2020’s EP A Whisp of the Atlantic was even more promising, and Övergivenheten fulfills that promise. Opening with slide guitars and a cinematic intro that evokes spaghetti westerns as much as the desolate and cold of the Scandinavian winters, the band immediately gallops into a ripping a section that seamlessly bleeds into a massive singalong chorus. It’s clear the time Strid, guitarist David Andersson, and new bassist Rasmus Ehrnborn have brought the touch they utilize in the side gig with Night Flight Orchestra to flesh out the more melodic moments throughout Övergivenheten and it pays off again and again, whether its the main guitar melody on “Nous Sommes La Guerre” or there almost power metal vibe on late track “Golgata” with its prominent keyboards.
It’s not all cheese and FM radio vibes. “Electric Again” is one of the heaviest songs the band have put out in some time, and that opening riff to “Vultures” bursts into almost black metal territory before settling into a terrific groovy riff set against one of Strid’s strongest vocal performances. Recent single “Dreams of Nowhere” continues the fast attack until it suddenly drops into a bizarre but no less enjoyable hard rock song, alternating faces until that chorus throws you back in time to 1988, giving you just enough time to remember things like parachute pants and bandannas before that gnarled riff lurches you back to the present.
Is it perfect? Well, at 14 songs and 65 minutes there definitely feels like a bit of bloat at times. I wouldn’t want to cut the classic rock interludes, but maybe cut two songs so it’s not as long a wait to get to the epic closing track “On The Wongs of a Goddess Through Flaming Sheets of Rain.” Problem is, I’m hard pressed to tell you what to cut.
And that, my friends, is a very good problem for Övergivenheten and Soilwork to have.