Since the release of their debut album in 1998, Soilwork has been a mainstay in the melodic death metal scene. After 22 years, they’ve released their most ambitious work: their new five-track EP, A Whisp Of The Atlantic. Given that its runtime is almost that of a full-length album, it’s clear something special is going on.
“Our planet is a very different place because of the pandemic”
- David Andersson
Soilwork would be the first to admit that they aren’t the only band to bring the influence of progressive rock into death metal. One of the genre’s first successful outfits, Death, had been doing it since the early 90s, and Opeth have gone on to make a career out of dramatic changes between death metal, jazz, folk and just about everything else in between. In that time, we’ve been treated to epics like Opeth’s Morningrise (1996) track ‘Black Rose Immortal’, 'Ne Obliviscaris’, ‘Painters Of The Tempest’ and the criminally underrated, Wilderun’s - ‘The Unimaginable Zero Summer’.
A Whisp Of The Atlantic is kicked off by its entry into the fifteen-minutes-or-more death metal club in the form of its title track. “I’ve always felt that Soilwork was a bit underrated as a band and that no one really understood what we were able to do,” explains guitarist David Andersson. This desire to prove themselves seems to be the mantra behind the entire EP. “I think that anyone who’s a true music fan will enjoy it if they take the time to listen,” he continues. “I’ve had this dream for quite a few years to write a really epic song and show off what this band was capable of.”
Andersson goes on to contextualise the band amongst his progressive rock heroes. “Ever since I was young, I’ve always enjoyed listening to epics like ‘Supper’s Ready’ by Genesis,” he says. “I finally got the chance to take a lot of the strange sounds I hear in my head and combine them in one song, but still within a metal context.” In doing so, what we hear open the EP runs parallel to much of this inspiration.
Like Genesis’ ‘Supper’s Ready’, the title track follows a structure closer to the movements of classical music than the verse-chorus of pop; like Van Der Graaf Generator’s ‘A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers’, we are thrown into various saxophone-led jazz breakdowns without warning; like Yes’ ‘Close To The Edge’, familiar musical material returns fifteen minutes after we thought we’d heard it for the last time. Rather than the usual insistent heaviness of Soilwork and many of their contemporaries, this approach keeps things fresh and constantly unravelling.
The grand scale of progressive rock in the musical sense comes hand in hand with its infamous lyrical grandeur. Love it or hate it, the twisting words and far-fetched iconography of bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson is part of the genre, and with A Whisp Of The Atlantic, Soilwork has certainly given their words power. If you’re not a fan of Neil Peart’s theatrical Rush lyricism – “my spirits are low in the depths of despair, my lifeblood spills over...” – then you’ll find enough in ‘A Whisp Of The Atlantic’ – “the dream we shared will keep us alive...” – to cringe at.
However, if you can get past the melodrama and appreciate its deeper meaning, the band are proud of the themes that stretch from the title track, all the way to their latest single, ‘The Nothingness And The Devil’. “The overarching theme is liberation from the extremely low level of the social and cultural debate these days, and it starts with the fundamentals and ends with the phenomenological. From liberation into ascension,” says Andersson. It’s a lot to take in, sure, but blending such complex lyrical themes with such complex musical ideas is about as progressive as it comes.
Combined, the four tracks that follow ‘A Whisp Of The Atlantic’ are only just about longer than the title track alone. Their presence on the EP feels less important after the splendour of its introduction, but in many ways, these four tracks are just as worthy. Musically, their synth-heavy accompaniments and the efforts of vocalist Björn Strid to maintain catchiness in his harsh vocal melodies serve as reminders to their audience that Soilwork is still very much Soilwork. But, for what many might call the first time, the incredible experience that is the opener really does, in Andersson’s words, “show off what this band [is] really capable of.”
"If you came from a different realm, like Atlantis, how would you experience our world? Or, how do we deal with the fact that our planet is a very different place because of the pandemic, and that we all have things that we miss that we might never get to experience again in their original form? Or is the world we live in now actually already the sunken world, from the ruins of which we might one day be able to build something better?" - David Andersson
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