The Swedish prog metallurgists return with a very emotional, meditative and surprisingly crushing follow up to Lykaia.
My introduction to the Swedish prog entity SOEN was their 2017 effort Lykaia. I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of their sound and how they could blend the sounds of progressive rock's past mastery with the heavy metal stylings of the day. While comparisons to OPETH would undoubtedly arise, I was brought into the mindset of another progressive metal powerhouse, that being TOOL. While vocalist Joel Ekelöf has more in common vocally with Mikael Åkerfeldt of OPETH, the instrumentation brought to mind some of the more tender, albeit heavy, moments of TOOL records like Lateralus and 10,000 Days. The album eventually landed on my year end list lower on down but I continued to return to it in hopes that a new album would arrive soon. As I write this review, I'm currently three listens deep into the band's new offering Lotus. So what have the Swedes been up to in the last year and a half? Allow me to tell you.....
Lotus is the fourth album in the SOEN discography and is also the first to feature new guitarist Cody Ford from Canada. There is something that Ford brings almost instantly to the grand feeling of longing through his riff work. Opening tracks Opponent and Lascivious contain noteworthy guitar riffs that sound almost as good if not better than some of the riffs on the previous album. Joel's smooth croon, which is one of the many factors that turned me into a fan, is on point and his performance is full of passion and energy. His delivery is one of the many aspects of this band that truly stand out within the context of heavy prog.
In my book, if you are in a prog band and you don't have a solid rhythm section, chances are you are going to suck. Let me square away any doubt by saying that drummer Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) and bassist Stefan Stenberg are absolutely outstanding. They carry a sort of chemistry that can be found between the early Yes rhythm section of bassist Chris Squire and Bill Bruford as well as Greg Lake and Michael Giles when Lake was originally in King Crimson. Not to be outshined is keyboardist/guitarist Lars Åhlund who brings a palpable warmth to the proceedings with entrancing keyboard work as well as trading licks with Ford. The leads that they share remind me heavily of David Gilmour's work circa Animals and The Wall.
The music on display is some of the tightest in SOEN's discography. There are songs like the title track and River that are very emotional and melancholic while Opponent and Covenant contain some of the bands heaviest and most neck snapping moments. The latter sounds like it could totally fit on 10,000 Days with it's driving Adam Jones inspired guitar tone and spacey key work. Hearing the double bass on Rival was unexpected and more than a welcome addition to an album that is already very straightforward in momentum. There is a great contrast between the mellow tracks and the ones that are heavier than the attraction between celestial spheres and SOEN execute this dynamic with clear cut and almost surgical precision. It's as if they can do this with their eyes closed and no effort involved, even though that is most likely very untrue.
By prog standards, this album is not very hard to digest and is very easy for the initiate to jump into, as well as the hardened prog fan who has spent their spare time studying time signatures and modes. With that said, it's very hard to find anything wrong with Lotus. The mellow tracks don't go too far into dull sections while the heavier bits wouldn't deter the casual fan of rock music. While I feel that prog has become more and more about noodling and trying to make everyone feel inferior, SOEN have created an album that can hit deep on the emotional end while stimulating the listener's complex musical palette. It is definitely a worthy follow up to Lykaia and an album that will have continued rotation throughout the year. Even if TOOL does release the album they have been promising for over a decade, SOEN will no doubt have the better prog metal album of 2019.
Overall score: 8.5/10
FFO: Tool, Opeth, Pink Floyd, Steven Wilson, The Contortionist and King Crimson.
Notable tracks: Opponent, Lascivious, Martyrs, Lotus, Covenant, Rival and Lunacy.