Saturday, September 5, 2015

Album Review: Soilwork - "The Ride Majestic"

A review should never be about the reviewer, but permit me this minor indulgence just this once, as so much of my experience with Soilwork’s music is tied into my personal listening experience with their career to this point.  This is the only lens through which I can judge “The Ride Majestic.”

My relationship with Soilwork, long a favorite band of mine, seems to be in flux.  It comes upon a recently reflection that my three personal favorite Soilwork records, “Natural Born Chaos,” “Figure Number Five” (a personal all-time top ten record,) and “Stabbing the Drama” tend to be the three albums that many Soilwork devotees enjoy the least.  Nevertheless, as Soilwork rolls on with more records that are named with increasingly abstract titles, what keeps me attracted to the band is that there has always been a small handful of organically transcendent singles that either float the entire album (“Two Lives Worth of Reckoning”) or unlock the rest of the experience (“The Living Infinite I”.)  A certain amount of filler and experimentation has always been anticipated on a Soilwork record, because the band likes to channel their energies into a variety of artistic styles.

“The Ride Majestic,” by contrast, lacks those solidly rhythmic singles that have always insured that each Soilwork record remains firmly anchored to terra firma.  In their place, the band trades in an increase in multi-faceted metal, bordering on technical metal and accompanied by a wide range of new and different sounds from Soilwork.

And what a menagerie of looks we get from the Swedish veterans.  Perhaps most interesting is the sound of “Petrichor by Sulphur” which features an entire bridge sounding like a cut from A Pale Horse Named Death.  This is actually the most interesting part of the record, because it sounds so far afield from the normal expectations of Soilwork.  Juxtaposed by the slow but insistent melodic constructions on either end, this track ends up as the album’s crown jewel.

With that said, the album also experiments with the band’s more melodic side, incorporating some much more open and lighter fare for “The Phantom” and “Death in General” while also reverting to a more classic version of their idiomatic sound for many other spots on the record.
What colors most of these songs generally in that they have no one color.  Selecting “All Along Echoing Paths” as just one example, we see from beginning to end the technical side, thrash side and melodic side of Soilwork.  Other times there’s borderline black metal, atmospheric metal and a hundred other shades ranging from black to gray on the metal spectrum.

What stands as most interesting about “The Ride Majestic” from the standpoint of a longtime listener is that drummer Dirk Verbeuren, so long a metal craftsman who possesses intimate understanding of how to create atmosphere with his drums, seems content to reduce himself to metronomic percussion, rather than creating a feeling or setting a tone.  Yes, his beats for “The Ride Majestic” on expectedly on-point but come across as somewhat cold and antiseptic, disconnected at worst.

So, there’s something for every Soilwork fan, unless of course, you happen to be me, and the elements you always preferred to see the band utilize are conspicuously absent.  In a twist, fans going all the way back to “Steelbath Suicide” or “Chainheart Machine” may be lured back into the band’s good graces by their sonic assault.

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