Swedish progressive metal band SOEN are releasing their newest opus, “Imperial,” on January 29, 2021, via Silver Lining Music. SOEN is one of those rare bands that has released one excellent album after the other, and “Imperial” comes on the heels of their highly-acclaimed fourth album, “Lotus,” which was released in February 2019. Living up to its namesake, the album sees them continuing to develop and expand their melodic, heavy, and intricate sound. Find our interview here.
SOEN’s music is just magnetic to listen to, with so many nuances and moods running through it. The eight tracks that make up “Imperial” are just as captivating and alluring as anything else the band has released so far. A mirror image of “Lotus” as it has more or less the same song-writing style and overall album structure, this new offering is somber, heavy, and brooding. But as with anything reflected in a mirror, it is also distorted and dark, though still as exquisite and beautiful as its predecessor. Where “Lotus” was more atmospheric, melodic, and restrained “Imperial” is fiercer, more dynamic, and unleashed, with groove and impeccable flow that begs for repeated listens.
Heavy and grandiose “Lumerian” sets the tone for the album and grabs your attention with its powerful instrumental side. Though the title may make one think of something light and breezy, the song offers the exact opposite – gloom and darkness, but with a bit of hope coming from the chorus. It is superbly offset by the somewhat more serene and melodic “Deceiver,” whose lyrical content tugs at the heartstrings as the vocals and the instrumentals take turns driving the song forward. This sonic juxtaposition of a heavy passage followed by a mellower section works efficiently not just within the songs themselves, but also throughout the whole album, giving it a wax and wane type of fluidity. Up next, single “Monarch” is as intense as it is majestic, blending aggressiveness with melodic bliss while beautiful “Illusion” is a more toned-down ballad boasting a superb guitar solo and tranquil ambiance coupled with a meaningful message.
The ebb-and-flow of the music continues with the heavyweight “Antagonist,” whose hefty riffs go hand-in-hand with the anger expressed in the lyrics and vocal delivery, making for a potent social commentary. It somehow reminds me of ORPHANED LAND’s political anthem “We Do Not Resist,” as both tracks deal with power mongers and their games to which the common people fall victim. There’s an ominous vibe that carries “Modesty” forward and the sweeping violin melody that surfaces here and there, underpinned by the guitars, adds to that sense of gloom and foreboding. The bass and drum really shine in this track, as does the fiery guitar solo. As per its title, “Dissident” is another heavy and aggressive number that makes great use of the drums and distorted guitars to build up momentum before dipping into a serene passage. Closing track “Fortune” is an intense journey through deep and murky waters only to find more than a ray of light in the song’s lyrical content. The vocals are some of the soberest on the album and mesh very well with the grave violin lines that enhance the dark mood of the song. It’s an interesting choice for a closer as it allows for this feeling of melancholy (almost hopelessness) to linger in the air long after the music fades into nothingness.
As sleek as its magnificent cover artwork, “Imperial” is a nuanced album with depth and texture coming not only from Joel Ekelöf’s rich and versatile vocals but also from the gritty guitars and intense drums. The well-crafted lyrics complement the music brilliantly, at times being direct and concise, as is the case with single “Antagonist,” while at other times they are a bit more sanguine and uplifting, as for instance on “Illusion” and even “Fortune,” but always consistent with the mood of the song. Masters of their craft, everything they do is deliberate and serves a specific purpose, reason why it is very interesting to note how the instruments are used. They know when to go full force, and when to be more restrained so as to let the main melody shine through, or when to let the vocals take the spotlight. It’s little details like this that make songs like “Deceiver,” “Illusion,” or “Modesty” such sonic delights. It also showcases the tight songwriting prowess of the band as well as their incredible knack for setting a mood.
In many ways, SOEN has done the impossible with “Imperial” by improving on an already flawless album all the while perfecting and expanding their sound. An impressive feat of musicianship and poetic beauty, “Imperial” is an album that speaks both to the mind and the soul with skillful compositions, exceptional vocals, and insightful lyrics. Let yourself be carried on this majestic journey and let yourself be flooded by emotions and sensations you never knew music can produce.
If the rest of the music to be released in 2021 is up to these standards, we are golden.
Written by Andrea Crow
Joel Ekelöf – Vocals
Martin Lopez – Drums
Cody Ford – Lead Guitar
Oleksii Kobel – Bass
Lars Enok Åhlund – Keyboards and Guitar
Silver Lining Music