Valis Ablaze – Render

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 19 July 2019.

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This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for from VALIS ABLAZE. After reviewing their EP Insularity back in 2017 and then their debut album Boundless last year, I’ve always had high hopes for these Bristolians but they were yet to reveal their full potential. Render, the band’s second album to be released through Long Branch Records, showcases a band who have finally hit their stride. After numerous line-up changes and career defining shows, Render is the sound of VALIS ABLAZE ready to unleash their powress and put their stamp on the progressive scene in 2019.     

Mesmerising riffs and an alluring depth entice the listener with opening track Neon Dreaming. This track also introduces what their previous material lacked a little bit – ‘oomph’. This confident appeal oozes through the rest of the album. Second track Hollow Heart is a prime example of VALIS ABLAZE’s newly found vigour. This glorious track is the best single the band have released to date and is an absolute belter. The staggering climax and triumphant riffs fill our hollow hearts to the brim.          

The Convincer is an interesting beast. The jerky riffs and shimmering notes are shadowed by a dark undertone, yet the devastating chorus will make the track one which you’ll remember for a while. Speaking of memorable tracks, Ascent is an absolute corker of a song. The upbeat and infectious energy which punches at the beginnng is unlike anything we’ve heard from VALIS ABLAZE before and it’s flippin’ fantastic. The cheeky screamed vocals raise the song even higher. This track shows how versatile vocalist Phil Owen has become with his incredible vocal talent. If you think Ascent cannot get any better then the inclusion of MASK OF JUDAS’ Sam Bell just tips it over the edge. Absolutely outrageous.   

After that triumph, next track Saturation provides a haunting and offbeat song which makes for a perfect interlude for an album full of unexpected twists and turns. States of Decay is another dreamlike and modest track which has stuck itself in my mind considering it’s quite laidback. The quirkiness continues with Infinite World with its opening notes which might deceive you into thinking you’d accidently skipped to ANIMALS AS LEADERS. The track continues with fresh energy and a few surprises; the 3 minute mark will blow you away. I’ll say no more.

Album finale Elevation is a mini masterpiece. The band don’t mess around here; immediately there is an impact at the beginning followed by a fast-paced chorus with a commanding energy throughout. The song elevates (sorry) with the breathtaking performance by Danish beauty WHITE DOVE, whom provided guest vocals during the band’s Tech Fest set last year, so I’m thrilled she’s back on a recorded track for Render. This conclusion is a stunning effort by VALIS ABLAZE. 

Render is the band’s biggest achievement yet, each song has its own vibe and own story to tell. If they’ve improved and progressed this quickly between albums, just think of what VALIS ABLAZE will be capable of by album number three! If you’re still yet to check out this band (I’ve been blogging about them enough) then don’t wait any longer!       

Cartographs – wilt & blossom

Label: Prime Collective. Release date: 1 March 2019.

I’m not shy to admit this is my favourite release of 2019 so far. wilt & blossom is a suitable title for an album featuring euphoric highs and devastating lows. This album moves me like a blackgaze album would, and CARTOGRAPHS use fragments of blackgaze in their crushing debut album. The Danes borrow from post-rock, experimental and ambient rock, black metal and folk, amongst others to create their own brand of atmospheric music – with dazzling effect.

wilt over time broods as the atmosphere gradually builds up to a CULT OF LUNA-esque passage. The turbulent moments also remind me of Origo-era BURST, so you can probably gauge how powerful CARTOGRAPH’s material can be. There is a post-hardcore edge to the vocals which gives the music such a heart-wrenching and intense dynamic – you can’t let go. ever scaling latches on with its delicate post-rock beginning, exuding the light atmosphere of the first rays of sunshine after a harsh winter. It continues on the rise before lapsing into MAYBESHEWILL-esque riffs; bewitching, captivating…beautiful.

You might remember I wrote about lead single peace was never mine to be found in my last Roundup, stating it as a “stunning example of what’s to come” and it’s reassuring to discover I’m not wrong. The brooding passages and modest intensity is utterly mesmerising. Wearing their ambient metal influences on their sleeve there is a vein of nostalgia running throughout this track and wilt & blossom as a whole, but there is a crisp freshness to CARTOGRAPH’s take on post-rock, threatening to reinvent the genre.

Charming acoustic notes draw you into through the garden gate before a raucous 10 minutes unfold. The climatic riffs are unforgettable, taking you to stratospheric highs before plunging to urgent depths. The pace and execution is perfect for a track of this epic length. When you think you’ve recovered, they hit you with THAT riff again and you collapse into your own despair. CARTOGRAPHS wouldn’t be as heart-wrenching without the raw vocals of Joachim Jensen, but each member is a pivotal component in the CARTOGRAPHS experience.

Second single more string than pearls is another breath-taking example of how the band gel all the textures and instruments into one flawless wall of resounding vehemence. Things calm down a tad with in teal and that irresistible acoustic guitar. Dramatic yet serene, this album is all about opposites clashing together to make something utterly spellbinding.

The song title blossom under leaves conjures the image of hope hiding until the opportune time. The gentle opening minute does reflect this before the optimism is hindered by some spectacular blackgaze. The track continues to climb then dive before it reaches a constant state of post-rock enlightenment, making it a stellar conclusion to such a stunning debut. Last year I raved on about how Danish metal was leading the race, but with the likes of GHOST IRIS and now CARTOGRAPHS releasing excellent albums this year, Denmark might just hold onto the crown for one more year.

Aenimus – Dreamcatcher

Label: Nuclear Blast Records. Release date: 22 February 2019.

California’s AENIMUS have slowly been on the rise since their debut album Transcend Reality, but one thing’s for sure, second album Dreamcatcher will only propel the progressive metal band to new heights. The technicality and ambition on display here will make you think you’re listening to a band well into their metal career, making AENIMUS that little bit more exciting to listen to and to watch grow, because in reality they’re still honing their sound! In an oversaturated scene of so-so bands, groups have to really churn out something special to stand out, luckily AENIMUS have upped their game with this album as it really packs a punch.

The phrase “start as you mean to go on” springs to mind when Before the Eons bursts in. It’s a really technical track but extremely listenable, and the album continues in the same manner. The band channel their inner OPETH and BLACK CROWN INITIATE while BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME-sounds provide the quirkier moments. An uplifting riff and epic solo storms the middle. Delicate guitar work provides a darkly soothing interlude, making this opening track a mesmerising feat. A blistering start.

Eternal sounds like the lovechild of CABAL and SHOKRAN – a terrifying lovechild. The song boasts the first of the spectacular clean vocals on Dreamcatcher. The vocals haven’t been chucked in for the hell of it, oh no, they ramp up the coloassal intensity of the track. This brilliant intensity continues into The Ritual which is a song which would please BEYOND CREATION and BLACK CROWN INITIATE fans. The bass really comes to the fore here, making this track a real progressive and technical beast.

The fantastic orchestral and oriental My Becoming is another one for SHOKRAN fans. Not only do AENIMUS nail the technical aspect of their sound, but they could easily be the masters of melodic tech death if they so wished. This is an absolutely huge track of epic proportions. Next song The Dark Triad is also a bit of a belter. Beginning with a big ol’ groovy riff, this is one song I’d like to see live! The darkness and rich textural depth matches the artwork for Dreamcatcher, you’re also never quite sure what monstrous element is around the corner!

Between Iron and Silver is an ambitious song which is beautifully executed. The dark, brooding moments collapse into passages of sheer magnificence, this won’t be a song you’ll easily forget. The instrumental and orchestral moments on Dreamcatcher are brilliantly composed and deserve a special mention. It is the dark soundscapes such as the ending of Between Iron and Silver which complete the album. We are violently brought back to our senses with the face-ripping riff and ferocious drumming on The Overlook. The vocals almost have the same impact as ARCHSPIRE at the very beginning, the intensity of the whole track is terrifying.

Technical death metal takes over in Caretaker which is one of the heaviest songs on Dreamcatcher. The heavy technicality of AENIMUS is flawless and when the breakdowns crash in you’ll be running for cover. Second Sight is another relentless track. The melodic moments remind me of DISTORTED HARMONY but the illusion is soon shattered by the trenchant end.

Penultimate track Day Zero provides a violently perfect start to the album finale. The terrific title track brings Dreamcatcher to a bewitching and storming conclusion, exactly what an album of this calibre deserves. If you haven’t been blown away by a record yet this year then Dreamcatcher will change all that. AENIMUS seem to masterfully mix progressive and technical metal with elements of deathcore and melodic prog metal into one exciting and unforgettable package. Outstanding.

Ghost Iris – Apple of Discord

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 22 February 2019.

Denmark’s GHOST IRIS never disappoint do they? 2017’s Blind World was a superb album and I had no doubts in my mind that the band’s third record Apple of Discord would be anything but spectacular…but bloody hell this record blows everything the band have ever done out of the water. This record is insane!

Apple of Discord begins with the title track, an instrumental song with a classic GHOST IRIS riff and a huge and crisp production. The dreamy riffage is soon obliterated by the absolutely storming The Devil’s Plaything. If there is one thing to note about this album it is frontman Jesper Vicencio’s vocals and how his cleans have become utterly colossal. His outstanding vocals plus the cheeky djent and the intense breakdowns make The Devil’s Plaything an excellent choice for a single. The track and Apple of Discord as a whole sounds a lot more serious and intense than their previous work, and even though there is a decent dollop of melodic passages, it all feels a lot heavier in general.

The riffs are another level on this album and next track Final Tale is no exception from the rule. It is a darkly groovy beast heightened by the catchy chorus. GHOST IRIS have oodles of appeal and seem to be channelling everything that works into a brilliant and concise record. The chunky riffs continue in After The Sun Set Pt. II which will certainly get a few bodies moving when played live. A proper bouncy and ferocious number with an epic chorus – this track is pure fire. 

Beauty in Expiration is already potentially my favourite song of 2019 so far. There is a real ISSUES edge to it in terms of melodies. A brilliantly executed track, Vicencio’s vocals reach new heights and the instrumentation is perfect to say the least. It has the right balance of skull crushing riffs and delicate notes. Everything is just spot on. The same can be said for The Rat and the Snake which is one of the heaviest songs on Apple of Discord with its crushing CABAL-esque atmosphere. This is GHOST IRIS at their most brutal and it’s a truly thrilling experience.

The energetic Heaven Was Pure Hell is a triumph from beginning to end with its huge and catchy melodies and savage breakdowns. The tech fury continues with the brilliant Cowardly Pride. This track wouldn’t sound out of place on Blind World but its awesome melodic death leanings make it more like Blind World 2.0. GHOST IRIS surpass themselves once again with Magenta Moon which is a perfect modern metal song with a brilliant pace and lift to it. The uplifting riffs with the blistering breakdowns creates a masterpiece of a track full of striking contrasts.

Album finale Virus is well and truly an infectious track. A fabulous bouncy and groovy riff greets you before the brutal vocals threaten to tear your face off. It’s a good ol’ stomper which provides a monumental conclusion to a phenomenal album. GHOST IRIS are and remain one of Denmark’s most talented metal bands, but their crossover appeal and incredible talent demonstrated with Apple of Discord will surely threaten the big players worldwide.

Crystal Lake – Helix

Label: Sharptone Records. Release date: 15 February 2019.

Back in 2016 when they released breakthrough album True North, Japan’s CRYSTAL LAKE were a little speck on the tech metal scene. In my review of True North I predicted the album would “propel CRYSTAL LAKE into the metal stratosphere”. The band did indeed progress into the greater metal realm, with worldwide tours and a slot on the main stage at last year’s Tech Fest. The band are slowly but surely getting bigger and gaining momentum and new album Helix will most certainly launch the band to wider audiences. Compared to its predecessor, Helix is a real tour de force with its ferocious consistency.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! springs to mind when AEON kicks in. The programmed effects are spot on in this song and Helix as a whole. The opening minute has everything; blast beats, blackened passages, deathcore moments and dark TED MAUL moments. The sound is HUGE. AEON has already surpassed anything CRYSTAL LAKE have done before. So much happens yet it all flows seamlessly, but nothing prepares you for the slamming deathcore riffs and beats and the relentless tech metal at the end. Unbelievable.

Next track Agony is a bit more of a ‘typical’ CRYSTAL LAKE track (think Omega from True North with more melodic moments). The drumming and programming are once again insane, yet the ending is unexpectedly but welcomely soothing which enables you to process the brutality of the album so far. The rap returns in +81 but it’s executed perfectly making the track a disgustingly fun listen. There are some FAITH NO MORE-esque passages with the funky bass and seductive vocals. This is a real party metal anthem and will be stuck in your head for days.

By the time Lost in Forever bludgeons your ears it’s become clear CRYSTAL LAKE are sounding more focussed and mature with Helix and this track continues the brutality but with a more melodic slant. The jumpy riffs sound very much like the energetic guitar work of THE ROYAL which makes for another song to bounce to. Something a bit more unusual happens with Outgrow, with its FAITHLESS-esque passages and the slower pace, but it’s good to catch your breath during a high-octane album.

With its big ol’ swagger of a riff and the distinct vocals, Hail to the Fire becomes a bit of an unforgettable track. There is a real groove straight out of KILL THE KONG before it lapses into more slamming deathcore territory. Lots more interesting snippets happen in Devilcry which is a solid track with a catchy motif. The brutality and melodicness are perfectly balanced here making this track a bit of a dark horse to be Helix‘s best track.

Just Confusing is more ISSUES than CRYSTAL LAKE but somehow it works! The chorus could easily upset some old school BRING ME THE HORIZON FANS (if you get what I mean). CRYSTAL LAKE can even master the new wave of emo and I’m not even mad. The bouncy, tech riffs return with Apollo along with the ferocious drumming. It’s not a particularly memorable track but it’s a fun track all the same (especially with the DISTURBED moments…you’ll see what I mean).

Sanctuary makes sure Helix gets the storming send off it deserves. A straight-up, no-nonsense song, the urgent energy of Sanctuary gets the job done. The riffs are stratospheric and the hypnotic end brings the album to a dramatic close. The crossover appeal of CRYSTAL LAKE cannot be ignored. This is their secret weapon and the biggest threat to their contemporaries. Every metal style they attempt to capture they expertly execute. The quality of their work just keeps on getting better and better. What will the band achieve by their next album? One thing’s for sure, you won’t want to be late to the CRYSTAL LAKE hype.

Minors – Abject Bodies

Label: Holy Roar Records. Release date: 22 February 2019.

This is already a contender for nastiest album of the year. Canada’s MINORS are set to release second album Abject Bodies and it’s the finest slab of noisy, sludgy hardcore you’ll hear all year; it would even make the likes of CONVERGE and WILL HAVEN weep from the bleakness of it. It begins with the dismal title track – a doomy and dissonant instrumental before second track Consumed rips you a new one. Powerviolence bludgens you at the start of the song along with its urgent ‘chorus’. The brilliantly punky vocals make for a more intense listen.

Meanderist continues the angry-as-fuck intensity with its ferocious groove. It really does sound like the lovechild between CURSED and NAILS. It’s a white knuckle ride throughout. The noise seamlessly meanders (pun intended) into Flesh Prison which is a deliciously morbid and darkly groovy track. The sludgy riffs topped with powerviolent tendencies is fantastically striking, making for an all-rounded assault.

A chaotic, grindcore punkfest ensues with the magnificent Boneyard. It sounds exactly what you’d expect a boneyard to sound like; crushing, ugly and complete with unexpected blackened passages. The last half is a stunning chunk of devastating riffage. An outstanding track which is followed by an entirely different beast in the form of Erode. Beginning with a soundscape akin to ISIS or PELICAN, it slowly develops into the sludgy opus it turns out to be. The slow start heightens the sense of incoming catastrophe. The down-tempo continues with the addition of the tortured vocals, making for a downright filthy penultimate track.

The brooding finale Garden of Dismalism is back to the dark and distorted textures. The contorted soundscape builds up to create a chaotic and claustrophobic climax. Abject Bodies is anything but a relaxing listen with an uneasy tension throughout. One thing’s for sure – MINORS are more than an angry hardcore band…their sound is mature, calculated and terrifying. Listen at your own peril.

A Novelist – Folie

Release date: 8 February 2019. Self-release.

A NOVELIST is something of an eclectic project. Formed of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ben Nugent and drummer Alex Babineaux, the quirky duo are on a mission to expand the idea of what death metal can be through free and uncompromised expression. Now, I don’t mean to be a genre snob or anything, but I’d argue the Louisiana-based band are primarily progressive metal as they chuck all sorts of musical styles into the mixing pot. I guess this will make A NOVELIST a talking point in online forums for years to come… Genres and labels aside, second album Folie is a disgustingly impressive effort and each listen exposes a new nugget of intrigue.

Eerie opening track Folie Noire sounds like a hybrid of MARTIN GRECH and KARNIVOOL while the quieter moments of THE FACELESS look on. The slow build up bursts into a dark eruption that DARK TRANQUILITY would be proud of. It’s an interesting start to proceedings but next track Exteriors changes tack. It sounds like I’m listening to mid-noughties Victory Records bands again. The parallels to DARKEST HOUR and BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME cannot be ignored. Just when you think you can guess the direction the song is going in, a new element is thrown in keeping you on your toes.

Third track Tombeau is a little chaotic. The uncomfortable guitar work at the beginning clashes with the harsh vocals but once the song really gets going it is the riffs which carry the song. They truly shine and twinkle here and when the snippets of clean vocals peep through it ends up becoming a bit of a thrill! A similar thing can be said for next track, Apparitions with its mesmerising riffs and hypnotic vocals. It’s an ambitious track with the inclusion of a plethora of weird sounds but it sounds more jazz metal than death metal. If the song was a bit more focussed it would be a masterpiece. The clean vocals really come to the fore here making Apparitions a stunning listen.

Electric organs and harsh vocals shouldn’t really mix but in Acacia Crown somehow the mad genius of A NOVELIST make it work with aplomb. There’s a real energy to this song which is addictive. The energy manifests into a crazy beast in Caveat Lector which begins with EDITORS-esque riffs and jazzy overtones but soon erupts into BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME territory. I would have liked to have seen A NOVELIST push the jazz elements a little more, but they’re forgiven once the smooth vocals croon over the chaos.

Stockholm Blues is much of the same with its groovy jazzy undertones. The riffs in this track and Crestfallen stir a sense of nostalgia in me. There’s something about the guitar work and the vocals which remind me of metal from the late noughties but with a fresh, metallic crunch. It could be the production, it could be their influences, who knows, but it works and it sounds like a passionate endeavour. This is followed by Learning Paralysis which is an outstanding track. Probably the most ‘whole’ song on the album, it has a distinct beginning which returns throughout the track, making it consistent and focussed.

The pace slows a tad for album finale Interiors, but this somehow emphasises the emotions exposed in the song. The vocals have an air of HOPESFALL about them (hence the nostalgia perhaps?) and lots of interesting components throughout the track pile up for an exhilarating conclusion. There is an exciting and unexpected blackened interlude with intense drumming which brings in a new element in Folie. This, along with the stellar vocals make for a thrilling climax.


Herod – Sombre Dessein

Label: Pelagic Records. Release date: 15 February 2019.

I recently stated on Instagram that 2019 would be the year for black metal and sludgy hardcore. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have HEROD in mind when I said this, as the Swiss group fall into the latter category with their progressive sludge and their hardcore brutality. Sombre Dessein is the band’s second record and the first to feature new vocalist Mike Pilat (ex-THE OCEAN) who has quickly become one of the band’s greatest strengths. Mastered by CULT OF LUNA’s Magnus Lindberg and boasting epic, heavy soundscapes, Sombre Dessein is the soundtrack to the death of a civilisation.

Fork Tongue Intro gets the album off to an atmospheric and crushing start. When Fork Tongue eventually worms its way in, it could almost be classed as dissonant with its suffocating, doomy tendencies. Featuring Bill Steer from CARCASS and the supplementary guitar playing from Pilat, Fork Tongue ends up becoming a brutal assault. You will soon learn what I mean about THAT RIFF dominating the track. Absolutely colossal.

Lead single Reckoning is a savage delight. There is an air of KNUT’s Terraformer (another heavy band from Switzerland!) which might give you an idea of the atmospheric heaviness at hand here. Even the clean vocals on Reckoning leave an eerie overtone. A truly monstrous song, you could do worse than start here.

This is followed by Don’t Speak Last, a 10 minute opus which begins with a claustrophobic ambience, tension and a sense of impending doom. The gradual build up becomes overwhelming until everything collapses into a storming spread of chaos. HEROD channel their inner DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN during the hectic moments but the commanding outro hypnotises you into submission.

Fifth track Silent Truth sounds like a metal version of the Guinness advert with the horses in the waves (you know the one). This is apt as the song feels like the equivalent of being trampled by wild beasts. One of the heaviest songs on Sombre Dessein, Silent Truth is anything but silent. If you feel you need something a bit tamer after that assault then Mourning Grounds has got you covered. The mesmerising, clean vocals carry the song until it erupts into A LIFE ONCE LOST-esque barrage and an ending TEXTURES would be proud of.

Sombre Dessein comes to its devastating conclusion with There Will Be Gods. The mostly instrumental track is one of my musical highlights of 2019 so far. The sludgy grooves, the skull-crushing riffs, the euphoric climax…this song is a triumph and guarantees Sombre Dessein gets the send off it deserves. This year is going to be one hell of a year for HEROD on the basis of this superb album. All hail the progressive sludge.

Mastiff – Plague

Label: APF Records. Release date: 1 February 2019.

Listening to MASTIFF has finally put to rest my thought of what hellish sounds would be summoned if COALESCE wrestled with NAILS. If you’re after some sludgy hardcore with a powerviolence bite, then look no further than Plague, the hardcore merchants from Hull’s first release for APF Records. Much like the breed of dog MASTIFF share their name with, this band are a big and heavy beast, with aggressive howls you would not want to hear by yourself at night.

If the savagery of their work wasn’t brutal enough for you, then their lyrical content might give it the edge. Plague draws from the misery of the country and their disgust at the false humanity and deceit pouring from social media. Add to this the fact the album was recorded in one room and with no tracking at Studio 94 in Hull, and you get the idea of the relentless ferocity MASTIFF so unforgivingly unleash.

The band kick things off with Hellcircle, an aptly named track as the opening minute sounds like resonance from the bowels of Hell itself. When things get going it simulates the image of NAPALM DEATH having a scrap with MALEVOLENCE. Very nasty. Things slow down a notch with Bubonic,  which features an irresistible blackened element to the opening riff. There is a glorious sense of KYLESA from the middle onwards with the aggressive grooves and doomy stance.

The suitably titled Brainbleed mirrors how it would sound being bludgeoned to death by NAILS while CROWBAR watch on. The sobbing from the end of the track leaks into Quarantine, a swampy and suffocating ode to darkness, filth and suffering that the likes of LEECHED would be proud of. Lead single Vermin belches and vomits much of the same but with such an infectious groove it will catch like the plague.

Torture does what it says on the tin. A notoriously noisy and slow affair at the beginning, it gets you in a firm headlock before it pummels you silly for the duration of the last minute. Absolutely glorious. Much like Weep, a violent steamroller of fury crushing all in its wake. Definitely one of the more straight up ‘hardcore’ offerings on Plague, this track is stupidly heavy and violent.

The final nail in the coffin is Black Death, a disgustingly slow track of NERVEWRECKER proportions. What is most terrifying of all is this track was recorded in one take. Only bands who sell their souls attempt that feat now these days right? Considering Black Death is a staggering 9 minutes in length, that is a devilish achievement. In a scene full of over-produced, shiny and over-polished music, it’s so refreshing to hear a gritty, raw and unforgiving record. You can be sure Plague will be my soundtrack to the impending apocalypse this year.

Soilwork – Verkligheten

Label: Nuclear Blast. Release date: 11 January 2019.

I am delighted that one of my first reviews of 2019 is that of SOILWORK’s forthcoming album Verkligheten. This will be the band’s eleventh album and it feels like a long wait since their last release, 2015’s fantastic The Ride Majestic  (the longest gap between SOILWORK studio albums to date). One thing that SOILWORK fans and critics alike always comment on is how the Swedish melodic death metal group always evolve and release stellar albums even after two decades in the game. Even their rarities album Death Resonance had better material than some of their contemporaries (not naming names). But after such a long time between albums and with vocalist Björn Strid and guitarist David Andersson also playing in Swedish hard rock band THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA, does SOILWORK stand the test of time in 2019?

We’re introduced to the album by its title track opener, a slow-burning yet mesmerising instrumental which gets Verklighteten going at an unexpectedly slow pace. Thankfully second track Arrival blows the cobwebs away with its blistering, blackened intro. SOILWORK are back in business! It’s clear The Ride Majestic was a springboard for this stellar song. The big chorus is backed up full textures of sound. It’s glorious how energetic and alive this song sounds.

Bleeder Despoiler is the ultimate groovefest, like Stabbing the Drama 2.0, but it is Full Moon Shoals which provides the first surprise of the album. It is a lot more on the metallic side of SOILWORK than expected, but also with a big, cheesy chorus making it one of the band’s most poppiest offerings. Strid somehow gets away with it because his vocals are always top-notch.

The intro of fifth track The Nurturing Glance is richly melodic and the old school verse continues the metallic tinge to proceedings. As expected, there is another storming chorus but it is the melodic riffs which steal the show here. Having said this, When the Universe Spoke steals all the attention away. This is a song which is equal parts melodic and ferocious. It’s a fresh and heavy SOILWORK which provides a dense centre to Verkligheten. It was a good choice having this track in the middle of the album to prevent it sounding samey.

Unfortunately Stålfågel doesn’t keep the energy up with its classic metal infused melody. The Wolves Are Back in Town brings things back to more of an old school SOILWORK sound, but it is Witan which provides one of the more interesting tracks of the second half of Verkligheten. Witan has a subtle symphonic element to it which takes it to the next level, but the groove is irresistible.

After the forgettable The Ageless Whisper, SOILWORK deliver a corker of a tune with Needles and Kin. The instrumentation ramps up with this song, with the new drummer Bastian Thusgaard really coming to the fore here. Add some guest vocals by Tomi Joutsen from AMORPHIS and you’ve got a winner.

Last album The Ride Majestic ended on a spectacular finale, so I was expecting Verkligheten to also have an exhilarating conclusion. However, we are instead presented with You Aquiver, which despite its catchy melodies and charming riffs, doesn’t feel like a fitting closer for such a celebrated band. It leaves me wishing the album finished with the previous song. 

Verkligheten is still a really enjoyable album, but it loses momentum halfway through. Despite this, and to answer my question posed at the start, SOILWORK continue to prove doubters wrong. Yes they sound a bit mellower on this album, but they do not sound stale and past their sell by date just yet. They’re still churning out enough interesting ideas to remain relevant and if they can stay a head up above their peers there’s no reason why we couldn’t enjoy SOILWORK for two more decades.