Review Summary: Soilwork set a nigh-impossible goal for themselves, yet fulfill their ambitions with consummate ease.
There’s no other way to say it: This Swedish Sextet – who have spectacularly fallen from grace since their successes at the turn of the new millennium – have presented by all accounts, a colossal album. Now such a description is open to interpretation, and it doesn’t necessary entail that Soilwork were successful in satisfying their artistic vision. Because you see, The Living Infinite
is a double album clocking in at a monstrous 84 minutes, a daunting timeframe to adequately sate with material that is both vibrant enough to keep the listener interested and cohesive enough to maintain a sense of direction.
What makes the album that much more of an uphill struggle, is that the band has merely elected to refine their formula and double the content that draws from said formula. The scope of Soilwork’s ambitions with their latest album cannot be understated. But what is ultimately the most impressive thing about the album, is that the Swedes have managed to pull it off with total conviction. The Living Infinite
is even more of a triumph in that it isn’t that drastic a stylistic departure from Soilwork’s recent output. The NWOBHM influences are still there, but are much more potent than on anything these guys have put out in the last decade. Punchy, Iron Maiden-esque riffs underpin the predominantly harsh sung verses, while the subtle metalcore elements add a modern, accessible edge. In contrast to the typically more aggressive verses, melodic and soaring riffs are more often than not the backbone of the catchy, cleanly sung choruses.
They’ve also managed incorporate some impressive hooks without making the album sound fragmented or clichéd. Bjorn Strid’s vocal performance is both highly energetic yet controlled, with a balanced devotion to both clean and harsh vocals. Each of the techniques is utilised to their full effect, and Bjorn manages to pull of the clean-harsh gimmick with remarkable authenticity. His harsh vocal range is notable, but he screams and shouts with respect to boundaries. For the most part, Bjorn’s harsh vocal delivery sits comfortably as a medium-high range rasp, occasionally dipping or heightening in tone during key moments of the songs. The real strength of this record comes from the lack of filler, a remarkable achievement considering its gargantuan length. Yes, it does have its weaker moments. “Let the First Wave Rise” has some awkward clean sections that don’t quite mesh together with the rest of the song, and the pacing of “Drowning With Silence” could’ve been handled a tad better, but to expect any fewer missteps on a 20-song double album is a bit much.
What is even more impressive is that despite a runtime that approaches an hour and half, the album rarely eases up in terms of pace. At no point will you find multi-minute ambient passages or boring samples to break it up, meaning the album is ultimately carried by the strength of its material. The major strongpoint here is cohesion. While the tracks are unique enough to set themselves apart from each other, they also retain a sense of belonging. No track really feels out of place or carelessly thrown in as either a cash grab or a change of pace. The only instrumental on the entire album is towards the end of the second disc in the form of “Loyal Shadow”. The track itself is quite brief though, just a tad over two and a half minutes in length. Thus it would be difficult to accuse Soilwork of attempting to just fill in the gaps, especially as the instrumental leads so effortlessly into “Rise Above the Sentient”, one of the album’s many highlights.
The Living Infinite
is not only an excellent all-round offering from these resurgent Swedes, but the best album of their career by a convincing margin. It’s not every day you come across an album so intent on maintaining its hard edge, yet so resilient that it rarely wears on your patience – especially considering the thing is almost an hour and half long! Soilwork have completely defied expectations and produced not only the best record of their career, but a strong contender for album of the year.