Over the course of a band’s life, it is safe to say that there will be peaks and troughs with the musical quality. This is evident from looking at the discographies of some of the most well-known names within the pantheon of rock and heavy metal. However, the real challenge of bands like this is to reach back from their musical troughs and create something truly spectacular. Over time, there have been bands that have definitely achieved this, such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (the latter of which have reached back after a trough on two occasions). There are also plenty of cases where bands simply cannot rekindle the fire that made their earlier material so great, such as In Flames, and nowadays even Megadeth look like they’re going into the second trough of their career.
Formed in 1995, Soilwork have gone through quite a few members, and stylistic changes across their career, but have nevertheless managed to put out strong releases ever since their inception. Whilst some may argue that their mid-2000s output like Stabbing the Drama was a little too derivative, and pandered to mainstream American metalcore, the band have never strayed too far from the Gothenburg sound that they helped to establish. On their eleventh and latest output, Verkligheten (Swedish for reality), Soilwork see themselves at possibly the most challenging point of their career. Not only have they been on a true highpoint of their lifespan with previous records like The Ride Majestic and the seminal double album The Living Infinite, but this album also marks the longest gap between studio releases to date. This album also marks the first release for the band without long-time drummer Dirk Verbeuren, who had served as part of a very strong foundation of Soilwork’s sound since Stabbing the Drama back in 2005.
Despite these challenges, Soilwork kick off Verkligheten with a short intro track before treating the listener to an almighty barrage of blast beats and soaring melodies on 'Arrival', the first full track on the record. It has to be said that new drummer Bastian Thusgaard had a hard task of being the new drummer for the band, but his rhythms throughout the record are very tasteful, and rather than simply being a clone of Dirk, utilises his own style of drumming which compensates the rest of the music very well.
Frontman Björn “Speed” Strid gives another fine vocal performance on this record. There really is very little that one can find fault with about his vocals at this point; and given that the man has now been doing this type of singing for nearly a decade and a half whilst remaining this consistently good is remarkable. If anything, he seems to be pushing his clean vocal range to even greater heights, as exemplified on songs like 'Stålfågel'.
Musically, this album feels more melodic than the band’s previous two outputs, as well as experimenting more with the progressive songwriting that the band dabbled in during their last two albums. At times it even feels like the band has brought in some influence from AOR, which may be partly due to Strid’s side project, The Night Flight Orchestra. Songs such as 'The Nurturing Glance' definitely feature some titan riffs which feel very inspired by 70s arena rock. However, make no mistake that this album is a melodic death metal record at its core, and Soilwork make sure to remind you of that with some impressive solo work such as on the aforementioned track, and the impressive blast beats return on songs like 'When The Universe Spoke', arguably the heaviest song on the album, featuring a surprisingly smooth bipolar shift between very melodic choruses and borderline death metal riffing in the verses.
Overall, this album is really just another record to add to the impressive streak of high-quality records that the Swedes have been putting out for quite a while now. The only main criticism might be that the album simply sounds like another Soilwork album, but given the fact the band has found a winning formula it’s hard to criticise them for that, and thankfully the band add enough new twists with each successful album to keep their sound fresh, so that it doesn’t sound like they’re stuck on repeat. Additionally, given the greater emphasis on melody with Verkligheten, this is a great album for newcomers to start on with this band, so whether you are a long-time fan or you’re listening to Soilwork for the first time in your life, there is plenty to enjoy on this record.