(Silver Lining Music/
As a later-day Progressive Metal convert, I have shamelessly devoted untold hours of my arguably misspent 'second childhood' to the collected works of Dream Theater, Meshuggah and, to a lesser extent, the Alan Morse-led innovators Spock's Beard. Accordingly, I have developed a nearly insatiable thirst for artists and groups--particularly those of European descent--that exist outside the confines of the proverbial mainstream. An ideal case in point is the Stockholm, Sweden-born Super Group Soen. Initially formed by ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez and former Death (and current Charred Walls Of The Damned, Sadus and Testament) bassist Steve Di Giorgio, the group unleashed their debut Cognitive in 2012 followed shortly thereafter by Tellurian in 2014 to near universal acclaim. Now, with the release of Lotus, their latest and quite possibly greatest efforts to date, I now find myself quite happily over-indulging amid the group's unabashed lyrical and compositional complexity.
On the brilliant Lotus (2019), an expertly assembled nine song collection of Progressive Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the maddeningly infectious lament “Opponent” and the curiously hopeful, subtly Jazz-infused tome “Lascivious”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of even the most jaded and unimaginative of listeners, myself most definitely included. Wisely attempting to capitalize on the veritable tidal wave of momentum initiated with the release of the oft-mighty Lykaia (2017), the group flexes their creative muscles early and often. Effortlessly delivering a seamless, multi-dimensional barrage of soaring, multi-octave vocals, blistering fretwork, ethereal keys and imaginatively punishing rhythms, the initial sonic excursions are both exhaustive and memorable without relying on the clichés of yore. Armed with an already remarkably well-received lineage, the group scores major points by remaining wholly focused on their meteorical artistic growth.
Continuing with the delightfully somber--if not outright hypnotic--“Lotus” and the relentlessly pummeling tirade “Covenant”, the newly-rejuvenated combination of vocalist Joel Ekelöf, guitarist Cody Ford (replacing inexplicably departed Avatarium co-founder Marcus Jidell), guitarist/keyboardist Lars Åhlund, bassist Stefan Stenberg and Amon Amarth/ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez steamroll ahead like the well-oiled machine they so obviously have become. Capturing the entirety of the recording process with vintage analog equipment, the group reminds us all of their rightful place atop the hierarchy of the Progressive Metal genre (love them or loathe them, each new release is greeted with a flurry of overwhelmingly positive press), without, believe it or not, borrowing too heavily from their own past. Building upon a painstakingly quintessence of their unnervingly intricate auditory modus operandi, the group drives home each key focal with a now trademark bloodthirstiness.
Produced, Mixed and Engineered by a 'dream team' tandem of the oft-acclaimed David Castillo (Amorphis, Moonspell, Soilwork) and Iñaki Marconi (Brainchild, Gustav Lundgren, Oumou Sangaré) at Ghostward Studios and Studio 6, other standouts, including the somber, acoustic-laden 'ballad' “River” and the thunderous, equally impressive closer “Lunacy”, offers a staggering array of further sonic evidence in support of the group's still- burgeoning dominance. Although one might effectively argue that the group remains truly indebted to Lateralus (2001) era Tool (most notably “Parabola” and “Schism”), Soen find them offering a singularly unique tonality that boldly places them within striking distance of some exquisite, hallowed company. Accordingly, even if you somehow find yourself not necessarily enthralled with the group's occasional comfort existing/operating within mainstream trappings, one must, at the very least, sincerely admire their dedication to perfecting their tradecraft.
Easily the group's most thoroughly satisfying effort, surpassing both the previously-mentioned Lykaia and Tellurian (2014), the majority--if not all--of the lastingly memorable wares contained herein 'deliver the goods' without, believe it or not, overwhelming the proverbial average listener within an avalanche of compositional redundancies. While it remains to be seen if the group's more-than-considerable efforts will ultimately propel them to the dizzying heights of international acclaim (i.e. Dream Theater and their like-minded multi-Platinum brethren), the mighty Lotus is seemingly guaranteed to leave a lasting impression upon the genre's constituents. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of an occasionally fist-pumping, mosh-inducing reprieve from the painfully mindless, Pop and Hip Hop-fueled din and clatter that is so often force fed en mass, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane salve for what ails you. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
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