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Soen - Imperial review


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Band: Soen
Album: Imperial
Release date: January 2021

01. Lumerian
02. Deceiver
03. Monarch
04. Illusion
05. Antagonist
06. Modesty
07. Dissident
08. Fortune

Soen really are gathering some serious momentum right now.

The Soen project, initially framed as a super-group of sorts due to the involvement of the likes of Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) and Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, as well as a litany of well-known former bands), was founded in 2004, but only dropped their debut in 2012. Cognitive was a promising start, but one that drew fairly blatant inspiration from Tool in particular, as well as Lopez's former band. Less than a decade later, Soen are now five albums deep into their career (excluding the Lykaia Revisited release), and have managed to put a lot of distance between their sound and their initial influences, building a strong reputation for themselves in the process. Hell, 2019's Lotus beat Tool's long-awaited comeback album Fear Inoculum in that year's Metal Storm Awards. Following hot on the footsteps of Lotus comes Imperial, an album that should serve to enhance the group's growth.

Lotus was extremely well received, even compared to the group's previous efforts. As such, those that fell in love with that record may not be quite as impressed with Imperial; however, as someone that wasn't totally on board the Lotus hype train, I think this new album is arguably an improvement on its predecessor. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Soen have increasingly distanced their sound from that of Tool's; in contrast to the increasingly progressive and lengthy songs Tool have been writing since Soen's inception in 2004, the Swedish group's current version of alternative metal is very streamlined and accessible, with most tracks on Imperial being centered around memorable melodic choruses. There is a solid amount of heaviness across the album (the opening song "Lumerian" begins with a deceptively crunchy alt-metal riff), although it for the most part it only makes up patches of each song (the first 3 songs all feature sections of heavy riffing, but softer sections comprise the majority of all three tracks); as contrast, there are a lot of mellow verses with lush clean guitar work or satisfying grooves. And at the middle of it all is Joel Ekelöf, running the show.

Not to denigrate the efforts or abilities of the other members of Soen, who manage to write meaty heavy riffs and soothing softer songs, but Ekelöf's performances are what have really helped elevate the group above their peers over the past few years. The mixture of that soothing, evocative voice with these instantly memorable vocal melodies, particularly in the choruses but pretty much throughout, helps make every track on Imperial an enjoyable listen. Personal favourite parts for me are the choruses of "Lumerian" and "Dissident", but Ekelöf is the most enjoyable element of pretty much all the songs here, and is essential at making gentle songs like "Illusion" work so well.

But Soen is not just Joel Ekelöf plus a backing band; everyone makes good contributions here to craft songs that are satisfyingly composed and sufficiently diverse as to not overlap. The slick muted riffs in the vocal sections of "Deceiver" are immediately likeable, as is the punchy main riff of "Monarch", which is rhythmically complex but very hooky. Additionally, whilst I mentioned before that the heaviness usually comes courtesy of minor segments of each song, this doesn't apply to "Antagonist", which features a lot of punchy guitar work throughout, and even in its quieter moments features some very imposing drumming. Rounding off the album is probably the strongest song, "Fortune", a track that moves slowly but with a real sense of importance, and showcases some of Ekelöf's most impassioned vocals on Imperial, which work nicely in tandem with the stirring strings during the chorus.

Fans of Soen might be reading all this and wondering why my overall rating isn't higher. Honestly, as much as I find a lot of positives throughout Imperial, Soen have always been a band that I've found to be easy to like but not necessarily to love, and whilst certain tracks here, particularly "Antagonist" and "Fortune", do their best to change that, I don't find myself truly connecting with the likes of "Modesty" and "Monarch" (excluding the aforementioned heavy parts). There's something about the band's sound that I find to be pleasant (and increasingly so as their career progresses) but that doesn't fully emotionally resonate with me, and that hasn't been fully corrected by Imperial; nevertheless, if you are someone who already fully connected with their prior material, I can't see any reason why you wouldn't be similarly taken by this latest addition to their discography.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 7
Production: 9

Written on 06.02.2021 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 7   Visited by: 258 users
07.02.2021 - 00:18
I agree with you, the vocals are stellar and play a big part towards my appreciation of Soen. They have indeed distanced themselves from Tool a lot; I think they are an incredibly catchy band without making "simple" music and this is not easy to achieve.

I don't "love" them either but with every album I find myself getting closer and closer to that.
07.02.2021 - 00:21
Rating: 8

Written by nikarg on 07.02.2021 at 00:18

I think they are an incredibly catchy band without making "simple" music and this is not easy to achieve.

I agree, I was impressed by how consistently catchy this album was, moreso than I remember Lotus being
07.02.2021 - 01:45
Rating: 9
Dream Taster
The Enemy Within
Soen's music is all about emotional connection for me.

This album hits me like none of their previous ones but I understand your rating based on how it resonated with you.

You described it very well, especially the bit about Joel.
07.02.2021 - 18:04
Rating: 9

I seem to be one of the few that was really unimpressed with Lotus, but loved their two previous to that, especially Lykaia. But Imperial, such a step forward! Their identity is getting more and more marked, I like it. I like that Ekelöf is exploring more range. Add some small growling or screaming sections, would do wonders for my ability to emotionally connect to the band.
08.02.2021 - 21:26
Rating: 8

All their albums sound same to me to the point that I wish they would tweak something in their sound that may somehow stand out. However even if they don't do it, their craftsmanship in writing extremely melodic soulful progressive rock is quite unparalleled
Leeches everywhere.
09.02.2021 - 14:34
Rating: 9
I dismissed "Cognitive", because all I heard was poor man's Tool. "Tellurian" was much more promising, because it had a bit less Tool, and a tad more character. But still, I found it bland in spite of the obvious instrumental mastery and superb vocals. "Lykaia" is, to me, what this band should have been from the start. It's the first Soen album that has its own character and style, the first album where I remember every single song. "Lotus" is even better, a straight 9, and one of the best albums of 2019. This is Soen's peak, a full rendition of their unique style that merges great melodic singing with subtle, yet impressive instrumental expertise. Martin Lopez was great in Opeth, and now he's great in Soen, while his playing is quite different from what he did during the Opeth era. A truly outstanding drummer. Which brings me to "Imperial", yet another excellent release. It's been too short a time to tell how it looks compared with "Lotus" and "Lykaia", but initially I'd say it's not far quality-wise.
07.01.2022 - 17:53

I've listened to this album a lot, but the originality on this is definitely not a 7. It's more like a 5-6. They literally reused many of the same melodies and riffs from Lotus and a ton of this album is disappointingly rehashed.

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