Sound — 8
I'm going to be honest. When I first started working on this review, I had it in my head that I was going to resist any and all urge to compare this to the works of bands such as Tool or Opeth. I find as I listen to the album several times over that this is impossible. While it's rare to blame a drummer in particular for the musical direction of a band, it does bear mentioning that this band's drummer is none other than Martin Lopez, long-running drummer for Opeth, having played on every album from 1998's "My Arms, Your Hearse" to 2005's "Ghost Reveries." And listening to this album, also featuring Stefan Stenburg on bass, Joel Ekelöf on vocals, Marcus Jidell on guitars, and Lars Еhlund on keyboards, you really get that sense of style that can only be associated with the Opeth albums of that era, minus the harsh vocals. This can almost be thought of as an "alternative Opeth" for people who dislike the '70s prog worship of their post-"Watershed" material. Joel's vocals are very Åkerfeldt-ish, Marcus' guitar riffs similarly evoke Opeth at their prog-metal peak, and while Stefan and Lars take a much more supportive role than their Opethian counterparts, still manage to convince you that you're listening to some undiscovered Opeth album. The Tool influence is still there, though not quite as strong as I found on "Tellurian," but the band does little to hide or deny that influence.
That Opeth influence shows itself straight from the first riff of "Sectarian," the album's opening track. It's a heavy, melodic romp that never really separates itself from its influences, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. "Orison" exemplifies this by being a very dynamic track, evolving much like songs by the bands that have influenced this. Martin Lopez' drumming is amazing throughout, and while Joel does little to differentiate himself vocally from his peers, he chooses some incredible melodies. Marcus' guitar playing is less shred-oriented, but the subtleties in the layering make it incredible in its own right, and do give this band a bit of its own much-needed sonic signature. "Lucidity" opens with some very lovely guitar playing and beautiful vocal harmonies, and rarely gets all that heavy throughout. It has a lovely solo, nothing incredibly fast, but the tone is absolutely sublime.
"Opal" is another heavy riffer, complete with some huge-sounding vocal melodies and harmonies, and a very lovely solo in the middle. "Jinn" is another dynamic piece with some very Tool-esque rhythms, and a lot of atmosphere. The Middle-Eastern-sounding riff about halfway through the piece is particularly great, if brief, as is the reprise at the end. "Sister" is another riff-heavy song in the vein of "Sectarian" and "Opal." "Stray" is another very Opeth-ian prog rocker. "Paragon" may be one of the closest things on this album to a sort of '70s prog tune, with a heavily phased clean guitar intro, and the album's most traditional guitar solo (there aren't really many on this album). The ending climax is one of the best moments on the album. The album closes with "God's Acre," a beautiful 8-minute epic. I realize I've been using the word "dynamic" a lot, but that also describes this piece well, with its starts and stops and softer parts contrasting climactic heavier parts.
So the quality of the songwriting is fairly good, though there are moments where the album does kind of drag on and get mired in monotony. But the average song length is only about six minutes on this record, so for a prog-metal record, the band keeps things rather concise. There's a good balance between heavy, riffier pieces and softer, atmospheric ones. There are a lot of good melodies and riffs throughout. The production is nice, as well, with the bass being very clear throughout much of the album, and even though there's a lot of reverb during a lot of the clean sections, it never feels like the album is drowning in it. The playing is not bad as well. Much more reserved than some of its primary influences, as there are few guitar solos or ridiculous time signature changes, with the band instead focusing on creating a vibe rather than dazzling us with impressive displays of instrumental virtuosity.
Lyrics — 7
Much like the music on the album, a lot of the lyrics are heavy and darkly atmospheric. They're not the most incredibly deep lyrics out there, but they work quite well with the genre. "Sectarian" exemplifies the sort of dark and poetic qualities of the lyrics with these verses: "Leave the trail for a moment/Change the course for a while/And give in to the presence/Conceding a severed utopia/Let me rest in your cradle/Suffocate by your hand/Be embraced by the rotten/Immoral... perverted... vile," evoking the same kind of hellish landscape you would expect of the band's primary influences, Tool and Opeth. There isn't really much room for positivity in the album's lyrics, but it keeps with the primarily minor-key nature of the music. To be honest, though, I find a lot of the lyrics are neither here nor there, almost unimportant, and sort of just there to carry the vocal melodies. There are much worse lyrics in metal, but these guys aren't really giving me any reason to rank them any higher than average for lyrics.
Joel Ekelöf's vocals are also pretty decent throughout the record, with a somber quality to them that will, for most people, immediately bring to mind Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt, but you can also hear some shades of Riverside's Mariusz Duda at times. This isn't really a bad thing, and it's certainly not a capital crime to have a vocal style that's very similar to another's, but it does mean that there's very little to this album's vocal performances to set Soen apart from their peers. In tracks like "Lucidity," however, there are some very dreamy vocal harmonies that sound nothing like their influences, and at times, you do get a sense of Joel's own unique vocal style, but it's often something you have to really strain to hear.
Overall Impression — 8
With Opeth going down the '70s prog worship path, Tool taking decades to complete a new album, Riverside reeling from the loss of their guitarist, there really aren't a lot of bands left doing this sort of "depressive" progressive metal sound anymore. Regardless of where the band takes its influences from, it's clear listening to this record that Soen is filling a pretty big void that's been left in the scene, and even if they wear their influences perhaps a little too prominently on their sleeve, the fact is, this is actually a really good album. They are doing a wonderful job filling that hole in the prog-metal world, and I really hope this band meets with continued success. Most of my gripes with this album are rather minimal, and for all that it is, this is still a rather above-average record. If you're a fan of any of the bands I mentioned above, or of bands like Katatonia, Pain Of Salvation or Leprous, this is going to be right up your alley. They really know how to evoke an atmosphere all while playing some great riffs, and whether their craft is heavily derivative or not, they really do the style justice. I'd dare say that this album is highly representative of the style many Opeth fans wish they had taken after "Watershed," rather than the path they already are on. Definitely check this album out if this sounds interesting to you.