Sound — 8
B-sides and rarities releases can be a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality and necessity, and in some cases, offer very little of what's actually "rare" for a band. Soilwork has bucked this trend by focusing mostly on Japanese bonus tracks, dating all the way back to 2005's "Stabbing the Drama." For those who were unable to find these tracks on CD or haven't bothered to check them out online, this release is certain to please any die-hard Soilwork fan, as the music here is of pretty excellent quality. The main focus for most fans is going to be the first two tracks, "Helsinki" and "Death Resonance," which were newly recorded for this release. Filled with Björn Strid's soaring, majestic vocal melodies and harmonies, excellent drumming from Dirk Verbeuren (sadly, his last recorded work with the band before moving on to Megadeth as their full-time drummer), great guitar riffs from Sylvain Coudret and David Andersson, and a great bass foundation from the band's newest member, Markus Wibom, these tunes are completely epic and beautiful. The band's brand of melodic death metal seems a bit mixed with some older metalcore (think Killswitch Engage with Howard Jones) and progressive metal bands like the Devin Townsend Project and Textures (Dirk has performed with the DTP on the "Deconstruction" album, which may explain some of the similarities in sound), giving these new tunes a more melodic, complex edge to them.
The album is laid out in a sort of chronological order from newest to oldest, and the next track, "The End Begins Below the Surface," comes from the Japanese edition of their most recent full-length, "The Ride Majestic," and just like the new tunes that open the record, feature a hard-hitting melodic death metal sound with tinges of their more progressive leanings, complete with some odd meters and open, atmospheric chord progressions. It's a really excellent track, very reminiscent of the recent output of the band Textures.
After this, the band includes the entirety of their "Beyond the Infinite" EP, which was released only in Asia, featuring unreleased songs from the "The Living Infinite" sessions. "My Nerves, Your Everyday Tool" is definitely a highlight, featuring a more "traditional" melodic death metal sound complete with the sort of Scandinavian death metal guitar harmonies expected in the genre, but also featuring a huge-sounding middle section with beautiful vocal harmonies and a sweet dual guitar solo. The other tracks are also fairly good as well, with "Resisting the Current" having an interesting chordal intro, "These Absent Eyes" featuring a more punk-oriented sort of metalcore sound, "When Sound Collides" being a bit more "authentically" Scandinavian melo-death, and "Forever Lost in Vain" being a sort of melodic track reminiscent of Trivium (but better).
The tracks as you go further in come from the bonus tracks on the Japanese editions of their albums, and there is a bit of a trend away from the more prog-metal tendencies of their later work the further back you go through the album. There are a few gems here, like "Martyr," which comes from "Sworn to a Great Divide," and "Killed by Ignition" from the "Stabbing the Drama" sessions, but I feel that the songs themselves become far less interesting at this point, with my own preference being their later material (which must have been at least partly influenced by Dirk's involvement with Devin Townsend, one of my favourite artists).
The production on the new tracks is quite good, and the rest of the songs vary in quality a bit, despite a remaster job on all of them. Most of this can simply be attested to each album likely being recorded with different gear and a few different musicians that have been in and out of the ranks over the years. There are no awful-sounding productions on the album, but the quality does get noticeably simpler and more "raw" the further back you go in time.
Lyrics — 8
As expected from melodic death metal bands, the lyrics focus a lot on death, loss, anger, depression. These are not cheery, life-affirming words in their songs, and the lines often get a little weighty. Sometimes, they do border a little on being overly cliched or relying on pretty cheesy-sounding rhymes, like "The way we were/the way we are/It's not the time/to find that scar" from the track "Helsinki," but even in the same song, there are some pretty awesome-sounding lines like the opening verse of the track, "If you urge for transcendence/you will have to feel/all the pain getting there as your fate will be sealed/If you wish for solace/a journey's end/you will have to suffer/before you can depend." Sometimes, the lyrics can come off as actually being a bit relatable, which can be a bit rare in some of metal's more extreme forms, like this line from "My Nerves, Your Everyday Tool": "Where do you go when you've given it all/and your mind declares a collapse/You've turned every page in an infected book/and wasted every good advice."
Vocally, the band is led by Björn "Speed" Strid, and has been for the entirety of the band's history. His vocal style shifts quite frequently from screams to growls to soulful clean vocals to soaring harmonies. He definitely shows a huge amount of variety throughout the record, and as a singer, he's never boring to listen to, even on some of the band's less progressive early tunes. His melodies throughout the record, whether it be on their new songs or on older rarities, are excellent. Between that and the band's use of creative chord structures, this band's more melodic moments are truly one of the defining features of the band, and having a great vocalist that can keep up is a huge help.
Overall Impression — 8
While this album mostly consists of older songs, many of which are tunes that die-hard Soilwork fans have already heard, this album is a real treat for anyone just getting into the band, or who hasn't been scouring the internet looking for the band's stuff that remained unreleased in the Western Hemisphere. It offers a bit of insight into the progression of the band's sound, and the newest material, especially the two new songs recorded specifically for this compilation, is absolutely top-notch. As Soilwork have refined their sound over the years, they've really shown a lot of growth in their songwriting capabilities and their instrumental playing. There's nothing I really dislike about this album, except that maybe some of their older material, while still quite good, isn't really as much to my taste as their newer stuff.
This album also serves as a bit of a touching send-off to drummer Dirk Verbeuren, as it represents the last material he has recorded with the band (but also the first material recorded with bassist Markus Wibom, who replaced long-time bassist Ola Flink in June 2015), so with the band continuing on, perhaps this signals a bit of a new era in Soilwork's history, and if the new tracks are any indication, I'm excited to see what they'll come up with next.