In Criminally Slept-On, Schuler Benson takes a look at some of the most underrated tracks from his favorite prolific bands’ back catalogs.
Without a doubt, Soilwork is one of the most celebrated acts in the history of Scandinavian metal. From their early death/thrash leanings, through their evolution into the territory of melodic death metal, to their current status as musicianship-savvy purveyors of modern, heavy accessibility, the band’s covered so much ground that somewhere in their catalog, there’s something to love for just about any fan of heavy music. Many of Soilwork’s Swedish countrymen who were part of melodeath’s initial push have remained in suspended animation, abandoned heaviness for tepid radio rock, or suffered the slings of stunted musical growth induced by label failure or lineup instability. But Soilwork have maintained enough of their early aggression and bombast to pay tribute to their roots while consciously evolving into one of the tightest songwriting-driven units in heavy music. Last month the band released the title track and first single from their upcoming tenth album, The Ride Majestic, and put plainly, it’s got more meaty hooks than a fuckin’ slaughterhouse. The band’s new work takes the breadth of scope from their epic (“epic” really is the most apt word) 2013 double album, The Living Infinite, and further streamlines the melodic distortion they’ve come to wield so competently.
This week, Criminally Slept-On takes a look back at some of Soilwork’s less leaned-on but totally kickass tracks that should definitely make appearances in your playlists leading up to Nuclear Blast’s release of The Ride Majestic on August 28th.
1) “My Nerves, Your Everyday Tool” – As if the twenty tracks spanning both discs of The Living Infinite weren’t enough, last year Soilwork released Beyond The Infinite, a stop-gap EP containing five leftover tracks that didn’t make the final Infinite cut. None of the songs on this EP are bad, but they’re all a bit outside the boundaries of direction that held The Living Infinite together, so not including them in the final sequence makes sense. “My Nerves, Your Everyday Tool” opens the disc, and it’s one of the most upbeat songs to ever kick off a Soilwork release (intentional, or not). Imagine the heft of Stabbing The Drama’s meatier moments combined with the poppy flourishes of Figure Number Five’s “Overload” or “Rejection Role.” The whole EP is worth owning, but if you’re looking to go the physical route, you won’t find it stateside. Beyond The Infinite was released exclusively in South Korea and Japan.
2) “Sweet Demise” – My relationship with 2010’s The Panic Broadcast has had ups and downs. In retrospect, it’s one of the band’s most solid records, and the combination of returning guitarist Peter Wichers with newcomer Sylvain Coudret yielded something truly spectacular. At the time, however, it just didn’t do it for me. While I’d never object to more melody in Soilwork songs, on my first listen, some of the tracks felt a bit less focused than more melody-driven songs from their past. “Sweet Demise” was recorded during the Panic sessions and ultimately left off the final tracklist, included as a bonus on the album’s limited edition. I still can’t see why; it’s one of the catchiest, most direct songs from this batch, and with accessible sensibility governing the band’s songwriting more and more as time goes on, direct catchiness is a valuable commodity.
3) “The Akuma Afterglow” – Another track from The Panic Broadcast. This one was included on the final sequence, but it’s not one I’ve ever heard mentioned in conversations about this band’s work. Wichers’s writing here is, as usual, completely gratifying; it’s got enough complexity to keep things interesting on repeat listens, but it’s so instantly catchy that you can’t just skip to the next song without first giving it a shot. In interviews, Wichers and Strid mentioned recording in Asheville, North Carolina and incorporating bluegrass into their process to experiment a bit with new techniques. This is a victory for me as a metal listener, because it gives me a chance to say I’ve been exposed to bluegrass-influenced music I like, instead of regular bluegrass that all sounds to me like maddening, frantic garbage mixed with the theme music from that cannibal movie Ravenous. “The Akuma Afterglow” has some of the shreddiest solo work ever featured in a slower Soilwork number. “Let This River Flow” has overshadowed a number of this album’s tracks, but it’d be cool if they gave it a break and broke this one out in a live setting sometime soon. Definitely worth checking out.
4). “20 More Miles” – This is the closer from 2007’s Sworn To A Great Divide. That album is one of my least-loved Soilwork releases. It’s the first to not feature Peter Wichers, the only album to feature ex-Dark Tranquillity’s Daniel Antonsson on guitar, and a release in which the band tries a number of new approaches to varying effects. Some of the outright heavier songs like “The Pittsburgh Syndrome” don’t pack the punch of past brawlers, and more melodic tracks like “Exile” aren’t quite as exciting. The sweet spots here are the unconventionally burly title track/opener and closer “20 More Miles.” It’s such an awesome way to end an album. This song has a finality to it that Stabbing The Drama’s finale didn’t really deliver, and for a band like Soilwork whose records always seem to intentionally have a “full circle” feel in the album sequencing, that carries a lot of weight. Its verses are heavy as any of the record’s earlier material, but it’s got massive choruses that are so infectious they stay with you for days.
5. “Killed By Ignition” – Here we are again, damning the Japanese for all the cool shit they get on their releases. “Killed By Ignition” is the Japan-only bonus track for Soilwork’s mighty 2005 album, Stabbing The Drama. This record generated a number of live staples, and it’s my favorite overall Soilwork release. Unlike the digipak bonus track, “Wherever Thorns May Grow,” “Killed By Ignition” would’ve been one of the album’s punchiest tracks if it’d made the cut. The song’s main riff is almost Windstein-esque in its sludginess, and while Soilwork’s embraced a number of styles over the course of their albums, “Killed By Ignition” is a particular example of a slightly out-of-the-box approach working at its peak.
6) “Stalemate” – A slept-on song from Stabbing The Drama’s final sequence, “Stalemate” contains some of the album’s most traditional heavy moments. “Weapon of Vanity,” “One With The Flies,” and “Blind Eye Halo” have all gotten love as examples of Soilwork flexing their old school thrash influences, but “Stalemate” takes those songs’ Testament-influenced verse riffs and combines them with the full choruses that made “Nerve” and “Stabbing The Drama” such hits. I would love to see this one performed live… that pit action at 2:31, son.
7) “Cranking The Sirens” – Figure Number Five got some pretty mixed reactions upon its release in 2003. Fans thought the songs lacked punch, and the band admitted putting it out under more label pressure than they would’ve preferred. Despite some of the songs feeling a bit rushed, the album has aged well, with several tracks still being played live, as well as with a number of fans declaring it their favorite Soilwork release. Everyone knows “Distortion Sleep” and “Overload,” but “Cranking The Sirens” leans on more of the lolling, thick riffs from past numbers like “Final Fatal Force” or “No More Angels.” Outside of the well-worn album highlights, it was one of Figure Number Five’s more impressive cuts that seemed to slip through the cracks.
8) “Asylum Dance” – A Predator’s Portrait is generally hailed as Soilwork’s finest hour, and it’s hard to argue against that position. “Like The Average Stalker” and “Bastard Chain” are, after almost fifteen years, still some of the band’s most excellent offerings. “Asylum Dance” was the album’s Japanese bonus track, and was also included on Nuclear Blast’s 2013 remastered reissue. While vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid had been experimenting with incorporating clean vocals into other tracks, “Asylum Dance” contains some of the most operatic, forward-thinking singing he’d contributed up to that point in the band’s history, and vocally, it’s the most clear indicator from the Portrait sessions of where the band would end up heading for their follow-up, Natural Born Chaos. Like the tracks from Beyond The Infinite, I can’t imagine “Asylum Dance” being culled as a weaker track. It seems more likely it just didn’t fit the band’s vision for how the album should flow.
9) “Room No. 99” – This is the massive closing number from the band’s sophomore full-length, The Chainheart Machine. “Room No. 99” is the grooviest track these dudes had written up to this point, and like “Asylum Dance,”, it was a strong indicator of where Soilwork would end up taking their sound for releases to come. “Room No. 99” laid the groundwork for songs like “A Predator’s Portrait” and “Soilworker’s Song of The Damned”; without the willingness to strike out in this slower hook-oriented direction, they may have never become the band they are now. Fun fact: The hidden music near the end of the track actually connects to the intro of the first track, “The Chainheart Machine.” Time is a flat circle, and it’s all one ghetto, man.
10) “Burn” – “Burn” is a fun Deep Purple cover from the Steelbath Suicide sessions. I don’t think this song would make it onto too many Soilwork compilations, and I know I certainly don’t spin it that often. I included it because it showcases the band, so young and still recording their first proper release, willing to experiment with keys and female vocals in ways that’d evolve into major parts of their sub-genre. Even if it’s just their version of a classic band’s older song, it’s still worth noting that these elements, while largely absent from Steelbath Suicide and The Chainheart Machine, were eventually employed more and more in Soilwork’s original material.
This was a hard list to make, man. Soilwork’s got an extensive catalog, and there’s so much rad shit hiding in its nooks and crannies. Hopefully this sheds a little light on some strong tunes you may not have given the proper time of day. Try ‘em out in a shuffle while you get ready for the new stuff, and check back in a couple weeks for the next edition of Criminally Slept-On. Soilwork’s The Ride Majestic will be released worldwide by Nuclear Blast on August 28th.