Soen - Tellurian -- art by José Luis López GalvánOne of the most exciting things about metal right now is the new life that has been breathed into the modern progressive metal scene. The last decade has brought us a rise in interesting progressive metal and rock with its roots not in the ’70s, but instead in metal, alternative rock, and punk. The musicians from this era still love classic progressive rock, but they’re not producing music based only on that one foot. Instead, modern prog is a diverse, modern, entertaining movement which has given us Haken, RiversidePain of Salvation and Leprous—to name the best of them—not to mention the still developing genius of guys like Arjen Lucassen, Steven Wilson and Devin Townsend1.

A band that needs to be added to that list is Soen, and of that Tellurian is proof in kind. Cognitive, which was released in 2012, was the band’s debut and it bore a striking resemblance to the work of Tool and, to be fair, A Perfect Circle. Despite this undeniable likeness, the record was chock full of fat grooves, great writing, beautiful vocal performances from vocalist Eklöf and amazing performances from all the musicians—but especially metal’s best bassist (Steve Digiorgio if there’s any doubt) and one of metal’s best drummers2 (Martin Lopez). I’ve often felt a bit guilty for labeling Cognitive as too derivative, because despite the sound it has been a regular on my playlist since then—and I would hate to be responsible for pigeonholing a band before they had time to develop; great debuts are few and far between.

Soen

Soen‘s sophomore offering Tellurian is a clear improvement. The record is a menagerie of the best things about Cognitive, plus new dimensions in terms of performance and writing. Like so many of the best bands, what makes Soen work is the combination of their unique sound—in this case, drum-and-bass-driven music and airy riffing—with the effective use of dynamic songwriting that plays on all of the band’s strengths. Soen does both “heavy, syncopated and groovy” and “delicate and melancholy” with extreme ease. Tracks move smoothly between these two modes, often hooking on Joel Eklöf’s vocal performances to make the transitions work. Top this off with an instinctive understanding for melody, which is displayed in soaring choruses that feel like the synthesis of the heavy and the melodic, and you have a recipe for excellence.

Tellurian is a more progressive record than its predecessor. Moments like the bridge in “Koniskas” and the verse in opener “Tabula Rasa” show off a side of the band that works extremely well—syncopated rhythms, driving melodies and intuitive groove. “Ennui” drops an Enslaved riff to start things off, while “Pluton” reminds me of Leprous‘ move towards chunky, driven rhythms topped with ethereal vocals. Towards the end of the record, “Void” even has a riff at about the 2 minute mark that reminds me of some of the Opeth‘s Blackwater Park Åkerriffing. These bursts of genius and variation are often perfectly differentiated from a bed of tom driven groove, or juxtaposed with epic choruses—one of the Soen‘s greatest strengths.

And while I love the truly heavy moments this record offers, I cannot deny that a huge part of the appeal of Soen is Joel Eklöf’s performance. He particularly shines when the band moves into the lighter—melancholy—material. For me, this is best exemplified by “The Words,” which may be the track that I come back to the most these days. Wandering firmly into Katatonia territory, Eklöf’s performance is heart-wrenching and the composition is the perfect music for shortening Autumn days. Eklöf’s use of harmonies—a style already heard on Cognitive—continues to be something that is both effective and uniquely Soen. These moments of delicate harmonies litter the album—the end of “Tabula Rasa”; the chorus in “Karuman”; the bridge in “Pluton”—and they add tiny moments of piercing perfection that push cerebral music to the emotional plane—and from great to excellent.

Also Soen

If I have to pick a nit—and that’s kind of what I do around here—I have one major complaint. The mastering job on here is far too loud, the record is smashed, and, frankly, it holds the album back. Moments of Tellurian sound pretty muddy—the intro of “Pluton” being one such place—and while it doesn’t audibly distort in most places (it does peak and distort on the bass slide before the chorus in “Ennui,” for sure), the production and mastering here do this record absolutely no justice because it’s flat. Soen‘s currency is dynamics and delicacy, they use heavy highs but also a lot of airy quiet—these both need room to breathe. The use of cello (I think…?) on “The Words” and the clapping at the back end of “Void” and the beginning of “The Other’s Fall” went completely missing, for example, until I put on my reference headphones. “The Other’s Fall” starts with Lopez using congas and none of the broad, beautiful dynamics of finger-played drums comes through. And while the bass on this record sounds pretty good—with new bassist Stefan Stenberg filling Digiorgio’s shoes admirably—a music this bass and drum heavy needs more dynamic range. A DR of 5 doesn’t give any music room to breathe, but it’s especially unfitting for music as dynamic and emotional as this.

It is, I think, finally the fact that Tellurian is so artfully crafted and emotionally evocative that pushes it to the next level despite the audial limitations. As the record slopes towards its conclusion, I am struck over and over by the mastery of the melody and feel that Soen has. These moments of piercing beauty combined with the epic writing, the powerful performances and the next level of heaviness is sprinkled across the record makes Tellurian special. Soen has stepped through Tool‘s shadow and come out the other side—and the light is revealing.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Spinefarm Records
Websites: facebook.com/soenmusic
Release Dates: EU: 2014.11.03 | NA: 11.04.2014

Show 2 footnotes

  1. And that’s without getting into the punk/indie progressive stylings of bands like Coheed & Cambria and The Dear Hunter and others of their stripe.
  2. But certainly metal’s most tasteful drummer.

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  • Kryopsis

    Look at that classy as fuck rhino!

    • Chopsticks and everything. Worldly!

      • Kryopsis

        This is seriously my favourite album cover since Sigh’s In Somniphobia.

  • HippieOfDeath

    Holy shit!
    This album got a 4.5 with a DR5?

    I loved Cognitive and was planning of checking this out, but this really sold me.

  • Jean-Luc Ricard

    First two tracks are fantastic, I am very much looking forward to giving this a proper spin soon. Can’t believe I managed to miss their first release!

  • Lasse Momme

    holy moly, that is some high fucking praise, a 4.5 despite a DR of 5! Have you ever given a score that high to something that compressed? can’t wait to check this out both Tabula Rasa and especially Kuraman sound magnificent.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    If I may, what kept you from giving it 5/5?! This be some good stuff right here!

    • The production, mainly. 5/5 requires about 50 more joyful listens sans boredom. :)

      • Doomdeathrosh

        I think you can get there easy!

        • Definitely, but the production ain’t ever gonna be fixed. And it, like i said, holds the record back. The score is correct.

          • Doomdeathrosh

            yup that makes sense

          • Sebastian Saier

            Well, but there is still a vinyl version of the album. I guess this will improve the record even more and give it more room to breathe. Anyone already heard it?

      • Opeth360

        Just looking around the internet to see if anyone digs this truly remarkable album I’m a big Tool and Opeth fan but these guys have come out of their shadows to deliver one of the years best albums. Martin Lopez is supeb on this.

  • Don Kinney

    I would hope a CD release would give the music enough room to breathe. The first two songs I’ve heard sound fantastic even though they’re MP3s.

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    Oh my goodness, this sounds incredible! And do I hear a hint of Ark in those riffs? Other than that, I’m impressed.
    Oh and that is some trippy cover art.

  • Barry Neilson

    Loved Cognitive. It’s an album that I still find myself coming back to quite regularly. Gna have to get this one on Vinyl for the album art alone!

    • I really liked it. I gave it a 4/5 for a reason. I just think this is really a step up in quality and originality.

  • James Ingold

    Hmm, I’ll definitely need to check out more but the embedded song left me very impressed with their writing and musicianship but thinking they were writing material that was too demanding to really let the emotion out. I found his vocals oddly subdued in the chorus, but maybe I was biased by the reference to Tool; James Maynard Keenan had a superpower to let out just the right amount of growl, like a hot tube amp, when the time was right.
    I can’t deny the awesomeness of the coda on that song though so I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve heard the whole album.

    • TminusEight

      I really liked the track and will listen to these guys some more, but I also was waiting for the vocals to cut loose. Afterwards, I found myself trying to imagine the guy from Solstafir doing vocals over this, someone not so metal-sounding but way more edged up on the emotional front…

    • This is completely true. I mean, I love Joel, but his strongest side is his softer stuff. He has trouble with that growl. I was thinking about when listening to Ænima recent. “DIPSHIT IN VANS! YOU BUUUUTTWAAAAD!” (I know he says “bought one” but it always sounded like buttwad to me, which is funnier…)

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    God damn I got some serious rhino love happening

  • Luke_22

    Never really paid these dudes any attention but digging the sample track and the high praise has me very intrigued. Cheers for the heads up!

  • Feytalist

    Some damn good vocals.

    I’m hearing a lot of Opeth in there. Which is not a bad thing.

    • There are moments of Opeth, but I think they’re few and far between, actually. I avoided it (except the one obvious “Åkerriff”) because it feels like low hanging fruit in terms of the fact that Lopez is in the band.

  • TminusEight

    Great review, AMG.

  • Soen = Zen / Chan, in Korean ;)

  • Jukka Alanen

    This sounds like exactly what the doctor ordered after their goodish debut album. Hopefully there will be a better vinyl mastering available. I think I’ll wait for it before making a decision on which format to buy. Because you already made a decision for me to buy this record. :)

    • I tried to get the vinyl master for review but couldn’t, unfortunately. It may be that there were pre-mastering issues, though. Still, the loud = not-so-good.

  • Joel Järvinen

    46 and 2, just ahead of them.

    The production didn’t bother me until I read this. Damn you for telling the truth.

    • Someone finally got the reference! I was like “gee, is this too subtle?” Turns out it was. :P

      • Joel Järvinen

        Your reference might as well be figure of speech, that could be what’s putting eyeballs deep in muddy waters. I can do this all day…
        Tellurian is a real grower, “The Words” is strangely not boring and “The Other’s Fall” might be track of the year.

        • Yeah, The Words may be my favorite song of the year.

          • JJnetZach

            I’ll have to admit it has grown a lot on me this winter.

  • Richard Martin

    I am on my 3rd listen of the day and I don’t think I’m going to stop for a while. It’s getting better every time through. Really, really dig the vocals….especially when he soars.

  • Jeremy Freeman

    Love these guys, but wow he’s an uglier bald guy than me lol