In recent years, euro-thrash veterans Soilwork have reached near-Megadeth levels of member turnover and failure to live up to expectations. After bursting out of the gate with now-classic albums like The Chainheart Machine and Predator’s Portrait, Soilwork softened with age, and produced a few albums of increasingly slick melodeath-by-numbers. Some fans have blamed the drop in quality on the departure of guitarist/songwriter Peter Wichers, and his return on 2011′s marginally improved The Panic Broadcast did support that theory. However, the reunion with Wichers was short-lived, and Soilwork has now taken the super-ballsy step of releasing a double album in his absence, The Living Infinite.
The album kicks off with “Spectrum of Eternity,” a blastbeat-fueled melodic thrasher that is a pretty good approximation of what Soilwork is supposed to sound like. Ditto for first single “This Momentary Bliss,” although this one is so polished and catchy, it’s kind of ridiculous. If there was a Rent-style musical about Soilwork, this is what it would sound like. New guitarist David Andersson (Night Flight Orchestra) makes his debut on this album, playing the more melodic counterpart to the shredding of guitarist Sylvain Coudret (ex-Scarve). There are quite a few blast-tastic tracks scattered about the album, and while it seems a little forced at times, the commitment to high energy is much appreciated (at least by me).
Elsewhere, things get a little questionable. Tracks like “The Windswept Mercy” and “Antidotes in Passing” are shamelessly commercial, and pretty much indefensible for all but the most diehard Soilwork fans (who I’m sure will crucify me in the comments section of this review) [Fanboy alert! — Steel Druhm]. At best, these sound like a more progressive take on the band’s Stabbing the Drama-era. At worst, they practically crave your affection, like a 17-year-old girl with daddy issues. For a band that supposedly has something to prove, songs like these are pretty much the LAST thing that they should be putting out. Regardless, it’s pretty obvious that this is where the band’s collective head is at these days.
But Soilwork is guilty of a crime far worse than releasing songs that are overproduced and pandering, and that is releasing songs that are forgettable. The 90-minute duration of The Living Infinite does leave quite a few hooks that stick to the brain, but there are just as many songs that I’ll probably never remember or want to listen to again. This could be a byproduct of simply having too many goddamn songs, but it also underlines the fact that this style of metal has been done to death and beyond, both by Soilwork themselves and by the countless bands that followed in their wake. I can’t help the feeling that I’ve heard this all before, and whether I heard it on Steelbath Suicide, Sworn to a Great Divide, or a fucking Demon Hunter album is kind of irrelevant. Even some of the Panic Broadcast material, like “Enter Dog of Pavlov,” becomes oddly compelling in comparison to a lot of what’s going on here.
As science has repeatedly shown, double albums are usually about 50% useless, or at least severely lacking in cohesion. About half the songs on Infinite would make for a fairly slamming (if overproduced) old-school Soilwork album. The other half could be rounded up to form a very melodic record in the vein of their more recent work. This is exactly why things like iTunes were invented. Go get the tracks that sound like whatever version of Soilwork you dig, and skip the rest.