Note: AMG Himself previewed and reviewed Lotus back in November, from the comfort/imprisonment of the band’s recording studio. Refer back to that review for his almost fanboyish (although mostly reasonable) gushing. I am here to shine the glare of realism on this album, after having had it in my playlist for the past six weeks.
I first got into Soen on their sophomore effort, Tellurian, which I bought solely because of the excellent cover art.1 I was more than happy to discover that the music also held up its end of the bargain: yes, the band came across as a Tool knock-off, but a talented and effective one, capable of putting its own spin on this brand of precision-based progressive metal. Lykaia pushed the band’s songwriting in the right direction, but saw them fall short of greatness in two areas: the song order resulted in a poorly-paced album, and the band’s clinical approach, particularly when it came to Joel Ekelöf’s vocals, left me yearning for some emotion. Lykaia was also horribly mastered, an error which the band corrected last September with Lykaia Revisited, which sounded excellent and gave us three live songs to chew on while waiting for Lotus.
I’m happy to say that Lotus quelled all my fears. It’s almost as if Soen could hear my thoughts: the album’s pacing is perfect, and Ekelöf turns in a staggering vocal performance. All the emotion missing on the band’s first three albums shines through here in spades. Nowhere is this more evident than on the beautiful title track, where Ekelöf’s delivery begins in breathy, delicate fashion, gradually strengthening in passion and power as the arrangement unfolds. It’s like if Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt could really, truly sing. The confidence of Ekelöf–and the rest of the band, in fact–is palpable here and throughout Lotus. “Penance” is another vocal highlight, confirming the fact that Ekelöf is no longer “just” a singer; he has matured into the band’s focal point, and a true force.
The band steps up behind Ekelöf, transcending past efforts. Martin Lopez, drummer and founding member, continues to display masterful prowess behind the kit, and aside from the rather odd decision to insert an off-putting wood block in “Rival,” brings the perfect amount of flair and groove to the songs. Stefan Sedberg shows he is one of prog metal’s strongest bassists this side of Justin Chancellor, with the world’s most perfect tone and some serious riffs in songs such as “Lascivious” and the midpoint of “Covenant.” And newly-minted guitarist, Canadian Cody Ford, has no problem sliding in and delivering Soen’s trademark jagged riffs (much like a more refined version of those found on the last Haken album) as well as more nuanced performances and some wonderfully-arranged solos on “Lotus” and “River.” Despite Ford being new (as of 2018) to the band, the group display a sublime level of chemistry throughout Lotus.
This fourth paragraph is where we normally eviscerate some aspect of an album – vocals, production, song quality – but on Lotus, Soen have delivered something that almost defies criticism. My issues with past albums as far as pacing and emotion have been more than taken care of here, as the band delivers its most cohesive, well-arranged, and stunningly performed set yet. The best I can come up with for a nitpick is what the hell were they thinking with that confounded wood block in “Rival?” So, if that’s as much as I can think of, well, there you have it. Even the mastering job is solid. Riff-heavy moments such as the aforementioned “Rival” and “Lascivious” have ample power, while the nuances found within the quieter songs are all airy and breathe well.
Put it all together, and I am happy to report that AMG Himself was fairly dead-on in his assessment of Lotus. Four albums in, Soen have hit their stride, catapulting past being a “pretty good” prog band, giving us an album that is the first truly great record of the year. Well done, boys. Now, for your fifth album, please bring the rhino back.
Rating: Great! No, wait – Excellent! No, wait – argh!2
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Silver Lining Music
Websites: soenmusic.com | soen-sweden.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/SoenMusic/
Releases Worldwide: February 1st, 2019