“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” – Conventional wisdom or Will Rogers, no clear date. “We play melodic death metal with metalcore elements and tons of hooky choruses!” – Soilwork via Stabbing the Drama, 2005. Combining these two quotes explains the position from which I’ll tackle Soilwork’s tenth full-length The Ride Majestic. Yes, I’ve heard their “classic” albums, and yes, I think they’re good. Much like looking at your chubby uncle’s JV football pictures on the mantle though, that isn’t the Soilwork I really know. I don’t feel betrayed by their modern direction, because that’s how I “met” the band and got into their material in the first place. With that, I’m done with delaying what we’re all here for: determining whether or not The Ride Majestic is any good.
We’d be naïve to expect a return to the Soilwork style of old, and as assumed, it doesn’t happen here. Stabbing the Drama saw the band Americanize their Swedish sound with elements of metalcore (which itself borrowed heavily from the Swedish melo-death sound) and appropriate these influences in their own naturally Swedish style; think of it like translating Swedish to English to Swedish again via an online translator, but not as incoherent. They smoothed out the wrinkles of this sound on The Panic Broadcast and brought back some relative aggression via the increased presence of Dirk Verbeuren’s blast beats, but naturally they’ve kept the pristine melodic hooks intact and up front. What we’ve ended up with from 2010 onwards is accessible and hook-centric melodic metal that’s eased up on the metalcore but not quite abandoned it, and The Ride Majestic follows this path resolutely.
Furthering the theme of business as usual are Soilwork’s strengths on The Ride Majestic. Opening strong with the title track, they begin on a lead that brings Opeth to mind and this predictably segues into the band’s usual “what modern In Flames should be doing”-core. This is great, as it has their usual friendly aggression vibe and Bjorn Strid’s crooning and shouting is as catchy as ever. “The Ride Majestic (Aspire Angelic)” is a riff on the theme of the opener with another earworm chorus that’s been stuck in my head since I first heard it, and I don’t mind a bit; it has that almost bluesy feel of “The Thrill” and it really works here. I don’t much care for Soilwork’s slower songs, but “Whirl of Pain” managed to impress me in a big way with its great hooks and solid performances by every band member. While it’s certainly on the poppy side, “Death in General” is an enjoyable ditty that utilizes all of the gizmos in Soilwork’s tool belt to a satisfying degree and drove me to hit play repeatedly to hear those sweet, sugary hooks again.
The Ride Majestic falters both when it moves away from what the band does well and when their modern formula produces comparatively lesser results. “Alight in the Aftermath” isn’t exactly bursting with energy or replay value and its verse sounds like Soilwork trying to appropriate lighter black metal a la Watain, but they throw in a hooky clean-sung chorus as if Sweden made them subject to some strange musical bylaw requiring them to do just that. “Phantom” sees the band trying to incorporate even more black metal elements (it’s main riff sounds like a poppier “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”), but it’s a series of forced contrasts instead of a song that evolves naturally, and even with aggressive performances by Strid and Verbeuren, it’s no surprise when the crooning and typical melodeath leads rear their polished heads. When it comes to Soilwork being legitimately heavy or extreme, we know the emperor has no clothes; the striptease is unnecessary. “Petrichor by Sulphur” is too long for its own good, and about three and a half minutes in Soilwork throws out an unimpressive and awkward impression of Ihsahn’s lighter solo material apropos of nothing. “Shining Lights” and “Enemies in Fidelity” are Soilwork-by-numbers that aren’t as catchy or worthwhile as their counterparts here, making them largely skippable tracks.
Soilwork haven’t thrown any curveballs on The Ride Majestic, but it’s overall a weaker offering than The Panic Broadcast and The Living Infinite, albeit not by a huge margin. The production is once again handled by Jens Borgen and sounds clean, crisp, and virtually identical to The Living Infinite, nicely showcasing the talents of every member. I’ll be keeping a few of these songs on a playlist because Soilwork still knows how to write some great tunes, but I’m left wishing more of those were included on The Ride Majestic.