Soen from Sweden entered the consciousness of prog metal fans with 2012’s Cognitive and was hailed as a supergroup, thanks to featuring ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez and ex-Death bassist Steve DiGiorgio. The band, however, has turned out to be a lasting force in the scene instead of a short-term project and has only grown in popularity since DiGiorgio left the group. Earlier this year Soen released its fourth record, Lotus, and on the second European leg in support of the album Finland was treated to 2 shows, in Tampere and Helsinki, out of which the former at Olympia on September 17th, 2019 was attended by yours truly.
Lue suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!
Listen to the setlists from Soen and Wheel below:
The night was opened by the Italian alternative metal 4-piece The Price led by producer and guitarist Marco Barusso. While the band’s musicians – particularly drummer Guido Carli – played well and energetically, unfortunately the most crucial part of the equation – the music – didn’t quite impress me. The chuggy and slightly monotonous riffage of the songs left me cold, although “On the Edge of Madness” stood out thanks to its more atmospheric sound. Vocalist Axel Capurro also did his best to rile up the crowd and encouraged people to come closer to the stage – not your average awkward frontman from an unknown band! He proclaimed that he was “sick as a dog”, but that couldn’t be heard in his vocals at all, as they sounded clear and effortless. While The Price came across as a sympathetic and professional bunch of players on stage, they might’ve been more at home playing with their fellow Italians Lacuna Coil instead of two prog metal bands.
The Finnish newcomer Wheel has managed to generate a fair amount of buzz with its debut album, Moving Backwards, even on our site, but for some reason I hadn’t gotten familiar with their music yet. Either way, I was eager to see what the hype was all about, and my curiosity was piqued when 4 hooded figures took the stage. Sadly, just like in The Price’s case, there was no doubt that these guys could play, and they had a well-thought-out image, but the songs failed to wow me. I’d heard comparisons to Tool, but I hadn’t expected Wheel to sound like downright Tool lite at times – “Lacking” and the band’s title song in particular had rhythm-driven riffs and climactic breakdowns that could be traced back to songs like “Ticks and Leeches”, “Forty Six & 2”, and “The Grudge”. To be fair, the timing may not have been on Wheel’s side, as Tool just recently released its long-awaited new album, Fear Inoculum, and its whole back catalog was made available on Spotify, so for the past month or so I have been listening to their music more actively than in a while, which may have made the similarities more glaring to my ears than on some other occasion. However, I have to commend frontman James Lascelles for being able to hold notes for as long as he could while playing guitar at the same time, which is not a piece of cake to pull off. While I’m still not aboard the Wheel train, they must be doing something right, as a lot of people had showed up for them already and they got an enthusiastic response. Hopefully over time the band will manage to craft its own sound and weed out the most overt Tool-isms.
At last it was Soen’s turn to play, and “Covenant” kicked things off nicely with an extended intro, at the end of which vocalist Joel Ekelöf arrived just in time for the first verse. The band focused heavily on the latest 2 albums and only played 3 songs from the first 2 albums, so the set included just a few repeats from my last Soen gig in Tampere in 2015. While Lykaia (2017) somehow didn’t really click with me as an album, its songs sounded really good live, with the dynamic “Opal” and the jazzy rendition of “Lucidity” being two of the most memorable moments of the night – it even felt like “Lucidity” transported you into another place when you closed your eyes and just concentrated on the music. The Lotus material, on the other hand, confirmed my feeling that the record is a strong contender for Album of the Year – “Lascivious” in particular was a high point thanks to its soaring chorus, and the title-track was a brave choice for closing the show as a ballad, but Soen made this soothing ending work. It also provided an interesting polar opposite to “Slithering” from the debut, whose steamroller riffing had closed the main set.
Soen had last played in Finland 4 years ago, skipping the country altogether on the Lykaia tour, so the fans were clearly happy to see the band again, even singing along to the oriental riff at the end of “Jinn”. The crowd was so enthusiastic that Ekelöf had to ask people to stay quiet for a bit in the middle break of “Martyrs”, and once the song started gaining momentum again, people faithfully continued the clapping where it left off.
What struck me while watching Soen play was what a strong unit the band was on stage and how every member brought his own input into the overall sound and stage presence, so that the band wasn’t dependent on one or two guys being in the spotlight all the time. Ekelöf doesn’t have a typical aggressive metal voice, but his vocals cut through the music loud and clear, and while he’s got an understated sort of charisma, he also gave the guitarists a lot of room to make contact with the crowd. Bassist Stefan Stenberg and drummer Martin Lopez laid down a strong foundation for the band’s rhythm-heavy riffs, and the way Lopez slightly sped up “Tabula Rasa” compared to the album version gave it a strong Opeth vibe, serving as a reminder of his presence behind the kit for all those classic albums by his former band. Newcomer guitarist Cody Ford made his mark with David Gilmour-like emotive solos, while Lars Åhlund was the busiest man on stage, switching between guitar and keyboards and even playing some percussions. Before “Rival” there were some technical difficulties when Åhlund’s guitar didn’t work, but the rest of the band kept the audience entertained with a little jam while waiting and the not-so-talkative Ekelöf engaged in a bit of banter, quipping that Finland is the only country in the world with saunas backstage. Another band might’ve frozen in the same situation, but these guys dealt with it like pros.
After this show it’s safe to say that Soen is one of the premier groups of contemporary prog. While they sounded good on the Tellurian (2014) tour already, it was amazing to see how much they’d upped their game and gained confidence in the years in between the two gigs, and even the light show was one of the best I’d seen at a club gig. The band’s dynamic shifts from loud to quiet and back – both within and between songs – were absolutely seamless, and the setlist was well constructed. Soen seemed to be pleased by the warm reception and Ekelöf said “we knew this would be a great evening”, so surely skipping Finland during every other album cycle won’t become a pattern, right?
4. Tabula Rasa
Photos (Helsinki): Laureline Tilkin