Soen (Support acts: Shiverburn & Lizzard)
Tuesday, 20th October 2015
The Borderline, London, The UK
There's no expensive and flashy light show. No screen with videos, no gimmicks, save for vocalist Joel Ekelöf waving a black flag during one song.
This is live music at its most raw, and it's clear the band is loving every minute of it. Fortunately, so is the audience.
This is a band comfortable with one another, and with their musical prowess. They turn and smile to each other; they're having fun.
There's also no showiness. While some pieces are close to their album counterparts, there's also room for expression and expansion.
There are no pre-sets that mean the song has to be a certain way. It's not a free-for-all, but the mood obviously takes precedent over conformity.
And all of this is done without exuberant, self-indulgent solos.
There are, of course, some sections of songs where the blistering yet crystal clear guitar of Marcus Jidell is at the forefront,
but it's not merely an excuse for blatant self-promotion. The combination of their playing is about as showy as it gets.
Having said that, the ten-song set - the last two as the encore - is captivating from beginning to end.
The playing is, considering the ferocity of some of the songs, exquisite. No matter which part of the stage the eyes are drawn to,
there's something special going on. None more so than, of course, the inventive and diverse drumming of former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez.
His ability to switch from blistering double kick to Latin-infused rhythms that strangely aren't out of place in heavy prog is stunning.
The delicate touch and technique thrown into sometimes ferocious music combine for a supreme experience.
Stefan Stenberg's stellar yet understated bass playing is a point in case. Fans look on, enthralled, many singing every word.
It would do Soen a great disservice to consider them heavy prog alone. The first album, Cognitive, was, by some, dismissed as a Tool clone,
and while there are certainly areas where the Venn diagram intersects, there's much more going on than just hero worship.
The second release, Tellurian, also featured heavily in the 10-song set, and it sets Soen aside as a unique band in the field,
moving them away from Tool and Opeth comparisons.
What partly defines Soen are the stellar harmonies that three of the band are able to create.
Sometimes, even with top bands, harmonies are lost live, as band members who aren't great vocalists do their best, but it isn't quite there.
Not so Soen, as the occasional intricate harmonies - Ekelöf, Jidell and keyboardist/guitarist Lars Åhlund - are a joy to hear.
The crowd agrees, and these a cappella moments bring huge cheers. Hopefully the third album, being recorded in 2016,
will include more of those tender moments of beautiful near-folk harmonies. It's clear that Soen takes the whole picture seriously when the vocals match the music.
It's tight, yet free, heavy yet tender, driving yet subtle. And, in spite of the small venue,
the sound quality is excellent, with no instrument, including vocals, dominating the mix.
It's bordering on criminal that bands full of such talent are only filling venues that hold a couple of hundred people.
Of course, on the bright side, it means that fans get extremely close to the band. Frighteningly close, actually. At one point in proceedings,
a fan worryingly thrust himself to the very edge of the stage and lovingly grabbed the leg of the vocalist for what seemed like an uncomfortably long period of time.
While it's possible to get a souvenir from the band sometimes - a drumstick, towel, or even a used towel - a leg is a little harder to take home.
Fortunately, there is not a flinch from the band. However, try that at a stadium concert - assuming enough athleticism to breach the moat
- and there are two options - jail or a rather heavy-handed ejection. or both. But gigs like this show just how close prog fans can get to their heroes.
However rabid the Soen faithful, none would begrudge them a rise to fame that would see them playing and headlining bigger venues.
The more people that see and hear them, the greater the fan base, as this is music to be heard.
Soen deserves to be among the top level of current prog bands. The great thing about Soen is that, regardless, the attitude,
humility, professionalism and level of performance won't change a bit.
Soen official Website