On their third album, Soen stay on their path that leads away from a rather depressed, static, Tool-like style, to one with more emotional depth. And with the addition of Marcus Jidell (Royal Hunt, Evergrey, Avatarium), the band now has a major guitar player in their midst, as well as a very suitable co-writer. Jidell knows very well how to support drummer Martin Lopez's roots and underlines his Opeth heritage perfectly. Thus we get to hear many new progressive Opeth-style metal riffs, which Åkerfeldt doesn't play any more.
But this album can't be seen as a metal smasher. It has such a strong display of emotions that it makes much more sense to locate it somewhere around the stylistic shores of Wolverine. And Lykaia has no musical arc to it, rather, it has a constant alternation of metal track and ballad, both occupying 50% of space on the album.
Indeed, the songwriting and arrangements are just incredible, with one song leading to the next with one hundred percent perfection. The arrangements are all absolutely true to the song. There is not one moment on the album, where a musician tries to showcase his instrumental abilities. There are no metal solos anywhere, and also no bone-breaking drum breaks that distract from the wonderful flow of Joël Ekellöf's melancholic, yet sad vocal lines. Lars Åhlund is now credited as organ and Rhodes player, and his contributions are so subtle that one tends to overhear them; Yet without his parts, the arrangements would pretty much fall apart.
Besides the heaviness of the riffing that is so well combined with huge emotional depth, it's the little aspects of the arrangements on Lykaia, which are so stunning. Little things like the harmonic vocal layers on Lucidity that have the quality of the works of David Crosby and Graham Nash, or the violin that backs up the guitar during an Arabic melody in Jinn, or the whining background guitars in God's Acre that might as well have been played by David Gilmour. These are the spices that make the album such a masterpiece.
On Lykaia Soen has mastered to perfection the balancing act of combining complicated, heavy riffing with strong emotional depth. It's an album that suits both fans of Opeth and Wolverine and everybody else who likes heaviness that invites the listener to take a deep dive into the oceans of emotions.
Andy Read's Review
For millennia, mankind's instinct has been to go on lifelong, exploratory journeys. These bristle with uncertainty, following unknown and untrodden pathways, often taking individuals in directions and to places they never could have imagined.
For those who have burrowed under the surface of Soen's two previous albums, the notions of passage and exploration are nothing new.
Back in 2012, the band's impressive opening statement, Cognitive (of the mind) voyaged through an intense progressive metal path previously cleared by the likes of Opeth and Tool.
Two years down that pathway and Tellurian (of the earth) saw Soen beginning to stride more independently towards their own vision, yet still under the watchful influence of their mentors.
Their third offering, Lykaia (of transformation), is the part of the journey where Soen strike out, unique and alone, onto a route guided by their own hearts and souls. The result is an album that defines Soen. A work that is coherent musically, lyrically and emotionally. It is one of those rare albums that can touch you deeply on many levels. It is an album to spend a lot of time with; alone. It is an album of joy, of power, of strength, of vulnerability. It is an album to cherish.
Lykaia retains a thematic immersion with the indistinct, intangible edges of our world, especially those that involve humankind's religious and ritualistic behaviour.
"There are a lot of edges in religion which are fascinating," says co-founder and vocalist Joel Ekelöf. "Some of us were raised in Catholic households, so we're not afraid of religion at all, but it is something which consistently offers intriguing views on life. We come from perhaps the most atheistic country in the world, Sweden, and one thing I always found rather bizarre was how if you say you believe in God or Satan or any sort of higher power, you're seen as a bit simple and a feeble-minded person. I always found that strange. Because given the attention these belief systems continue to inspire, there must be something to investigate, right?"
In Ancient Greece, the Lykaia was a secret ritual held annually on the slopes of Mount Lykaion (Wolf Mountain). It was a rite of passage ceremony centred upon the possibility of a werewolf transformation for the adolescent males who were the participants.
One of Lykaia's themes that strikes a chord with me, is the need to continually stroll onto different experiences, to undertake new journeys in one's life. Also of the importance, on these journeys, of sometimes going back, to go forward. To constantly revisit one's past, to retrieve lessons learnt. And how, by doing this, one is able to continually grow life's experiences; building strength and richness and new opportunities, as one adds new layers.
This is captured perfectly in the lyrics to the track Jinn: "I should care to let you fly. A chance to retrieve what was left behind. To experience life."
It is an idea that can equally be applied to the Soen's musical journey, something that the band's other co-founder and Uruguayan Swedish drummer Martin Lopez is happy to concede.
"This has never been about genres, it's always been about the journey we need to take both musically and personally. (This album) is another adventure, another journey, which in some ways is quite different again but also builds upon the experiences we've had over the last few years."
"This line-up has played a lot of shows together," adds Ekelöf. "From that of course comes a comfort and knowledge of each other that can only make Soen stronger. You learn the details of musical space that you share, which obviously opens up for even stronger songwriting."
There is little doubt that the musical style here is familiar, yet equally that it is dissimilar and more diverse. There are still degrees of complexity and layers to the music, and it is still rhythmically rich. Relish in Lopez's tribal pronouncements that drive the opener Sectarian.
The production duties handled by guitarist Marcus Jidell and the mix made by Stefan Boman, has kept things as far away from the digital age as possible. "Wherever we could the music was analog," says Ekelöf. "All the sounds you hear were pure and not samples or keyboard generated. When we needed a Mellotron, we got a real one. With my vocals as well, we intentionally left out the endless possibilities of post editing, and instead focused on pure vocal work."
The result is a sound that is rounded and organic.
The band's label, UDR, is one of the few who (thankfully) still sees a benefit or investment in sending reviewers the full CD on which to base their opinions. Playing this CD loudly, my Sony speakers rejoice in the richness and warmth of the bass, the subtle inflections of Ekelöf's vocal, and the delicate layers added momentarily by the keyboards and guitar. The constant changes in dynamic are spellbinding. Some of the solos (heavy and light) from guitarist Marcus Jidell are the best I've ever heard. The Gilmour-esque lament he brings to Lucidity is one of many examples.
Throughout Lykaia the different textures and details of the guitar, voice, drums, bass and organ overlap and underlap, compliment and conflict. The bass drives the nine songs, often playing the role of rhythm guitar, freeing Jidell's lead guitar to add flourishes above. Where the music is complicated, it is not just for the sake of complexity. It simply adds depth to the amazing melodies, hooks and atmospheres that seep out of this album's every pore.
These are the things that turn a good album into a great one.
And don't waste your money on the digital version, invest in the sonic majesty of the full CD (plus you get a ninth track God's Acre). Or even better, go for the gatefold vinyl!
The different textures are also applied to the wonderful cover artwork. The traditional woodcut printing style is superbly evoked by the embossed printing of gold on dark purple, to capture the natural savage beauty of the wolves. The lack of a lyric sheet inside, is a bizarre and rather thoughtless omission though.
Lykaia is not an album about great songs and not so great songs, nor heavy songs and more ambient songs. Compositionally, it is an ever-changing palette of musical colours; a banquet of crushing power on a platter of more ambient spaces. Building on past experiences, you can still hear bits that remind you of Opeth and Tool. Yet equally sections mirror Wolverine, Pink Floyd and Fates Warning. As an entity though, this album sounds uniquely like Soen.
Thus on Lykaia, it is fair to announce that Soen have arrived at their destination. It is not a final destination, but it is a place they can call home. To celebrate their arrival, they have provided a feast, fit for the gods. But it is a feast that everyone is free to satiate themselves upon. The door is open. Come on in.