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SOILWORK’S SWORN TO A GREAT DIVIDE OFFERS A GOTHENBURG BLEND OF THE OLD AND THE NEW

Rating
60

Soilwork - Sworn to a Great DivideOctober saw the release of two “Soilwork” albums. One was produced/written/released by ex-Soilwork guitarist Peter Wichers with a variety of different well-known singers under the Nuclear Blast All Stars: Out of the Dark moniker (read our review here) and the other — Sworn to a Great Divide — was a proper Soilwork release, the band’s first without Wichers who was heretofore a primary songwriter in the band. While Sworn to a Great Divide may not be Soilwork’s best work, it should certainly allay any fears that the band would be unable to write good songs without Wichers in the picture; in fact, it’s surprising how well the band has been able to continue on without him, and the band never sounds like a carbon copy of themselves trying to replicate past sounds. Sworn ends up sounding like a “best of” Soilwork album, echoing what the band’s press releases have said, by offering up a mix of both old and new-style Soilwork in the bodies of brand new songs. While the “X” factor that was Wichers’ inventiveness may be missing, Sworn to a Great Divide is still a really good record that should please fans of the “Gothenburg” sound (even though Soilwork is actually from Helsingborg) with plenty of aggressive riffing, NWOBHM-inspired guitar harmonies, and an epic mix of growling and clean singing.

The title track and album opener is perhaps as good an example as any of how the band has fused elements of sound spanning their whole career. The opening machine-gun riff and subsequent thrash verse could easily have been zapped on a time machine from Chainheart Machine or Predator’s Portrait while the chorus is a clean sung gem that could’ve been lifted from 2005’s Stabbing the Drama. Bjorn “Speed” Strid’s vocals, courtesy of vocal producer Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, Darkest Hour, Ziltoid the Omniscient, etc), sound as clear and accurate as ever during both screaming and singing parts; Strid’s easy-to-understand diction in the screaming parts may be unmatched in the death metal genre (I can NEVER understand what these dudes are saying — not the case with Strid). The solo in the title-track is a typical neo-classical ripper; we’ll have to wait to see the band live to determine whether it’s played by incumbent Ola Frenning or newcomer Daniel Antonsson.

Tracks like “Breeding Thorns,” “I, Vermin,” and “As the Sleeper Awakes” follow in this vein — plenty of heavy, Swedish, synched all-instruments-at-once hammering to go around, and Soilwork’s patented hooky choruses to follow. The album occasionally shows a slower side too; upon first listen of lead single “Exile” I was disappointed and skeptical of how the album would turn out, but in the context of the rest of the songs it fits perfectly, though there’s no denying it was written as a radio track. The swirling, harmonized guitars and moody mid-tempo pace of “Light Discovering Darkness” show a different side of Soilwork usually reserved for album-closers.

Keyboardist Sven Karlsson seems to have been relegated to the background in this release, whether willingly or not. Keyboard-as-lead-instrument is conspicuously all but absent from Sworn, instead finding use as mostly added ambience, the occasional sample, and filling in the cracks between guitars. “Martyr,” the bonus track that comes with the special edition of the album (along with a DVD), is the only time the keyboard ever gets is share of sunlight up in the front of the mix for more than a bar or two.

The songs on Sworn to a Great Divide are all good, but perhaps none as instantly recognizable and catchy as the band wrote when Wichers was still around. Nevertheless, while countless American metalcore bands have ripped off the Gothenburg sound that Soilwork helped spread to the masses, I’ll take the real thing any day of the week over the generic, watered-down alternative. There is no substitute for the original, and anything Soilwork puts out is automatically better than As I Lay Dying or In This Moment; Sworn to a Great Divide is no different, and is a solid addition to Soilwork’s catalogue.

-VN


(three out of five horns)

[Visit Soilwork on MySpace]

[Be sure to catch Soilwork on tour this fall in the U.S., opening for Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage, and Devildriver!]

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