[19 July 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Sometimes a band can be so reliably good that it can be easy to forget just how great an act they can be. Swedish sextet Soilwork has long been a very dependable band, faithfully carrying the melodic death metal torch like fellow countrymen In Flames and Dark Tranquillity while streamlining their sound enough to attract a broader audience, and it’s resulted in a very strong run of albums. 2002’s Devin Townsend-produced Natural Born Chaos, 2003’s breakthrough Figure Number Five, and subsequent follow-ups Stabbing the Drama and Sworn to a Great Divide were all terrific examples of how a band can embrace mainstream metal sounds (simplified riffs, strong vocal melodies, clean, polished production) and still retain a sense of credibility. However, when founding lead guitarist Peter Wichers left the band in 2005, as enjoyable as Sworn to a Great Divide was, listeners had to wonder if the band was playing things a little too safe. There’s nothing at all wrong with a metal band sounding predictable, but when predictability is replaced by the slightest sense of complacency, you’ve got a problem, and that 2007 record flirted with it.
Three years later, not only is everything with Soilwork back to where it should be, with Wichers returning to the fold, but their eighth album is a rousing, impassioned piece of work that renders the last record drab in comparison. This is how Soilwork should have sounded all along: as explosive as Strapping Young Lad, as refined as At the Gates, with stronger melodies than Killswitch Engage. You couldn’t ask for a better lead-off track than the wryly titled “Late for the Kill, Early for the Slaughter”, a brilliant display of metal pyrotechnics that has Wichers’ stamp all over it, the riffs dexterous yet groovy, the rhythm crunch swaggering, and along with new rhythm guitarist Sylvain Coudret, they provide a perfect backdrop for vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid, who possesses one of the most authoritative snarls in the genre.
“Deliverance is Mine” and the swift-paced “King of the Threshold” follow suit with a couple more examples of how strong Soilwork still is when it comes to straight-up aggressive fare, but The Panic Broadcast is actually at its best when the band is playing up its more accessible side. Along with possessing a terrific hardcore bark that rivals his countryman Tomas Lindberg, Strid is also an exceptional clean singer, and with the kind of hooks that this album has, the frontman couldn’t have asked for a better showcase for those pipes. “Two Lives Worth of Reckoning” offsets its thrash verses with a contagious chorus, and although that “good cop bad cop” gimmick has been done to death these last ten years, it can still be very effective when done capably, and this track is a perfect example. Strid shows impressive depth in the melodic passages of “Night Comes Clean”, while he elevates the brooding “The Akuma Afterglow” to a level that a band like In Flames will never achieve. “Let This River Flow” is an active rock hit waiting to happen, a slow-burner with a flair for melodrama, but it never gets too maudlin, Strid and his bandmates keeping an even keel throughout.
Featuring some of Wichers’ finest production to date and sporting some delightfully garish artwork, Soilwork has pulled out all the stops on this album, as if sensing its importance in their discography, not to mention the huge commercial potential. Indeed, The Panic Broadcast is a knockout, their best album in a good eight years, and while they already have a solid fanbase worldwide, this record should be the one to catapult them to even more significant success. It’s definitely a case of a hard working band’s potential having finally been realized.