TOUR RECAP: Why SOEN’s Joyfully Melancholic And Gracefully Powerful Live Performances Can Leave You Breathless

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It may have taken the multinational prog metal outfit Soen a good twelve years to properly tour the United States, but I’m relieved they didn’t wait that long to return. On the road in support of their most recent album, last year’s “Memorial,” the Swedish/Uruguayan/ British/ Ukrainian outfit recently brought the noise to Austin’s metal homestead Come and Take It Live, where they performed for a fresh set of faces eager to absorb the group’s unique brand of progressive metal. But we also saw them during different stops of this tour, which is why this chronicle is more of a recap than an individual show review.

One of the many things that set Soen apart from the prog-metal horde is how apologetically gloomy their sound is. While many bands do frequently toy with the mood, Soen very deliberately dwells in the more somber moments of human existence, opting to sinew and stew in the mood rather than use it to analyze the human experience they way another prominent moody Swedish band, Pain of Salvation, prefers.

This isn’t to say that their audience attends their shows with the intent to cut themselves loose from this mortal coil; however melancholic their sound and subject matter may be, the affectation that lives on the stages Soen graces can only be described with one word: joy. Guitarist Cody Lee Ford masterfully infects his crowds with the life he brings to his playing from the moment opener “Sincere” bursts forth from his fingertips, despite him rarely even approaching his microphone. Fellow guitarist and part-time keyboardist Lars Åhlund, still sporting that distinctive facial hair accompanies monster Ukrainian dread-head Oleksi Kobel at stage left, the two nearly becoming an indistinguishable vortex of mahogany necks and blurry blond locks, while “El Terror de Montevideo” himself, Martin Lopez, propels the beast as only a drummer schooled in jazz, Latin, and death metal traditions can.

All the while, the cueball otherwise known as Joel Ekelöf commands the stage as few frontmen in this genre could hope to: with a furious grace that’s as transcendent and otherworldly as it is human, all while effortlessly filling the venue with that singular, lonesome baritone.

Nearly a third of the set was culled from the outstanding “Memorial” and a full third from its stupefyingly excellent predecessor, “Imperial.” But the boys made sure to represent their entire discography, save for 2017’s “Lykaia.” In order to do this, they omitted their cover of Slipknot‘s “Snuff” to debut a piano-led interpretation of “The Words,” from their second album “Tellurian,” and while many concertgoers were hyped to see Soen do Slipknot, this decision made their evening that much more satisfying. And it’s always a pleasure to hear the song that arguably put Soen on the map, their debut video “Savia,” which Kobel opened with a frenetic bass solo that would surely make original Soen bassist Steve DiGiorgio proud.

Many have remarked that progressive metal is enjoying a new golden age now that dust from the djent revolution has mostly settled, and it is indeed refreshing that the bands that have prevailed self-assuredly march on mimicking no voices that aren’t their own. However excellent “Cognitive” was, the Tool comparisons were more than just a little valid, and Ekelöf, Lopez, and their compatriots have wisely relegated that band to inspiration status, rather than aspiration. The reigning monarchs of gloomy prog all look only to themselves to create their magic, and Soen in particular have created an identity that borrows from many traditions while steadfastly maintaining a sound that can only be called their own. I daresay Soen has even long surpassed the band that first brought Lopez to prominence.

The current North American leg of the “Memorial” wraps up today in Denver, but North American fans will have another opportunity to see them this fall as they trek across the Eastern US after their appearance at the prestigious ProgPower festival in September.

Soen Photo Gallery (Photos by Wilkinson Image & Design)

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