Grim Observations: Soilwork – The Ride Majestic (2015)

If you don’t know who Soilwork is, I won’t pity you. Instead I’ll simply hold out my hand as I pull you up into a vast musical world of fury and melody which goes back all of the way to the mid-nineties. By now, you should be quite familiar with my review for the double-disc The Living Infinite. In it I noted that Soilwork bit off a little bit more than they could chew and there weren’t really a whole lot of memorable tracks, or for that matter; tracks that actually stood out enough to be of any real merit. Though the album sold rather well, I was just about ready to write off these guys and was even fine with doing that – they’ve released more than enough potent records in the past and there’s no sense in seeing them wore thin. In fact, I almost expected The Ride Majestic to be just another drop in the bucket. But strangely, it wasn’t. You heard me right, Soilwork actually managed to craft what may very well be one of the best records that I’ve heard from them in several years; as well as standing out as a personal favorite in their massive discography.

By now, everyone knows who Bjorn Strid is and I’ve mentioned several of his collaboration appearances in other album reviews, as well as his work in the classic rock/progressive band, Night Flight Orchestra. We’re all aware that the man has a breathtaking vocal tone, which may be one of the best cleans in the world of melodic death metal and that he’s got a penchant for extremely catchy choruses. The Living Infinite had several potent choruses, but very little substance in terms of song structure – the band just seemed to plod along and offer the same bare bones approach to melodeath that I’ve heard since the genre erupted out of Gothenburg in the late nineties. Here, we actually see the band playing and changing things up a bit. It’s obvious that melodic death metal will always sound like melodic death metal and will still contain very much the same basic formula of heavy riffs backing a harsh vocal approach that later sails into lighter melodies accompanied by a clean chorus. There’s no real changing that, nor did Soilwork try to with this disc. With The Ride Majestic, they’ve offered us exactly that; with dozens of clean guitar melodies that work to exemplify this point tenfold as an unbridled amount of fury emanates from the drum kit, especially in places in places where you wouldn’t expect it. It’s awfully peculiar to hear this guy really going to town during a cleaner moment in some of the songs, but that doesn’t seem to hold him back and it makes the album sound all the better – heavier, I suppose you could say. There are even slight death metal excursions in the drums, which give these performances a real bite and work to really bring back the kind of sound one might remember from Predator’s Portrait or even the Steelbath Suicide debut album. Trust me, it gets pretty heavy on a musical level and you’re going to be taken surprise by that, especially if you were expecting something along the lines of the previous couple of records, which to me have come and gone. There were hits and misses, but never anything like this. I think one of the main reasons I find this work so brilliant is simply due to the immensely beefed up structural compositions, which almost take a progressive tone and combine with everything they’ve done prior. These guys actually decided to write real songs this time around, with memorable compositions and notes that you’ll recall within the context of the recording. Aside from the chorus melodies, occasional leads and solos, I never really noticed anything about the past few records that were all that intriguing as far as musicality was concerned. The Ride Majestic actually draws my attention to the music itself, which is something I never thought would happen. For a record that changes tone at the drop of a hat and really works to experiment beyond the bounds of normal melodic death, it creates a sound that still feels familiar while offering a very fresh and needed coat of paint. I can count the number of Gothenburg soundalikes on my fingers and toes, but The Ride Majestic seems to capture something more than over half of these guys could ever offer – memorable songwriting. Truly, this is one of Soilwork’s most mature and forward-thinking releases and it delivered much more than I would have ever expected it to. They could give up it up next week and I’d be happy with this as a final swansong. It’s absolutely perfect as far as I’m concerned and features the whole unit functioning together as a chemical whole. You may not be able to change the formula of melodeath, or melodic death metal (whatever you’d like to call it) but Soilwork are definitely trying their best to further refine it in spite of a generation glued to common musical trends, like djent and core. If there’s any hope left for mankind, The Ride Majestic will soar as high on the charts as the new Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch and Foo Fighters record have. But in all reality, it should be at the very top. Don’t go without hearing The Ride Majestic this year, as it’s one of the best melodic death metal experiences I’ve had in a very long time. It’s most definitely a ride.

(13 Tracks, 59:00)

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