The Panic Broadcast By Soilwork
Ok, first things first, deep breath… it’s good. It is. Very good. But it’s far from perfect.

Soilwork have long been a love of mine, ever since I first heard A Predator’s Portrait. They have a singular sound all their own and have now, with The Panic Broadcast, been around long enough to produce eight albums, each of which causes more internet debate than the last. Perhaps the band are most guilty of betraying their core sound too often, losing the sense that makes a song identifiably Soilwork. As such, my relationship with Soilwork has been similar to those whose partners emotionally abuse them, then apologise, saying that they can change and that things will go back to the way they were. Each time Soilwork let me down I give them another chance, tempted by honeyed words and hyperbole, only to have my heart broken again. And again.

But not this time.

After listening to the album several times now, I can confidently say that, regardless of your thoughts on their current direction, etc, this album is far stronger than their last two efforts, both in terms of individual performances and the group effort as a whole. First track ‘Late For The Kill, Early For The Slaughter’ is an instant classic, bringing back fond memories of the technical aspects of the APP years. Second track ‘Two Lives Worth Of Reckoning’ would take a proud place on Natural Born Chaos, if the album were released today. ‘The Thrill’ has a steady stomp and soaring melody that reflect the controlled muscle of Figure Number Five, whilst ‘Deliverance Is Mine’ is reminiscent of the stronger, more aggressive cuts from Stabbing The Drama. Do you see the pattern here?

Yes, I was lured in by promises that the ‘Work (can I copyright that?) were returning to the sound of The Chainheart Machine and A Predator’s Portrait, and while elements of those albums do abound, the album also contains multiple elements reflecting the progression of their career since those times. While saying that each track reflects a different album in their discography might suggest that the album is rather incoherent, the opposite is in fact true, with each track flowing well into the next and the album working well as both a collection of single songs and as a whole. The production is solid and punchy, even allowing the bass-work to shine through at key moments. Also the guitar solos get a special mention – flashy enough to be impressive, yet each one vital to the song’s overall structure.

Every single member puts in a great performance. Dirk Verbeuren is a star-player for the band, and the guitar tandem of Sylvain Coudret and Peter Wichers trade riffs and solos (damn good solos) with aplomb. In some ways, it’s the performance of Bjorn Strid that is least impressive. The man has a hell of a voice, both screaming and singing, but too often falls prey to the temptation to employ a form of “melodic” screaming that is neither one thing nor the other. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and you’re left wanting a full-power performance from either the screaming or singing camps. Lyrically, the band still remain an odd mix of wilfully obtuse and woefully direct – there are some great lines in here, but there are also some cringe-inducing moments. Thankfully, these are fewer than on recent albums and nowhere near as big a problem. A definite recurring theme seems to be the idea of being “on a threshold”, but in what manner I am not certain. The band have clearly consolidated the disparate elements of their sound on this release in a far better manner than their last two efforts; perhaps they feel themselves on the threshold of a new chapter? The new line-up seems extremely strong and I would hope that future material continues to reflect this.

Overall, it’s a strong effort. The record is definitely front-weighted in terms of aggression, with the second half focusing far more on intricate, melodic guitar work with less all-out riffage, but later numbers like ‘Let This River Flow’ and (most particularly Natural Born Chaos-esque closer) ‘Enter Dog Of Pavlov’ recapture both the initial energy and excitement by being both strongly composed and interestingly structured. There are elements from all of the band’s prior works on here; the traditional melodic-death metal style riffage, the almost nu-metal stomping rhythms, the soaring choruses – all melded with that traditional Soilwork groove. If you didn’t like Soilwork before, and I know a LOT of you don’t, this record won’t change that, as the seamlessly melodic guitars and vocals aren’t going anywhere any time soon! However, as an item of objective interest, this album works extremely well, maintaining a surprisingly high level of quality songwriting.

In a year of surprises, this CD stands as another unexpected one, as I had written Soilwork off in many respects, with my only hopes being for a handful of good songs per record with no real overall consistency. My hopes have now been cautiously raised for the future, providing global warming doesn’t get me first.
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