Soen - Lykaia
The parallels to Tool and Opeth are easy to draw, but it’s surprisingly difficult to convey what Soen sounds like. The guitars mimic the agile crunch of Opeth’s heyday to the letter and the bass could have been lifted straight from 10,000 Days, but like most bands that “sound like Tool,” they don’t really. Apart from that trick where the guitar and bass become indistinguishable from one another, Soen stylistically lean a little closer to Katatonia, a band who, incidentally, have also been compared to Opeth and Tool. Songs like “Lucidity” and “Jinn” strike a compelling balance between these influences and don’t feature a single bar of wacky time-signatures, or screaming, or growling. For the most part, Lykaia sounds like the record that should have followed Ghost Reveries: it’s heavy, smooth, and thoughtful, and it feels progressive while operating within the confines of a relatively accessible sound. Second track “Orison” even channels Chevelle: something about that choppy riff progression and tense melody screams of Wonder What’s Next is a way that doesn’t feel tacky, dated, or especially imitative.
It would be easy to dismiss Soen for wearing their influences so boldly, but to do that would be to would ignore the particular strain of creativity it takes to craft something new out of familiar parts. Their referential style isn’t the problem, then, but Lykaia does have problems. While its upbeat tracks are satisfyingly dark and catchy, some of the magic dissipates when the tempo slows down. Songs like “Opal” and “Sister” in particular don’t seem to know where to go, stretching thin ideas out to uneventful lengths before just kind of puttering out. There are only eight songs here, and two of its best are right up front, ensuring that the quality will suffer as the album goes on. “Jinn” swoops in to rescue us from the broken promise of “Opal” and rekindle interest, but nothing half as exciting as that track’s bold harmonic ideas happen again over the following two tracks. They’re perfectly fine in isolation, which can be said of most of Lykaia, but without the dynamics of “Sectarian” and “Orison,” they feel drearier and less inspired than they really are. It’s worth noting that most of Katatonia’s later records have this same problem, especially last year’s The Fall of Hearts - there’s no real conclusion, just a sort of slow deflation. Maybe Soen’s done their homework a little too well.
Even so, there is plenty here to warrant repeat listens. Soen have a great mastery of mood, and when they feel like it, can write some truly memorable riffs and harmonies at one reminiscent of their heroes and unique enough to stand apart. It’s these moments when Soen take the Opeth/Tool sound in a direction neither of those bands would go that they become a truly exciting band, providing a fascinating glimpse into unexplored territory they could easily claim as their own with a little more ambition.