Soilwork, "The Chainheart Machine"
Usually, I reserve my highest praise for records which really push the envelope. You know the ones I mean; albums like "Slaughter of the Soul" or "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk," albums which expanded the boundaries of genres and do the unexpected. Sometimes, though, it's nice to just enjoy the end result of such innovations; enter "The Chainheart Machine." Soilwork has never been known for overbearing originality; they've always had a characteristic style and sound, but they've never been ones to reshape listeners' perceptions of what metal is. Instead, what they do (or used to do) is deliver the goods in a way even most veterans can't, and they've never done it better than on their sophomore release.
"The Chainheart Machine" is what melodic death metal is supposed to sound like. Recorded with Fredrik Nordstrom at Studio Fredman (the best possible choice for this sort of thing), the album's sound is slick, polished, and deadly. Speed Strid is rabid and relentless as he snarls and screams his way through the nine tracks without any of the mood-killing clean vocals that have since become commonplace on Soilwork releases (to be fair, they worked exceedingly well on "A Predator's Portrait;" let's not, however, bring up the band's last two efforts). The guitars interweave razor sharp riffs with extremely melodic leads but never lose a psychotically aggressive edge which many lose sight of (translation: the songs are melodic without ever becoming overly happy). Deserving special mention is drummer Henry Ranta whose work is nothing short of amazing. He manages to transition from blasting to pummeling double bass to thrashing to sections where - now keep in mind that I've been a drummer for going on nine years now - I don't have any clue what the hell he's doing (but it always fits the music perfectly; go figure) flawlessly, often tossing in insanely fast fills with stop-on-a-dime precision. Also, Carlos del Olmo managed the keyboards in a way which kept them under the radar while adding just enough atmosphere to elevate the music to the next level, a talent I never fully appreciated until he left the band and the more overbearing Sven Karlsson replaced him.
After the impressive "Steelbath Suicide" and before the excellent "A Predator's Portrait," "The Chainheart Machine" had already cemented Soilwork's place in metal history. The culmination of years of experimentation and progression in death metal, these Swedes' sophomore effort cannot be denied as the best melodic death album of 1999 (in Europe, on Listenable Records) and 2000 (in America, on Century Media). When all is said and done, this, Soilwork's second album, was the sextet's peak, but what a peak it was.
The Chainheart Machine