Soilwork, "Figure Number Five"
It's been less than a year and a half since Soilwork released Natural Born Chaos, the disc that slapped me across my face with music that was neither typical of the band's sound to that point nor was it anywhere near the quality of their earlier efforts. Containing only one truly stellar song, "Follow the Hollow," the album was a gargantuan disappointment. I attributed the problems with a new keyboardist and the band's wish to break into the mainstream. In addition, I believed it would have been possible for Soilwork to rally after this fall, merely by quieting the keyboards, shoring up some of the less effective clean vocal portions and just playing with as much heart and conviction as on Chainheart Machine, or even A Predator's Portrait.
With their fifth release, Figure Number Five, we see that Soilwork has stopped some of the bleeding from wounds created on Natural Born Chaos, yet the largest of these has not been addressed; the band's collective severed abdominal aorta. Soilwork is slowly bleeding to death because they insist on trying to hit the big time, the mainstream, THE RADIO. Despite all their efforts to patch things up, there seems to be no blood left in these guys.
Gone are the passages with double bass, melodic interplay between the guitars, dynamic time changes, soaring leads, or songs that grab you by the throat and squeeze until your head pops right the fuck off (I'm talking about "Steelbath Suicide," "Chainheart Machine," "Millionflame," "Follow the Hollow" or "Needlefeast"). What we have instead are "Cranking the Sirens" and "Rejection Role" that begin well, but collapse under predictably placed, cleanly sung choruses, lack of direction (neither return to their opening riff after half way through the song) and an overall mediocrity that can be felt as well as heard. Worse still, Soilwork continues to insist on injecting every track with this lighter-for-radio play style and clean vocals on every track. It's dull, it's weak, and it's definitely not how I thought this band would ever sound.
This paragraph is dedicated to the song "Departure Plan." You'd think that after the egregious mistakes In Flames and Dark Tranquillity made with their respective songs "Metaphor " and "Day to End" that Soilwork would be smart enough not to attempt a sappy, slow, clumsy, poorly-sung ballad on this already foundering album. You'd be wrong. This song is far too bad, and the album is far too weak to support this kind of folly. It's yet another wound that Soilwork will need to dress before their next disc.
To be fair to the Soilworkers, the keyboards on Figure Number Five are nicely contained and restrained this time around. I lay much less blame on Sven Karlsson for the dismal results. In addition, Speed's clean delivery has become more tolerable. Not to say that it should ever be used on a Soilwork disc, but it's not painful the way it was on songs like "Mercury Shadow" or "The Flameout" previously. No, this time around Soilwork needed to step up and write faster, heavier, smarter songs, that sounded inspired, and they simply didn't do it.
I've spent hours listening to Figure Number Five alongside the band's four other releases, and it's agonizingly clear that redemption for this Swedish sextet will demand more than cleaning up the details. It will need to entail a complete overhaul, and a lot of time thinking about what makes a good disc. They have the ability, but seem to lack the desire or direction. Figure Number Five is a poor showing by a band that's capable of far more. Though I've not completely given up on Soilwork, one more disc like this is all it will take.
Note: The first 15,000 copies come with a limited slipcase and a bonus disc containing six demo tracks from Steelbath Suicide. Incidentally, these songs, even with their poor sound quality smoke the new material.