03 November 2014
The old adage about difficult second albums usually applies to bands whose debuts were heaped with a barrage of saccharine praise. Soen, a supergroup made up of members of Willowtree and Opeth, are now are in a similarly difficult juncture but for opposite reasons. Their debut, Cognitive, was universally criticised for its borrowings from Tool, from its sleek, subversive delivery and socio-enviro-eco-political parables, right on through to its Lateralus-like artwork.
Soen haven’t gone out of their way to entirely distance themselves from the universal allusions and murky fables of Maynard James Keenan with their new outing, Tellurian. Instead of a kneejerk reaction to their critics, they’ve refined and honed their strengths, and have finally started to sound like a band worthy of the sum of their parts.
Using the “progressive” tag to describe Tellurian really does very little to explain Soen’s instinctive grasp of melodicism. They’ve made a decision to stay away from the nerdy, kitsch strains of recent Opeth, and have instead stuck close to the softer passages from the career-beating Watershed. Instead of befuddling Joel Ekelöf’s vocals with segues into Hammond organ jams, the band use heavy, tonal guitar lines and atmospherics to lose the listener in the album’s sweetness.
The album opens with ‘Tabula Rasa’ (intro track ‘Komenco’ aside), a decent, but perhaps muted display of the band’s pledge to address themes in a more direct manner. Even if its choral refrain of “I will fight the system” might see a few listeners swallowing back laughter as the band try their hand at notions of anarchy, this is eons away from the confused rabble who put together Cognitive. Much more successful is the mid-album peak of ‘The Words’, a tender near-ballad that is balanced between eye-closed affected harmony and screaming-to-the-heavens dramatics.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an album written by progressive veterans, this is a record best listened to as a whole. The second half of Tellurian has all sorts of really quite amazing sections, that only last for a couple of phrases. It’s worth spending the time with the record again to dig them up – this is a sophomore effort that truly outstrips its predecessor.
Sounds Like: That band you wanted from Cognitive, without the overt Toolisms
Standout Tracks: The Words, Pluton, Kuraman.