Wow. I can’t say this is what I expected from Soilwork. Forever titans of the melodic death/extreme/speed metal scene, the last twist I could have anticipated was for the band to release something, dare I say, “pop-y.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are the usual breakthrough moments of machine-gun metal bliss. “The Panic Broadcast” does well on that front: Dirk Verbeuren is given an awful lot of freedom to absolutely ravage his drum kit. Dirk’s best talent in his five years with the band has always been his ability to be forceful without being harsh. Nothing about that changes for the “Panic Broadcast,” as his drumming folds nicely into the band’s melodies and themes. Punishing when he needs to be, but artfully tactful when the situation calls for it, Verbeuren is the backbone for the rest of the experience.
Soilwork’s greatest strength has always been their ability to adapt and grow as a cohesive group of musicians. They’ve come a long way since the less than smooth birth pangs of “Steelbath Suicide,” and the musical epiphany of “A Predator’s Portrait,” which forever altered the band’s musical idiom. “The Panic Broadcast” is no different in that it extends Soilwork’s range in subtle ways. The return of estranged band member Peter Wichers and his subsequent taking over of the production duties has no doubt allowed the band to blend their former selves and new ideas into one tangible hole.
The music is richer than it has been in previous incarnations, as Wichers and Soilwork fill in all the gaps to the nines. Where before a rhythm line might follow the lead to create a greater wall of sound, the guitars are more separate for this album, particularly in regards to the freedom Wichers gave himself for soloing.
“The Panic Broadcast” showcases a strong love for blues and in a couple cases, bluegrass constructions. While the band admits that this is mostly a subconscious homage to bands that they idolize, it also provides the album a fortified skeleton from which the music can experiment. “The Thrill” is proof, as the base bluegrass-inspired riff can be difficult to detect, but the music that issues from that spine and then encircles the frame is bold and flashy.
“King of the Threshold” is another song with a strong blues influence that explodes its own construction and gives way to a thrash-infused, percussion-fueled speed experiment. It is in these moments where “The Panic Broadcast” flexes its musical muscle.
Where the pop-y-ness comes into play is a song like “Night Comes Clean,” where the music is strong but not as intense, and the chorus is so desperate for a hook that it reaches badly and just about ruins the song. “Let This River Flow” is a more somber, fragile creature that is a few clean vocals away from radio play.
“Epitome” has a great throwback head-banging riff with wonderfully selective double kick percussion and a shredding guitar bridge, but the melodramatic chorus is not a seamless match with the rest of the song’s momentum.
In general, the blues-based homage that the band strives for coupled with their penchant for towering, clean-vocal dramatic choruses makes the band teeter into a pop-ier motif. Said and done though, having a pop hook is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it doesn’t pander to some kind of radio gimmick or trend. I can say without qualification that Soilwork, one of the finest metal bands working today, does not fall into that trap.
Meanwhile, they’ve produced some of their finest efforts to date. “Two Lives Worth of Reckoning,” might be their best song since “The Crestfallen,” and that’s saying something. “Enter Dog of Pavlov” could be a strong choice to become a new fan-favorite mosh-pit ass-kicking anthem. “Deliverance is Mine” has a blistering solo and is deliciously destructive. As ever with Soilwork, just close your eyes and listen; the pedal is to the floor, the metal is focused and aggressive, yet the beats remain digestible and perfect for a foot-tapping/head-banging/slam-dancing party.
“The Panic Broadcast,” as with all Soilwork albums, is best enjoyed up close and personal, with the volume at 11. I encourage you to seek it out.