A double album is one of the riskiest propositions in music. They are not constructed or regarded in the same manner as typical albums; not as a collection of singles surrounded by a supporting cast of others songs, but as marathon stories that must traverse the grounds of mood, message and tone. Double albums must hit multiple notes and resonate at periodic intervals. The truth that must be accepted is that no double album is perfect.
Let’s say that Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” is the high-water mark for double records. Heck, let’s be generous and declare it the most recognizable and successful studio double album ever. Does it have memorable moments of both artistic and musical genius? Sure does. Does it have enduring singles that remains hallmarks of its genre? Yep, “Comfortably Numb” (which I personally dislike.) But is “The Wall” perfect? Hell, no. For all but the most devoted fans, at least half the cuts on “The Wall” are forgettable and those cuts come with the benefit of a motion picture to increase their recognition.
Add into this assembly of facts Soilwork, a band of phenomenal, undeniable talent who has been known to struggle filling an entire record with high quality moments. With another lineup shake up behind them (Peter Wichers is out of the band again, replaced by David Andersson,) Soilwork rolls the dice with the most ambitious project of their career, the double album “The Living Infinite.” The question isn’t whether or not Soilwork can put a few great songs on there, that’s a given. The concern is whether the band can compose enough great songs to not make “The Living Infinite” sound hollow, or worse, boring.
As it turns out, Soilwork rises to the occasion in impressive fashion. Like all recent Soilwork releases, there is a uniformity of sound and tone, but this album is better paced and more unilaterally consistent in terms of composition and direction (even if that direction is a little more melodically oriented than fans might be used to.) Yet, within that framework, Soilwork allows their songwriting wings to spread and breathe. In an unexpected but fortunate twist, Soilwork takes advantage of the expansive nature of double albums and the explorative opportunity they offer to try out permutations they haven’t before. Extended stretches of clean vocals? Try “Whispers and Lights.” Melodic interludes? Sure, just skip to “Loyal Shadow.” Songs that slow it down and allow the notes to stand out? Check out the slow motion drudgery of “Entering Aeons.” What strikes about this record is that every song, no matter its length, attempts to make a different statement, even if they all still bear the hallmarks of the band’s trademark violent guitar and overbearing percussion. Still, “The Living Infinite” is seeded with these extruded glimpses of the band’s range.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of “The Living Infinite” is that this record gets better and stronger as it goes along. While the first half has solid moments like the power of “Vesta” or the ferocity of opener “Spectrum of Eternity,” the back half’s three song set of “Drowning With Silence” into the pristine “Antidotes in Passing” dovetailing with the fury of “Leech” is some of the best compositional and transitional work on all of “The Living Infinite.” Where there are many standard length records that are guilty of dragging on too long, Soilwork’s new record gets better in the last furlongs, proving that the last song not only can, but should be as good an effort as the first.
The focus here is the title cut, divided into two. The second half is a wonderfully executed piece of metal arrangement and orchestration, the kind of song that Soilwork has long excelled at. Amidst a double album of notable moments, this is the transcendent one where the band most deftly blends their death metal roots with a sense of rhythmic timing, if perhaps not grace. It's indicative of the kind of melodic blending that is showcased over the course of the entire album's runtime.
This all makes it sound like “The Living Infinite” is perfect and it isn’t. As we discussed at the top, it’s nigh impossible for a double album to be perfect. It has all the usual pitfalls; filler songs, slow moments, experiments that don’t work out. By and large though, “the Living Infinite” is a resounding success, quite possibly the best Soilwork record since “Figure Number Five.” Amidst the chaos of a lineup change, the brilliance of the band’s talent shines regardless. Purists will continue to argue that this isn’t like “Chainheart Machine” and they’re right, it isn’t. But that era of Soilwork is over, deal with it. If you’re a Soilwork fan, or at least a fan of melodic death metal of any type, you owe yourself “The Living Infinite.”