Soilwork, maybe the best metal band that nobody listens to, was back stateside, and was ninety minutes from my house. I had to be there. So I bought my ticket weeks in advance, circled the date on the calendar, and waited. Skipping out of work about five minutes early last night, I hopped in my car and started to drive, anticipating the show to come.
My relationship with Soilwork began when I working in college radio and “Figure Number Five” was released in 2003. At first listen, I thought the album was good but not fantastic. Somehow, through subsequent hearings, the genius of it really began to show through, and I was hooked from that moment forward.
I had seen Soilwork once before, in October of 2006. At the time, it was me and about forty-two other people who were witness to a great show. I remember looking around and thinking “this is a great show, but with this few people here, Soilwork will never play the States again.” I hoped I was wrong. I made it my mission to get the word out to anyone who would listen, and slapped a Soilwork sticker on my car (right between Children of Bodom and SST records. My old car had a lot of stickers on it.)
So there I was. Two and half years and two more fantastic albums later. Driving to see Soilwork again.
The first band up on the evening was Swallow the Sun. Man, they were a mess. Some of it wasn’t their fault. I admit that my training in live concert audio is limited (I’m much better versed in live television production audio,) but my minimal expertise and old radio training told me something was a miss. The band sounded like one mottled pile of noise after another. I happened to glance over at the audio board, and discovered the cause. Swallow the Sun’s sound guy, in a deft move of semi-competence, had simply pinned all his faders and buried the needles on his VU meters. I barely even saw the needles twitch from the deepest red. That however, does not totally let the band off the hook. Note to metal musicians out there. I don’t care if your keyboard guy does bear an uncanny resemblance to James Hetfield circa 1991 (which he did.) It is impossible to look menacing while banging away on a Korg. Put that guy in the back by the drummer, and tell him not to try and make scary faces.
Next up was Warbringer. I had done just enough of my homework on this band to think I might be in for something. Boy, did I underestimate just how much of something I was in for. I have been campaigning on these very pages for an American metal band that can step up and deliver a knockout punch on the metal scene. Warbringer just might be that band. They perfectly capture the essence and “who gives a shit?” attitude of West Coast speed metal, and toss in just enough of that New Jersey metal lightheartedness. I firmly believe that growing up, each member of the band’s diet consisted of “Among the Living” for breakfast, “The Years of Decay” for lunch, and “Reign in Blood,” for dinner. Outstanding. The crowd was hesitant at first, but within ten minutes, had totally fallen in love. Warbringer has another album coming out in May, I believe. Let’s all study up until then, get the album, and we’ll reconvene in the Spring to discuss it. Trust me on this. Even with a song that’s less than perfect like “Combat Shock,” the band makes up for with effort what they lack in refinement.
Third band of the night was Darkane. Their sound was heavily drum-centric, so a lot of the riffs, if there were any, were lost in the din of the double-kick. However. Whether by accident or design, the sound coming from the kick drum was damn near identical to the sound of someone popping a Snapple cap. To use an idea from sportswriter Bill Simmons, this nearly broke the Unintentional Comedy Scale. I had to be careful not to double over in fits of laughter every time the band employed a “menacing” double-kick. You hear that kids?! Get yourself a couple bottles of iced tea and you too can drum for a death metal band! Other than that, Darkane was completely generic. Next!
Last band to the dance; Soilwork. Allow me to shatter the suspense. This was easily one of the fifteen best shows I’ve ever seen, quite possibly top ten. There are so many bands making the metal circuit these days that could stand to take a lesson from Soilwork. These guys just plain get it. Keep the music moving, no slow songs, minimal talking, enough energy to power a city block, perfect sound mixing, good charisma and great songs. There was even an old-school, pushing-and-shoving-no-karate slam dancing mosh pit that was fast and furious. And who did I see in the mosh pit, but members of Warbringer! Horns abound, headbangers everywhere. A positive nirvana for pure metal. Someone remind me why this band isn’t the biggest thing to happen to metal since the flying V? Even if you didn’t know all the songs (and I humbly admit that I did not. I’m not terribly familiar with “Steelbath Suicide” or “A Predator’s Portrait,) there was something to enjoy about every song. No frills, no extra lights or distractions, just a relentless, pounding, good ole’ metalfest. Lots of fan favorites to be had in the setlist: “The Chainheart Machine,” and “Bulletbeast” from the old school, for starters. Soilwork, prior to this tour beginning, had a vote on the website where the fans could decide what they wanted to hear, and the band admitted to being surprised that “Shadowchild” made the cut, but they played it. From the newer albums, “Rejection Role,” “Distortion Sleep,” and a thunderous “Light the Torch.” “Stabbing the Drama,” “Weapon of Vanity,” “Exile,” “Sworn to a Great Divide,” “20 More Miles,” and I’m sure there’s ones I’m forgetting, the list of tracks just goes on.
I would pay near full admission just to watch their drummer play. Dirk Verbeuren is an amazing talent who is consistently both precise and smiling. Also, I have never seen another drummer who wears a full-on set of headphones while playing, but if they help his craft, more power to him. When seeing him play live, you almost feel his beats more than hear him.
Not to leave out Speed Strid and the other band members. Peter Wichers (the returning member) and Sylvain Coudret (the newest member,) seem right at home next to Ola Fink and Sven Karlsson. Strid himself is the consummate front man; he can be gritty or melodic, but he guts it out with everything he’s got for every song. Somehow, for a Swedish metal band, Soilwork breaks a lot of the Swedish metal stereotypes.
Just when you thought you couldn’t take anymore, they came back out with a three song encore of “As We Speak,” “The Pittsburgh Syndrome,” and finally, “Nerve.” An amazing performance. Do yourself a favor and get on the small but hopefully growing bandwagon for Soilwork.
Man, my neck hurts.