Swedish progressive metal troupe Soen has been going strong as an emotive powerhouse ever since they introduced themselves with 2012’s Cognitive. With the current collective talents of founding drummer Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth), singer Joel Ekelöf (ex-Willowtree), keyboardist Lars Åhlund, bassist Stefan Stenberg, and guitarist Cody Ford, that comes as no shock. Likewise, the hypnotic poignancy and technical dynamism that permeates their fourth LP, Lotus, into surpassing their previous trio of records are similarly unsurprising. Filled with evocative melodies and masterfully chameleonic arrangements, it’s a stanch triumph of feeling and ferocity.
The band justly describes Lotus as “intoxicating, addictive aural therapies, questioning much of today’s darkness while juxtaposing them with moments of great escape and hope.” In fact, the title implies that “there is still strength, beauty, and purity to be extracted from what at times seems like an endless cycle of human regression,” while the artwork “offer[s] elements of the sixth sense and greater consciousness.” From start to finish, Soen excels at sparking sensations of introspective growth and existential resolutions beneath the collection’s tempting instrumentation and vocals. Thus, it entertains as it plays and endures long after it finishes.
As always, Ekelöf’s compassionate performance is the main draw, and he outdoes himself time and time again on Lotus. In particular, “Lascivious” finds him conveying smooth dejection during the verses and towering empowerment during the chorus; afterward, “Martyrs” allows him to contrast sporadic aggressiveness with crushingly serene asides in which his multilayered laments convey arresting sincerity around melancholic electric piano chords, tumultuously syncopation, and ethereal ambiance. It’s quite stunning, as are his equally luscious and transformative tales on “Lotus” and “Penance.” As for closer “Lunacy,” it’s likely the most commercially accessible track of them all in terms of Ekelöf blending beguiling melodies and full-bodied singing. Really, he steals the show on almost every piece on Lotus.
That’s not to say that the other four players are lacking in any way. Far from it, actually, as newcomer Ford instantly validates his place in the Soen family with the gripping zig-zag riffs of opener “Opponent,” centerpiece “Covenant,” and the penultimate “Rival.” Conversely, his acoustic strums are a big reason for why “River” is so angelically somber. Of course, Åhlund shines whenever his contributions are most pronounced (usually when his forlorn organ swirls and keyboard intervals blanket Ekelöf’s softest reflections). On the other hand, Stenberg and Lopez truly make a thrilling rhythmic team when Lotus is at its most hectic, with the former’s go-getting bass lines and the latter’s dizzying and inventive syncopation adding flavor and flair without ever seeming too showy. Such a balance is tougher than it may seem, and they accomplish it continually on the LP.
Lotus is another terrific sequence from Soen. Each of the four tenured players gives his all to make it as unfalteringly eloquent and forceful as possible (both simultaneously and in terms of temperamental movements). Fortunately, Ford doesn’t miss a step in making his own style gel with –yet also reinvigorate—Soen’s already winning recipe. Together, they ensure that Lotus will remain a highpoint in the group's catalog and probably rank highly on many “Best of 2019” lists come December.