Soilwork has perhaps too often been lumped into the category of the talentless modern mainstream groove metal band, considering they once showed such an immense potential to take the teachings of the traditional Swedish melodeath ala Dark Tranquillity and At the Gates to a new height, after starting as a tasteful, semi-knockoff of Slaughter of the Soul. Sadly, these guys peaked around 2002 with their excellent album Natural Born Chaos, and have been trying unsuccessfully to recreate that formula, without completely halting their creative evolution. The band probably slipped a little too out of reach with their 2005 effort Stabbing the Drama. It wasn't entirely terrible if you don't mind the band's progressive pop metal trappings, but the following Sworn to a Great Divide was almost a return to form, falling short only in the memory department.
With their 8th full-length, The Panic Broadcast, Soilwork have seen the departure of both axe slingers from the previous effort, Ola Frenning and Daniel Antonsson. Returning to his spot is Peter Wichers, who performed on most of the band's best material, and a newcomer Sylvain Coudret, who has played in the French band Scarve for many years. A very natural fit, and with this they proceed to mete out 11 new tracks that show the exhibit the same combination of energetic thrash or melodeath, grooving hooks, multiple vocal styles ranging from angst barks to soulful cleans, and modern atmospheres created through the busy keyboard work of Sven Karlsson. I'd place this album right at the nexus of the last three, and while I feel the band's creativity has been stifled since 2002, this is at least a pretty well written record. Unlike, say, Figure Number Five, which felt like a hurried set out of outtakes from Natural Born Chaos (yet still managed to be half decent), you can tell a lot of effort went into this music, even if it feels partially disposable.
As expected, The Panic Broadcast opens with a faster track, "Late to the Kill, Early for the Slaughter", which seems like it should have been a Terror 2000 title (Speed's other band). The riffing is pretty might pure, taut thrash, a lot more straightforward than what they've written in years, but it takes only until the melodic vocals of the bridge to see the band has no plans on abandoning their emotionally uplifting aesthetics. Speed doesn't sound too Phil Anselmo on this album, though traces remain, he turns in a fairly Terror 2000 performance with the added melodic ingredient. The licks come fast and hard, and obviously Wichers and Coudret have no problem co-existing here, swapping leads over a groovy rhythm in the bridge. The writing might not have the same impact as the songs I've been enjoying for years on Natural Born Chaos, but it's good enough to feel some anticipation for the rest of the album.
"Two Lives Worth of Reckoning" does not abandon the velocity of the opening track, with another pummeling thrash riff interspersed in grooves and guitar fills, with the inevitable clean chorus alternated in Speed's harsh vocals. As has been the case for years, Soilwork goes for the huge melodic pop radio feel, and whether or not its catchy really depends on how much the listener cares for such accessible entertainment. Personally I don't find it all that bad, though the clean/growl interface is a rather tired way of conveying emotion that makes me feel like the band are a bunch of 13 year olds writing metalcore. "The Thrill" uses a pretty rough cut clean guitar to create a winding, tight rhythm not unlike some of the grooves on the latest In Flames record. It's busy until the bouncy verse, but the band keeps the note selection interesting, shifts in key creating a very prog-like architecture before the clean chorus.
This is the formula Soilwork keeps for much of the record. You get a few cool riffs in cruise mode, a sense of complexity that almost betrays the direct nature of the melodic chorus breaks, and a quintet of musicians who have no intention of boring you through their effort. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to some serious headbanging during "Deliverance is Mine", but unfortunately there are some songs here where the sailing of the chorus vocals just seems too pert and trendy, like some shitty metalcore act ala All That Remains or Killswitch Engage, and I was very lost on "Let This River Flow" and "The Akuma Afterglow". On the other hand, the slow but dense burn of "Enter Dog of Pavlov" makes for a pretty interesting prog metal instrumental, and the bonus "Sweet Demise" delivers a fair level of melodic release.
Nothing on this album is going to bring the average Soilwork hater into the fold, or the exiled fan of their early material running back to the band, but it's far from the worst I've heard lately. They probably sell to the same markets these years, but I'd take this band any day over the American horrors of Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold and All That Remains. Even at their most prim and poppy, the Swedes still feel like they're aiming for something more than the panties of the tattooed, pierced dyejob mallcore beauty in the front row of their gig, and though this is not an album I'd be rushing out to purchase, it gives a brief glint of hope that not all the potential has been siphoned away to oblivion.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (hunting for closure)