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Sworn to a Great Divide (Bonus Version)

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Album Review

First off, this is not — as was heavily blog-rumored to be — the awaited, perhaps even expected, second chapter in the Natural Born Chaos legacy that was Soilwork's first deep etching in the death metal book of the damned. It sounds nothing like that record, despite the speculation all over the Internet that it would even be titled Natural Born Chaos II. Secondly, Devin Townsend did not produce this set (though apparently he was the desired first choice); he only produced the vocals because of other commitments. Thirdly, Peter Wichers left in 2005; he was the architect of the sound on the 2002 classic. Daniel Antonsson recently replaced him, and Ola Frenning wrote most — if not all — the guitar parts. Sworn to a Great Divide feels like the natural extension of Soilwork recordings like Stabbing the Drama. That big, nearly orchestral sound dilutes the heaviness that was so inherent to Natural Born Chaos. That said, there is absolutely nothing to complain about on Sworn to a Great Divide — the melodic hardcore/death metal hybrid is ever-present and as a singer, Björn Strid has never sounded better. When he sings, he really sings; when he growls, he gets downright ugly. Check out "The Pittsburgh Syndrome," one of the heaviest cuts on the set. It clocks in at 2:46, but it simply cranks its guitar riffs against those drums and Strid is high in the mix, sounding almost more like another instrument than a vocalist. But even here, the anthemic chorus, with its killer backing harmony vocals, takes Soilwork beyond most of their Swedish peers. These cats understand that writing riffs is de rigueur, but writing an infectious way of hooking that riff to melody is the thing that attracts rather than repels. The slowly building tension in "Light Discovering Darkness" is like a harder version of the kind of music Katatonia have been making in recent years, but more on the melodic pink metal tip than Pink Floyd. "20 More Miles" digs deeper into the thrashing frenzy of death metal to a certain degree, as does the opening title cut. The 14-song set concludes with "Martyr," a complex composition that alternates textures of guitars and keyboards, pristine echoing vocals, and instrumental sounds with the straight-ahead crash-boom of death metal. If anything, Sworn to a Great Divide warrants repeated listens to get everything out of it, so densely assembled are these songs — and their production, with all the space and layers, is an added element of morbid seduction. If the listener goes into this disc with no expectations and takes it on its own terms — instead of as the first cousin or, worse, twin of Natural Born Chaos — Sworn to a Great Divide will provide great satisfaction. It is well done, carefully executed, and aggressive enough to satisfy fans, while offering some new textures, spaces, and compositional elements to add depth and dimension to an ever-evolving sound. [There is a special edition of this album that includes a bonus DVD. As these things go, it's actually interesting. It features two items. The first one is a mini-documentary called Not Quite Studio; The Devlab (featuring Devin Townsend), and offers a look at the producer's methods, in this case particularly recording and mixing the album's vocals. Also included is a video clip of "Exile." The third installment is far richer; entitled Official Bootleg, it contains a live gig from Pratteln, Switzerland, on the band's most recent tour.]


Formed: 1997 in Helsingborg, Sweden

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Swedish metal sextet Soilwork formed in early 1997, fusing the country's signature ultra-heavy death metal sound with the power-groove riffs of late-'70s, early-'80s British and European metal. Vocalist Bjorn "Speed" Strid, guitarists Peter Wichers and Ola Frenning, and drummer Henry Ranta were all veterans of the Swedish scene by the time they recorded their first demo, In Dreams We Fall Into the Eternal, in 1997; bassist Ola Flink became a permanent member afterward, as did keyboardist Carlos Del...
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Sworn to a Great Divide (Bonus Version), Soilwork
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