Originally written by Tim Pigeon
It seems like just yesterday that Soilwork released Natural Born Chaos. Never a band to kick back and enjoy the scenery, they’re back with their fifth album in six years, Figure Number Five.
In this case, I think another 6-12 months would have worked wonders. Whereas NBC hit the nail on the head with a natural blend of interesting musicianship, strong songwriting, and accessibility, Figure Number Five feels too rushed. FNF also sees the band stepping up the commerciality, drifting into dangerous territory, which just pushes it over the edge for me. You’ll quickly notice that nearly every song falls into the same old pattern of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo/interlude-chorus.
Musically, it’s hard to imagine that this is the same band that put out A Predator’s Portrait and The Chainheart Machine. Now I don’t expect them to return to the old sound, and I really enjoyed NBC, but what happened to the riffs? The songs are generally backed by chord-laden rhythm lines that are, in the end, pretty forgettable. Although, the instances of guitar/keyboard dueling and the occasional solo still bring a smile to my face. Those controversial clean vocals are even more prevalent now, with catchy choruses everywhere. On a side note, when vocalist Speed Strid starts barking, he sounds like Phil Anselmo: close your eyes and listen for it.
Electronica lines even pop up in spots, which contribute nothing to the songs. Unfortunately, Devin Townsend wasn’t around to turn the knobs this time, so the production is less polished than on NBC. The opener “Rejection Role” is decent enough, although I’m getting tired of the whole “kill the guitars and whisper the verses” idea. Naturally the listener gets a sugary clean chorus, but then a textbook Soilwork solo emerges, nudging the song up a few notches. The title track is much more bludgeoning, and is a sure-fire mosher. “Light the Torch” is guilty of being too formulaic, with angry, shouted vocals leading into a happy-go-lucky chorus. “Departure Plan” is as close to a ballad as you’ll get from Soilwork. The clean verses are awkward, and the chorus, unimpressive. Oh well, at least they tried. “Brickwalker” and “Distortion Sleep” are a much-needed step up, being infectiously catchy, yet at the same time really good. The other songs are left unmentioned because they are basically interchangeable.
I find that if I skip to a random point in the album, I usually have no clue what song I’m on until the chorus kicks in. Now this review may seem overly critical, but that’s only because I go way back with Soilwork, weathering every progression nicely until now. Don’t get me wrong, right now, I’m having a ball with the album, but I can already feel the hooks losing their grasp after only 4-5 listens. And that’s my biggest gripe, they rely too much on quick, catchy hooks to grab the listener, and less on solid songwriting that slowly burrows its way into your head. Usually you can pick out the “radio songs” on an album, but almost any song could make its way onto your local station. (OK, maybe if you live in Sweden). Ultimately, Figure Number Five is like musical junk food: it provides that quick hit that you crave, but in the long run, you need something more.