Originally written by Jordan Campbell
For many longtime fans, the prospect of a new Soilwork album no longer conjures emotions of anticipation, excitement, or even disdain. Many of us have been stifled into a state of indifference, drowned by the cavalcade of lethargic dreck that has trickled down from Natural Born Chaos‘ peak.
For the past seven years, Soilwork has been desperately trying to recapture the NBC sound that broke them. Their first failed attempt, the filler-packed Figure Number Five, could’ve been chalked up to burnout–if the songwriting duties hadn’t been mostly shoveled onto relatively-new keyboardist Sven Karlsson. This was a blatant signal of disinterest from Soilwork‘s six-string contingent. As the crucial force behind the band’s success on The Chainheart Machine and A Predator’s Portrait, their phoned-in performance was the album’s death knell, and their marginalization bled into the massively disappointing Stabbing the Drama. STD saw a complete abandonment of the Peter Wichers / Ola Frenning shredding dynamic, and the departure of Henry Ranta sapped the band of whatever thrash-minded metalness the band had left. The result was a glut of detuned non-riffs, artificial clean choruses that had somehow become a staple, and a complete stripping of their previous potency. The album was such a failure that 2007’s Sworn to a Great Divide barely whimpered before limping into the shadows of irrelevance.
So, why should anyone care about a past-their-prime Soilwork in 2010? A new album will likely be packed with commercial pandering and forced choruses (seriously, they haven’t felt like a natural extension of the songs since NBC, and even then, tracks like “Blackstar Deceiver” and “No More Angels” were pushing it). Does The Panic Broadcast really offer anything worthwhile?
Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you have no qualms with the last three empty shells that Soilwork has hawked as albums, you’ll be blown away by The Panic Broadcast. Put simply, it annihilates everything they’ve done since Natural Born Chaos. However, this is faint praise, as such a feat is far from impressive. The competition isn’t exactly fierce.
Inevitably, this fact skews perception. Press and fans alike are all too quick to declare an album a “return to form” (re: Deth Red Sabaoth) when it’s merely adequate. Mediocrity is steadily becoming the new awesome, especially in regards to bands that have released a series of bombs. After a string of creative failures, Soilwork has released an adequate metal album. Praiseworthy? Barely. But it’s certainly not without merit.
The good news: The Panic Broadcast‘s filler ratio is surprsingly low. Whereas there were a total of roughly five good songs over the course of the last three albums, The Panic Broadcast rocks a solid five on it’s own, making it a relative success by default. The duds, however, are duds. “Two Lives Worth of Reckoning” and “The Thrill,” despite some minor fireworks from a reinvigorated Peter Wichers, is softball STD fare. The same goes for “Night Comes Clean” and “The Akuma Afterglow.” Both are built with the lackluster detuned riffing and saccharine pseudo-antheming the band has become notorious for. And “Let This River Flow” is a castrated pop ballad that sounds like something Finch (who?) would’ve tossed on the cutting room floor.
The jams do jam, though. “Late for the Kill, Early for the Slaugther” is a peppy little firestarter that boasts an aggression the band has lacked since A Predator’s Portrait. (This is a recurring theme; the best moments on The Panic Broadcast come when Wichers gets self-referential with his licks, usually pointing in the direction of APP.) “Deliverance is Mine” and “King of the Threshold” are impressively aggressive–they’re firing live rounds here, not the blanks found on a “Blind Eye Halo”–with the latter track bordering on Terror 2000 territory. “Enter Dog of Pavlov” is a tour-de-force closer, and “Epitome” is a powerful post-grunge ballad, penance for the inanity of “Let This River Flow.”
This fifty-fifty split makes The Panic Broadcast‘s value difficult to quantify. Does it really matter if a band puts out a half-decent album, especially if their back catalog is still vital? Not really. But the sentiment is nice. Soilwork, beyond any doubt, are well past their peak, but it’s good to see them claw their way back to respectablilty. We want our luminaries to stay competitive, but seeing a longtime favorite get back on track isn’t going to erase the memories of free-swinging, risk-taking days of yore.
The Panic Broadcast doesn’t suck–for the most part. For the easily satisfied, that’s good enough. It does nothing, however, to change this reality: If you want the most Soilwork for your buck, you have to look backwards, not forwards.