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Soliloquium : An Empty Frame

Slick, polished and continuously evolving, Soliloquium's Melodeath/Doom debut full-length takes them up and forward.

2016: a good year for Sweden's Soliloquium? It's looking rather like it so far, with US-based dedicated Death/Doom label Transcending Records actively pushing their catalogue. We've already had the compilation 'Absence' gathering together the early demo and pair of EPs - only one of which ever saw a commercial release, as a CDr on Satanath's Symbol Of Domination sublabel - and now we're being presented with the debut full-length, 'An Empty Frame'.

Perhaps most notable - or at least, visible - up until now for their brutal cover of The Cranberries 'Zombie' (a vast improvement on the twee poppiness and whiny yelps of the original, in my opinion), what was originally an offshoot of Death Metal band Desolator has finally committed their early Anathema/Katatonia-inspired Death/Doom to an album-length outing. And, yes, it had a lot of both those bands in its DNA, alongside a generous helping of high-tempo Death Metal motifs - think October Tide, for a reasonable comparison of the alternation between full-on Melodeath and 'Brave Murder Day'-style Death/Doom.

If you're at all familiar with the earlier releases, there perhaps won't be too much of a surprise in the initial approach, as 'Eye Of The Storm' kicks off at a furious no-frills power-trio gallop, throws in some familiar-sounding plaintively mid-paced lead guitar lines, and finally drops into a melancholic closing instrumental section. Contrast, energetic delivery, and some pretty catchy melodies are the main stock in trade here, just as on previous outings. What you might well take away from that, right from off, is just that everything's just a little bit sharper and louder, the recording and mix clearer, the vocals both improved and better-balanced within the soundstage. 'Earthly Confine', up next with a clean-voiced The Fall Of Every Season-type lament, is a hint that there are a few more curve balls to come - though it's similar ground to that trodden by 'Perpetual Shade Of Panic' (from 'A Night Of Burdens'), this is a bolder and more complete composition, taken out to a full six-minute structure.

And by the time 'The Sorrow Path' hits its prog-sounding outro, with cadenced, almost-chanted voice, it's fair to say that that 'An Empty Frame' has already demonstrated that it's a significant step up for Soliloquium, in every musical dimension - and equally one out from under the shadows of influences and into a full individual identity. The only negative I'd observe would be that despite their overall improvement, some of the main growls still sound a little forced and hence oddly-timbred - the backing ones, and higher shrieks, are fine, and the clean voices are really rather excellent - the latter seeming to be vocalist/guitarist Stefan's more natural territory.

Returning to the subject of contrast, there's plenty to be found in the remainder of the album. Compositions slide effortlessly between the various elements already detailed, and a few others - 'Procession', for example, dipping into some old-fashioned headbanging Heavy Metal thunder and unashamedly rocking out to it. It could be said that the management of transitions like that is really the neatest aspect of the album: whilst not as howlingly chaotic, or as complex to follow, as this year's 'Exulansis' by Czech band Somnus Aeturnus, there is nonetheless a similar feeling of continuous change and evolution that is managed with a paradoxical mix of spontaneity and absolute control. Treading that particular tightrope isn't easy; doing it with a deftness that sounds completely organic is something that really commands respect.

So, based on earlier material, where you might have expected some sort of easy ride into anodyne Peaceville-worship, what you're actually getting is something worthy of buckling your seatbelt and taking a white-knuckle ride on a Death/Doom rollercoaster. I'll be honest, and say I really didn't anticipate it throwing quite such a flanker, but this really has turned out to be a top-notch example of how to make a melting-pot of different elements work coherently, and finish it off with the meticulous polish and slickness typical of many Swedish projects. Sure, it's not exactly new ground, and, sure, I can find the occasional miss-step that doesn't quite work to the same standard, but those fleeting imperfections are in no way a barrier to 'An Empty Frame' deserving a thorough recommendation - it's earned its higher-profile label backing, and I hope it'll get the recognition that deserves.

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Reviewer's rating: 8.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Eye Of The Storm
2. Earthly Confine
3. The Sorrow Path
4. With Or Without
5. The Observer
6. Procession
7. Fear Not

Duration : Approx. 48 minutes

Visit the Soliloquium bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-09-27 by Mike Liassides
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