The first thing you’ll notice about heavy Swedish band Soen’s second album Tellurian is the striking album artwork: the cover depicts a regal rhinoceros wearing a crown, a monocle and human clothes, seated at a table, about to feast on an array of food platters made out of miniature humans in salads and on skewers.
“We are two vegetarians in the band and for me this role reversal theme is quite natural. I don’t see it as weird – any animal eating any other animal. It’s a bit of a wake-up call,” says Soen’s guitarist Kim Platbarzdis on the artwork that was created by popular Mexican artist José Luis López Galván.
“We wanted to find a new dimension, an artist who creates something with a purpose,” Platbarzdis continues. “Everyone can think what they want about the theory behind this image, but I think that it puts the ordinary concept of things on edge, and this is a great starting point for the new album.”
With the band completed by ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, Joel Ekelöf on vocals and newest member Stefan Stenberg on bass (he replaces Steve DiGiorgio, better known for his role in extreme metal bands), Soen are certainly outside the realms of the ordinary. Tellurian is heavier than their 2012 debut Cognitive, but what shines through once again is the smoothness of their constant technical proficiency, a quality which has often linked them to Tool – unsurprising when you learn that the album was mixed by Grammy Award-winning David Bottrill, who has worked with Tool and King Crimson. And with drummer Lopez, there are of course similarities to Opeth. But Platbarzdis hopes that fans can see beyond such comparisons, and appreciate Soen as a stand-alone band.
“Of course I can hear the influences like everyone else can,” admits Platbarzdis. “If you were told to listen to our music because you like Tool, then that’s definitely a positive. But if you set out to listen to our music for the Tool similarities, then you will miss out on the experience and that’s a shame.
“Being compared to another band can sometimes be overly harsh,” he adds. “Of course, some parts of a song can be similar, but if you look at the whole picture and listen to the whole thing then you wouldn’t say that.
“As far as Tool goes, personally, I like their music a lot and I know that we all do in the band. I’m not bothered about being compared to them – they are a very skilled band and it’s a good comparison. However, I do think that it could cloud people’s judgement of the rest of our material.”
He needn’t worry: Soen are undeniably their own beast. And though they err on the heavy side, their prog quota is strong. “The music is dynamic and hard because of the metal roots we all come from,” says Platbarzdis. “However, I wouldn’t call it metal. We make prog rock with metal influences, and hopefully some heart and soul as well.”
Indeed, when asked about the band’s musical influences, Platbarzdis emphasises the importance of a certain classic prog band…
“We have very different tastes and backgrounds in the band, but we have some common denominators and one of those is Pink Floyd,” he says.“We even cover some of their songs from time to time, so that would be something everyone in the band could agree on!”
It has been said that prog is the thinking man’s music, and this idea certainly relates to Soen. Through dense melodies and profound lyrical themes, the band delve far beneath the surface when it comes to intelligent thought and perceptions. New track Tabula Rasa contains lyrics like, ‘There’s no innocence since we think therefore we are,’ and ‘I will fight the system,’ referring directly to political imbalance, a theme they also explored on their debut album.
Platbarzdis reveals that the lyrics will be included in the package for Tellurian, due to popular demand following the release of Cognitive.
“We had many requests for lyrics after the first album,” he explains. “I don’t believe that there is an absolute truth because we are all facing our objective realities and with that comes the interpretation of the lyrics in our songs. If the lyrics mean something to you then that’s your brain telling you what it is. However, not everyone saw it that way, so we decided to provide the lyrics anyway!”
Soen have also received a lot of positive feedback about their powerful visual art. One particular example is the beautiful, greyscale sombreness of their music video for Savia, from the first album, in which the band members appear as dark silhouettes surrounded by ticking clockwork, foetuses and swirling patterns.
Their latest music video, for Tabula Rasa, depicts disgruntled people running towards the camera carrying Tabula Rasa banners and drawing graffiti on grey walls, portraying social discontent and unrest. It’s an appropriate depiction of the band’s emotional and thought-provoking aspects.
“I’m really happy with this video,” Platbarzdis says enthusiastically. “The visual aspect is very important for the band. It frames everything and gives you a basic setting for how you interpret the music.”
The final piece of the puzzle, the addition of new bassist Stefen Stenberg who originally joined the band on keyboards for touring purposes, has also influenced and aided the band’s musical development.
“With Stefan in the band we started looking at the material in a different way because we had an added new dimension,” explains Platbarzdis. “It’s not just guitar and bass sounds now – there are a lot of melodic instruments going on. It’s bigger and fuller. We have definitely evolved and with one album under our belt, we knew exactly what we wanted to do and what we didn’t want to do.
“Of course, there is always a new set of challenges,” he continues with honesty. “We really wanted to get this album out this year so we had a very strict deadline and we did everything we could to stick to it, so that was probably the biggest issue we had. We had a clear view of how we wanted to do things, and we started on a much more advanced journey this time.”
This journey looks set to continue towards a promising future, and it sounds as though the band were destined to make music together.
“I believe that when we are creating music, we are tapping into something greater than we might know. I think that there is something there that we are receiving and we are able to put it down through our instruments and voices. If there are things that come to us naturally, I especially try to capture them and make the actual building blocks for the final song. The message is already there – we are just brushing it off like archaeologists.”
_Tellurian is out now on Spinefarm. For details, see www.facebook.com/soenmusic. _