"Does the music sound like Tool? Does it sound like Opeth? All these speculations are cool." How Soen introduced themsleves with Cognitive

(Image credit: Press)

Former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez returned to action with his new band Soen. In 2012 Prog spoke to singer Joel Ekelöf explains about the band;s eagerly awaiyed debut album Cognitive.

Martin Lopez left Opeth in 2006 due to illness. At the time of his departure, news stories alluded to an “unnamed project” which Lopez wished to concentrate fully on. Fast forward six years, we finally see the fruits of his personal project: Soen.  

“He wanted to do something a little bit different from Opeth,” says Soen singer Joel Ekelöf when speaking about the roots of the band. “He wanted to try some other rhythmic stuff so started this project, but it took a few years before it took off.”

The first ideas about Soen started to form while Opeth were recording Ghost Reveries. Unlike Opeth’s recent offerings, Ghost Reveries was still part of the melodic death metal camp. Lopez had steadily built up a base of fans that had picked up on his unique and well structured drumming compositions (particularly on Damnation) but felt that Opeth wasn’t quite the right environment for rhythm orientated music. Soen began to take shape as Lopez worked with guitarist Kim Platbarzdis to write songs and recruit the remaining members of the new band. 

In 2010 Lopez found the singer and bassist he needed and they couldn’t have come from more diverse musical backgrounds. Joel Ekelöf had been the vocalist in Willowtree, a pop rock/garage band similar to The Strokes and Steve DiGiorgio was famed for playing with a number of high profile death/thrash metal bands including Death and Testament. Joel Ekelöf casts his mind back to how it all started: “I remember that while we were creating the songs for what would be the album, it was quite clear that we needed to have someone special on bass and Martin told me he had met Steve DiGiorgio before, and that he was a really cool guy and that he admired him a lot as a bassist. So he just picked up the phone and called him. When Steve joined the band we started to feel this band could be really cool because from the beginning we knew the music should be rhythm-based, with intricate rhythms.”

In most cases the protagonist of any band is either the singer or the guitarist so the fact that the limelight falls on the drummer and bassist of Soen already makes them an interesting case. Add to this a history that encompasses Opeth and Swedish ‘Viking’ metallers Amon Amarth (Lopez) and thrash titans Testament (DiGiorgio), and the story gets a whole lot more intriguing. 


(Image credit: Spinefarm)

But while we could wax lyrical about the merits of this band’s CV, nothing speaks for them more than the music and 2012 sees the release of Soen’s debut album Cognitive. Drawing on the rhythmic intricacies of Tool and the melodic doominess of Katatonia, Cognitive is much more understated compared to the monstrous riffery of the members’ previous bands. 

“I think it’s been really easy for us to find this way of expressing ourselves,” says Ekelöf when asked if he expected the music to be brazenly metal. “Perhaps the reason why it has been so easy is because all the musicians in the band have a lot of influences. Steve’s not just into death metal, he listens to jazz, progressive rock, same for Martin, he listens to a lot of Latin music, a lot of Arabic music and jazz, so since I know these guys now I’m not surprised at all about the direction they took.”

Even on the topic of the Tool comparisons (which have been bountiful) Ekelöf is suitably un-phased, taking the pragmatic approach: “If they said that we were a bad copy of Tool that would be sad but they say it’s good music and it sounds a bit like Tool.”

Ekelöf has a point: after all, it’s not easy to match the complicated mathematical rhythms that run through Maynard James Keenan and co’s music, but wouldn’t they prefer to be originators rather than imitators?

“I’m totally okay with it; people should have an opinion about things,” says the cookie that won’t crumble.

Undeniably the music and the vocals bear more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned progenitors, but it’s to Ekelöf’s credit that he captures the vocal control and dramatic nuances of Maynard James Keenan. Once the singer of the aforesaid Stockholm based band Willowtree, Ekelöf’s style was much more in the vein of British indie pop or US garage rock. So how does a guy in a band that sounds like Franz Ferdinand cross paths with an ex-Opeth drummer?

“I have to thank Kim for it. He was a big fan of the early Willowtree stuff as far back as the 90s when we were teenagers playing with other bands just for fun. He had a death metal band and I was playing rock and he loved our band. And then it was him that called me up in 2009/2010 anda told me my voice would fit perfectly with their music.”

There’s a clear and fluid quality to the singer’s voice that he likens to Jeff Buckley and San Francisco alt-rockers Red House Painters, but there’s also a more personal influence to this style.

“When I was a kid, my grandmother used to take me to the Catholic church. There was a monk there that used to sing in Latin using a particular technique that I found really interesting, and strangely enough that technique fits with this music.”

Soen, while understanding of the urge to categorise music, are not too keen to describe their own style, leaving that job up to their fans and critics.

“When you’re a musician it’s hard to put a genre name on the music, but I’m totally okay that others do it. I mean, do we play progressive rock? Do we play metal? Does the music sound like Tool? Does it sound like Opeth? All these speculations are cool, but I don’t get bothered so much about it and I think I can speak for the band – we just make the music we like.”

The answer to all of the above questions is “yes”, but their album will let you make up your own mind. Echoing the question posed by many fans, I ask Ekelöf why they made the decision to exclude demo song Elusive Sense from the album (a quick search on YouTube will help you find this very fine and epic demo) and I’m informed that it exists as a re-working under a new title, minus the guitar effects and meaty riffage.

“We had to make some demo songs to negotiate a record deal and Elusive Sense was simply not ready, but we had to put it out. It wasn’t the direction we wanted to take.”

As far as the future goes, Soen can almost guarantee a tour (providing the “terms” are right) and a second album, which will no doubt please fans who have been waiting for Lopez’s comeback.

“We’ve found our direction and we have a consensus in the band about what we want to do and what we want to explore. For us this is just the beginning.”

Holly Wright

With over 10 years’ experience writing for Metal Hammer and Prog, Holly has reviewed and interviewed a wealth of progressively-inclined noise mongers from around the world. A fearless voyager to the far sides of metal Holly loves nothing more than to check out London’s gig scene, from power to folk and a lot in between. When she’s not rocking out Holly enjoys being a mum to her daughter Violet and working as a high-flying marketer in the Big Smoke.