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Soen at Islington Academy 2, London - live review

Swedes wow at their first ever UK headliner

A crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

A satisfying ‘sold out’ is stamped across the poster for tonight’s gig. This is only Soen’s second UK show and their first as headliners – they previously supported Amaranthe in 2012 – so selling out is still quite an achievement.

Opening for the Swedish five-piece are the quirky Madder Mortem. A few sound issues mean the Norwegians’ captivating songs don’t quite realise their full potential, but singer Agnete M Kirkevaag’s vocal gymnastics stretch out regardless. The audience go as wild for older tracks, like the melancholic Desiderata, as they do for new material from last year’s ferocious Red In Tooth And Claw, such as closer Underdogs.

The smell of frankincense fills the air and the drums shift into a more central position in preparation for Soen. Huge applause fills the venue once Martin Lopez steps behind the kit and starts creating the off-kilter beat that brings opener Canvas to life. From here on, the band have the audience’s full attention and yells of appreciation intersperse a set that’s split between 2014’s Tellurian and new album Lykaia, with a nod to their Tool-like 2012 debut Cognitive.

Joel Ekelöf sings from the heart and his melodic vocals on songs like Sectarian cast wolverine magic over the evening. The clean-shaven frontman takes a more static approach to his headbanging, Viking-like bandmates, creating the perfect on-stage balance. Without fancy lighting or video screens, Soen rely purely on their slick sound and solid performance, shining on this compact stage without any distractions.

But the biggest sign of what they’ve achieved comes during the Schism-esque Fraccions. As the song draws to
a close, Ekelöf hands his microphone over to the crowd who finish it perfectly. Such a show of dedication clearly takes the band by surprise. It’s Thor-like keyboard player Lars Åhlund who steps up to the mic and tells us, “You’re fucking fantastic!” before he and his bandmates exit with the biggest smiles.

“One more song!” chant the audience, and Soen oblige with an encore of their melodic single Tabula Rasa and the mellow Lucidity from Lykaia. There are yells of, “Come back again!” and based on tonight’s show, Prog hopes they will.

Natasha Scharf

Dark prog (and chocolate) fan Natasha has been a Prog regular since 2009. News Editor between 2014 and 2019, now Deputy Editor, she is the only member of the team to have appeared on Prog's cover.