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)

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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
Deputy Editor, Prog

Contributing to Prog since the very first issue, writer and broadcaster Natasha Scharf was the magazine’s News Editor before she took up her current role of Deputy Editor, and has interviewed some of the best-known acts in the progressive music world from ELP, Yes and Marillion to Nightwish, Dream Theater and TesseracT. Starting young, she set up her first music fanzine in the late 80s and became a regular contributor to local newspapers and magazines over the next decade. The 00s would see her running the dark music magazine, Meltdown, as well as contributing to Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Terrorizer and Artrocker. Author of music subculture books The Art Of Gothic and Worldwide Gothic, she’s since written album sleeve notes for Cherry Red, and also co-wrote Tarja Turunen’s memoirs, Singing In My Blood. Beyond the written word, Natasha has spent several decades as a club DJ, spinning tunes at aftershow parties for Metallica, Motörhead and Nine Inch Nails. She’s currently the only member of the Prog team to have appeared on the magazine’s cover.