Reading about Soen, a word that gets thrown around a lot is ‘supergroup.’ It’s understandable — the band’s roster includes former members of Opeth and Willowtree, while their past players have acts like Death and Testament under their belts — but it’s also kind of unfair at this point. Since 2012, Soen have worked hard to create some of the most memorable and listenable progressive metal out there, and have built up a considerable fanbase in the process. At this point, ‘supergroup’ does an injustice to what a hardworking and innovative band Soen have become.
“It’s a bit embarrassing, to be honest,” chuckles drummer Martin Lopez. “Of course, we didn’t label ourselves a supergroup. That’s something we found out when our first album came out and our label decided to promote it that way. But I think that we have a strong identity as a band, or enough of one that people can recognize what they’re listening to when they listen to us. I’m nto worried about people not thinking we’re a band, because we’ve had so many band members by now, and Joe and Lars and I have been there from the beginning. The music doesn’t change that much.”
The music is what shines through on Imperial, Soen’s upcoming fifth full-length record. The album still includes much of the acrobatic playing that made their previous records so interesting to prog audiences. At the same time, the band have stripped away any unnecessary technicality, streamlining the tracks so that their emotional message is at the core of their songs. For Martin, this is central to Soen’s current path: not losing their emotional core in the name of sounding complex.
“When I’m writing and I’m getting into something complex, I just track and focus on having this amazing part,” he explains, “but then, if I, say, take a walk and listen to it, I find that it removes me from the emotion of the song. Then you feel, ‘Okay, it’s a really complex part, it’s really cool, but it’s not helping the song.'”
How far along was Imperial before COVID struck?
I had like 95% of the album ready, except details and some lyrics I needed to work on. I had everything prepared because we had such a tight schedule with touring and summer festivals. We were pretty much ready to go, but of course, the pandemic gave us a lot of extra time to go through everything and improve everything a little bit. For the musical part, it was a little bit of a help to have all that time.
Is there a specific part of the album, a song or performance, that makes you glad you had the extra time?
Well, I think we had 30-something songs for the album. So all this time allowed us to keep working on them, and then be able to decide which ones were the ones that would make the perfect album. There were a lot of changes — I think we had three other songs that I thought from the beginning were going to be part of the album, that I felt really strongly about. But then when we began to improve everything, some other songs grew up, and felt stronger. The pandemic gave us that opportunity to really work on songs that weren’t supposed to be on the album in the beginning, but made it in there with changes.
Imperial sounds inherently more listenable than Soen’s previous records — was that a concerted effort, or did it occur naturally?
That’s something that we’ve been focusing more on — more on the song and less on the technical paraphernalia. I think it’s a thing that comes with age, where you don’t have that need to show that you are good at your instrument. That allows you to keep the rhythm just to keep the rhythm, and you don’t have to do fast solos and melodies just to say that you can do it. That is something that, actually, from the beginning, we’ve been working on. But with Imperial we achieved the goal a little bit better. It’s also part of trying to get the message through, to be clear. Some of the complicated stuff, it’s just not taking up as much room in the song.
You returned to Iñaki Marconi to produce the album. What does he bring to the table?
Iñaki has been working with us for a while — he’s kind of the sixth member of the band. He does our sound live sometimes, and he’s always around us, and he’s a great producer who isn’t afraid of pushing the band, of milking out of us the best performance we can achieve. We decided we had to work with him, and we’ll do it on the next album, I think.
You have a European tour scheduled for 2021 — is that still in the works?
Yeah, but we’re trying o decide what to do with that. It’s not looking doable at the moment. We had our hopes up, but I don’t think it will happen. But we have to keep booking shows, because otherwise, what’re we gonna do? It takes such a long time to put a tour together and hope for the best.
Between the album title and the song titles, it seems like Imperial is a political album, rallying against tyranny. Is that accurate?
Yes and no — we try not to use the word ‘political’ because that’s pretty much what we are against. The whole idea behind our music and the message is trying to unite people, and unite humanity. People like you and me. Trying to remove all of this bullshit that’s separating us. Are you right or left? Democrat or Republican? White, black, Arab or Jew –these are all the things that have been put there to make us confront each other instead of sitting down and trying to understand each other. In our own band, we don’t even have the same political views, but we have the same goals. That’s what we’re trying to get out there. I think everyone wants their neighbor or the people in another country to be happy, to thrive and have food to feed their kids. I think everyone feels that about each other, and we are blinded by all these ideologies that we buy into. The idea that making money is success, that we’d rather world 16 hours a day to buy a better car or fancy clothes, stuff we don’t need, instead of spending the time doing something we love or spending time with those we love. Time is the most valuable thing we have, a lot more valuable than money, and we’re throwing it away chasing money. These are things that most of us know, but that don’t make the news. They don’t get any clicks. People’d rather look at Ronaldo’s new haircut, because it’s in the media. Enough of that. We’ve got to change. We’re not going toward a happy fate.
Soen’s Imperial comes out Friday, January 29th, via Silver Lining Music, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin