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... With a Spoon. - 42%

Dullahan, November 1st, 2017
Written based on this version: 2005, CD, Nuclear Blast

The early and mid 2000's were not very kind to the stalwarts of the previously fledgling melodic death metal, with them either beginning to fall into a void of self-important redundancy (Dark Tranquillity) or, in an ill-planned bid for relevance, butchering their classic sound and parading its empty husk around as if in a freak show (In Flames). With new, fresh-sounding bands like Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum and Nightrage doing their damndest to carry the torch, things were looking grim for the old school folks and for mid-tier acts like Helsingborg's Soilwork, who were already coming from a recent string of underwhelming records.

Their 2004 outing, "Stabbing the Drama", strongly reminds me of a deadpan serious version of a funny internet video in which a guy is relentlessly pursued by an invincible, inescapable murderer whose sole method of dealing damage is hitting victims with a small kitchen spoon until they die. Akin to that, it's almost an unintended parody of modern melodeath, if you will. Or maybe a Siberian Husky puppy, who's crazy to come off as mean and big, but has no teeth, so it kind of looks cute instead. Compared to "Natural Born Chaos", it's certainly darker, yet shallower and even less guitar driven.

Every song fits the same development style; like a drowning man who glimpses a large plank, they all race furiously and desperately towards their salvation (the choruses) without much preoccupation with the surroundings. Bjorn Strid sputters whatever he can in the allotted time he's given, as if filling a quota for lifeless yelling, then takes a sip of chamomile for the inevitable clean hook around the corner. Save for the growled refrain to "Blind Eye Halo", nothing out of the ordinary happens; if you've made it past track number 2, you've heard all the album has to offer.

What holds the whole thing from collapsing around itself is that said choruses are mostly nice. Pop-oriented and harmless at best, they're streamlined and built around Strid's clean singing, which by that time had already become decent enough as to not send most listeners into fits of cringe. He was still far from the accomplished crooner he'd become in a decade, but also safely distant from the dismal likes of Anders Fridén. However, he and Dirk Verbeuren's tight drumming are not enough to save the album from the pit of morasses that is the guitar department, with Wichers and Frenning producing endless waves of groove riffs that sound like transition pieces to more muscular main phrases that never arrive, while leads are sparse and treated like afterthoughts; a long way from enjoying the spotlights that "The Chainheart Machine" provided.

All in all, "Stabbing the Drama" is an improvement over "Figure Number Five" solely because the hooks stick better, but still lacks punch - which it frequently mistakes for cheap grit - and good guitar solos. As it stands, it's not much more than a forgettable affair sandwiched between two really dumb albums in Soilwork's bumpy journey towards redemption. Skip it.