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Five Finger Soil Punch: Stabbing the Creativity - 18%

Lord_Of_Diamonds, June 12th, 2019

The days of the early 80s to the early 90s were over. The metal machine was no longer operating at peak efficiency, and several bands were already beginning to feel the stress of having little to no mainstream audience to back them. Butt-rock and pseudo-metal dominated the part of the music world that played real instruments instead of electronics, as metal faded into the background. Of course, there were the metal groups that continually changed their style in an attempt to stay on top and appeal to those who were more used to "softer" music. It was inevitable that Soilwork would have to follow this path. Having already released their D-beat-tinged album "Natural Born Chaos", on which they stepped into metalcore territory, the Swedes decided to take it a step farther after Figure Number Five. Borrowing extensively from all the wrong areas, they turned loose "Stabbing the Drama", their most accessible - and thoroughly terrible - album. The album title may sound interesting, but the album artwork (a cartoon hand holding a knife) is just as sparse, bland, unoffensive, and unobtrusive as the music is.

It comes as a small wonder that the title track is Soilwork's most well-known song. It is the embodiment of the style with which Soilwork shifted even farther away from the melodic death metal style of Predator's Portrait and the metalcore style of Natural Born Chaos, dumbing their music down to appeal to the masses in the wake of their record deal with Nuclear Blast. Soilwork knew full well what type of "metal" music was popular at the time, and they deliberately took influences from those genres in order to strike a chord in the mainstream audience that they had suddenly found. As the intro for the title track hits, an insipid chug-chug "riff" begins, and gone are the days of Wichers and Frenning's simple but powerful patterns and memorable solos. It's a pure prototype for Five Finger Death Punch and their imitators, and it comes as a genuine surprise that Wichers and Frenning are still handling guitar duties.The theme of unimaginative riffs continues throughout the album, with not a single guitar part to be found that evokes the glory days of Soilwork. At times, the guitars make the music border on nu-metal simply because they're so dumbed down, and the power chords during the choruses often reduce the track to alt-rock. It's odd that Soilwork seemed to be under the impression that they had to write overly simple guitar parts in order to be popular and make money. Everything that they wrote before, while definitely still heavy and imaginative, was relatively accessible nonetheless (we're talking about melodic death metal, remember). Here, they took the dictionary definitions of nu-metal and groove metal and made an entire album based around them. The two obligatory thrashers, "Stalemate" and "Blind Eye Halo", are basically the same formula - just sped up to around 230 BPM.

While the guitars (and inaudible bass) explore pseudo-metal territory, the drums try their best to counter the lack of imagination. This record marked the arrival of Dirk Verburen, whose drum parts here didn't always match up entirely with the music. Dirk's predecessor, Henry Ranta, wrote patterns that fit the music perfectly. Ranta relied on basic fall-back metal grooves most of the time, which matched with the subtly simple musical style that Soilwork played in the old days. Dirk's drum parts are no such thing. Everything he plays on this album has the feel of being inventive and imaginative simply because it's all meticulously planned out, only to be played again at a later time exactly as it was recorded. It sounds inventive, but it doesn't feel inventive. At least not in the improvisational sense. It feels forced. The completely plastic snare drum sound (reminiscent of the snare on In Flames' "Soundtrack to Your Escape") doesn't help things in the slightest, either. Now and then, Dirk will pull out a hip-hop influenced swagger groove to go with the nu-metal guitar "riffs", with a kick to match the pattern of the guitars exactly. You can almost hear him wishing out loud, "I want to play something that's not this boring!" Dirk is a great drummer, no doubt, but it's almost like his talent was wasted on the drum parts for this album. He definitely can write better than what can be heard here, but then again, so can the rest of Soilwork. It's all for the purpose of following the path of accessibility that comes with all Nuclear Blast bands.

Over the course of six albums, it's almost like we finally got to hear Speed Strid's balls drop. When you listen to the high-register screech present on the early efforts, and then listen to the Phil Anselmo-like grunts exhibited on this album, it's like night and day. No longer does he sound angry, bad-ass, pained, whatever adjective you want to apply. He sounds instead like he's mildly frustrated. He doesn't even make an attempt at a true unclean vocal technique. Instead, he shouts using a lower register of voice, just like Five Finger Death Punch's Ivan Moody would do in a couple years. It is a legible vocal style, yes - one that is much more legible than the screeches of "Chainheart Machine" and its similar efforts, and one that is not at all uncommon on accessible nu-metal and groove metal recordings. Also accessible is Strid's clean voice (made to sound better courtesy of the then-young Auto-Tune), which delivers melodies that don't feel genuine. They have been purposefully written as they are and fit to certain chord progressions for the express purpose of being catchy. It's quite a downfall from the sparse, darker melodies that Strid employed on Predator's Portrait. Those melodies didn't try to be catchy, although quite a few of them were. They felt real. Here, all the vocal melodies have no honesty in them. They feel tailored to sound more "poppy" and be more accessible, just like so many other elements of this album. Also, every chorus is dominated by a vocal melody, which fits with the bland and formulaic (but accessible) songwriting - whereas on Predator's Portrait, the melodies were put into less predictable places, or at least covered up by decent songwriting. There is a proper way to incorporate clean vocals into this type of metal music, but the way used on this album isn't it. Every single bit of this album is overly accessible, infected by the mainstream, commercialized, and sculpted for release to the masses, to become something that you could compare to a band like Slipknot and argue that Slipknot is better.

This major bump in the road for Soilwork signalled the end of the melodic death metal scene (and indeed, for metal in general) as most knew it, for good. In Flames would continue to play their newer style of metalcore/melodic death metal (the only period of In Flames that I actually enjoy) for a few more years until Jesper Stromblad left the band, only to turn into the alt-rock band that they are today. A new era would be ushered in, when the emo/post-hardcore scene ended in America and Five Finger Death Punch began to bring the wrong impression of metal to a whole new generation. The world's music scene would remain in limbo for a few more years until EDM took the mainstream and Rings of Saturn and Faceless took the metal mainstream. It is truly sad to see Soilwork spiral downward like this, as it always is to see a great voice lose its volume. They may have returned to form briefly in more recent years, but they will never recover from the impact and influence of the stain in their discography that is "Stabbing the Drama".

That is it. The history lesson is over. You may now return to stabbing the drama. In other words, stabbing any copies of this album that you see with your weapon of choice until they are destroyed.