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Soliloquium > Contemplations > Reviews
Soliloquium - Contemplations

Climbing the ladder, but not yet at the top - 82%

PorcupineOfDoom, June 16th, 2018

It was roughly two and a half years ago that I first discovered Soliloquium, prior to the release of their first full-length An Empty Frame. I must admit that I had largely forgotten the band by the time that record rolled around, and as such their 2018 release Contemplations is my first encounter with the band since their final EP A Night of Burdens. It's clear that they've progressed a long way since then and as a whole this album is a strong package, but they haven't yet reached the same lofty heights as contemporaries like Red Moon Architect and Kaunis Kuolematon.

I suppose the Kaunis Kuolematon comparison is apt given that their vocalist Mikko Heikkilä performs as a guest vocalist on Contemplations. The vocals are split quite evenly between clean and harsh vocals, both styles being done by Stefan Nordström while Mikko contributes some cleans on two tracks. Mikko has an instantly recognisable voice, and as a fan of his main project I'm obviously familiar with his work. It's interesting to hear him sing in English rather than Finnish, but his voice still retains the emotive punch that makes it so spellbinding. I'm less familiar with Stefan, but he leaves a fairly good impression as well. His growls are worse than his cleans, as despite his deep guttural roar not lacking any power it does fall short in the area of emotional depth and I find myself forgetting what his voice sounds like as soon as he stops growling. His enunciation could also use some work as the lyrics are indecipherable half the time. I wouldn't say this aspect of his performance was necessarily bad, merely a touch bland and slightly forgettable. As I aluded to his cleans are more on par with the rest of the band, and although they don't quite match the immense calibre that Mikko sets right from the first track Stefan does a good job in this area overall. In fact, this is a large reason why the understated parts of Contemplations are some of the most enjoyable. Coupled with the soft segments of clean guitar and less prominent drumming his voice really gets a chance to shine.

The general sound of the band is very melodic and weepy. There's a lot of use of clean guitar which forges quite a haunting contrast to the thundering, bludgeoning rhythm guitars that drop in and out of use. 'Streetlights' might be the best example of this oppositeness in action. The lead isn't necessarily omnipresent, but it does tend to be among the most prominent features of the band. I always think death/doom works better when playing up the more melodic aspects, so naturally this fits my tastes very nicely. The end of 'For the Accursed' is absolutely the highlight of Contemplations for this exact reason. When things get going like they do on that track or 'In Affect' or 'Wanderlust' it feels like Soliloquium finally show exactly what they're capable of, but the problem is that they aren't on that same level the whole time. A lot of the heavier sections seem to be there just to pad it out a bit before we get to the climax.

And it's precisely because of that - although it might sound bizarre - that some of the best parts of this album are the softer bits. They seem to channel emotion that much better than many of the heavier sections (despite my praise for the leads) which sometimes feel a little flat-footed. Is that what I truly want from a death/doom album? I'm not entirely sure; on one hand it's different from many other death/doom outfits that often fail to deliver with their more subtle segments, but it does seem counterintuitive to listen to a band for the parts when they're not playing the genre they're known for.

If you're a fan of death/doom then Soliloquium's latest effort is no doubt worth a few spins, and it is a reliable listen with some great tracks. As I said at the start the band isn't quite in the top tier of the genre yet, but they're certainly making their way up the ladder and maybe one day we'll see them sitting on the throne at the top.

An admission of the outcast. - 75%

GrizzlyButts, June 15th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Transcending Records

Conceived as an outlet for melodic death/doom aspirations a few years after they’d began collaborating in their respective death metal projects, Stefan Nordström (Ending Quest) and Jonas Bergkvist (Desolator) formed Soliloquium. With some greater admiration for the sullen output from ‘Brave Murder Day’ era Katatonia, the resulting offshoot October Tide, and likewise inspired groups such as Rapture the duo stumbled through a handful of formative releases for the first couple years. ‘The Concept of Escape’ EP from 2013 showed some great promise in terms of less tightly-wound melodic lead guitars reminiscent of ‘Grey Dawn’-era October Tide. Fairly low expectations leading up to their debut full-length, ‘An Empty Frame’, in 2016 were unfounded. It was a surprisingly heavy and professional death/doom record on par with the groups like Swallow the Sun and Rapture‘s swan song ‘Silent Stage’.

For their second full-length no drastic changes are made but several subtleties help to differentiate and improve upon their debut. The overall style focuses less on immediate death metal heaviness and in turn reels the guitar tone in closer to ‘Tunnel of No Light’. I personally revisit this style of death doom metal for the lead guitars and the generally melodramatic dysthymia expressed; ‘Contemplations’ successfully taps into those engaging aspects of melodic death/doom well beyond the project’s earlier releases. With Mike Watts (Sleepwalker) producing a second time, and likewise providing session drums, it seems Soliloquium isn’t entirely set upon being a ‘retro’-emulation of melodic death/doom metal. Some small measure of progressive metal elements begin to replace the typically gothic affect of the style’s forbears on ‘Contemplations’ to great effect.

Compared to ‘An Empty Frame’ the subdued, introspective sound of ‘Contemplations’ may not be as initially exciting, with plenty of jangling clean guitar passages and greater focus on sung vocals. The death metal vocals are no less harrowing, though, and I’d suggest the heavier parts are at least on par with more recent records from On Thorns I Lay and Apathy Noir. Guest vocals from Mikko Heikkilä (Kaunis Kuolematon) on “Chains” and perhaps more noticeably “In Affect” offer a nice highlight that make up for the slightly ‘off’ diction on the sleepiness of “22”. With further listening I appreciated the more pensive, meditative pacing of ‘Contemplations’ as it felt thematically relevant and a nice step away from what was expected beyond the band’s debut.

Without having spent several decades obsessed with early Katatonia, Paradise Lost, and October Tide while constantly panning for the few bands that approached that same style I might not be as enthusiastic about an album like ‘Contemplations’. As a general fan of the style I appreciate that Soliloquium are expanding their sound further beyond their influences and also avoiding the noisome studio generated atmospherics of bands like Oceans of Grief. There is a stripped-down, naked honesty felt on ‘Contemplations’ that better recalls what made this style of melodic death/doom interesting to begin with. I’m generally willing to trade a mild lack of circular/melodic guitar leads for some greater authenticity, and the overall guitar performance makes up for any lack.

Over the span of about two and a half weeks I found the duo of “Streetlights” and “Unfulfilling Prophecy” to be a major point of resonance. I’d suggest previewing those tracks as a pair initially, if you’re interested further “In Affect” and “Chains” are two of the more elaborate and moving songs on ‘Contemplations’. My taste tends towards the death metal spectrum in terms of vocal performance but I was able to warm up to the clean vocals because they never came across operatic, ‘goth’ or cheesy. In terms of the first half of the year I’d say this and ‘Aegean Sorrow’ are neck and neck for best melodic death/doom of the year.