Sweden’s Soen are on strident form with their fifth album, with struggle and overcoming oppression serving as the main themes on Imperial. Musically, the group blends power metal theatrics with slick prog metal flourishes in the vein of Queensrÿche or Fates Warning. Vocalist Joel Ekelöf is the star of the show, his belting range recalls the iron lungs of Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet, and he has a knack for imbuing every line with maximum drama. There’s certainly plenty of the latter herein. ‘There is a fire burning inside of us all, tearing down every wall,’ he declares in Dissident.
There’s a strong balance between heavy sections where guitarist Cody Ford locks in with drummer Martin López – formerly of Opeth – for pummelling riffs, offset by the melodic passages. Imperial is Ford’s second album with Soen and he proves his worth throughout, playing an almost bluesy lead in Illusion. Modesty uses strings to add a fresh dimension to Soen’s sound but still features ferocious guitar tones when they dig in. The production is punchy, and the band really do love a headbang-friendly mid-tempo stomp. The result is sharp prog metal delivered with passion and vigour.