Soen seems like an unstoppable force in the prog metal realm these days. Since their inception in 2010, they have consistently outdone themselves in every album.
This time it’s no different: January 29th brought to light the band’s new effort, “Imperial”, a step above its predecessor, 2018’s “Lotus”. Martin Lopez (drums), Joel Ekelöf (vocals), Lars Åhlund (keyboards), Cody Ford (guitars) and Oleksii ‘Zlatoyar’ Kobel (bass) created a serious contender for album of the year, addressing current issues with aggression but with a keen sense of melody.
Lotsofmuzik collaborator Rodrigo Altaf discussed the new album with Soen’s drummer Martin Lopez. Read their chat below:
Lotsofmuzik: Hi Martin! Let’s talk about the new album released on January 29th. How have you found the reception from the fans so far?
Martin: Yeah, I’ve been reading a little! I try not to get too into it, but it seems like they really like it. So I’m really happy about it, and somehow a little bit relaxed, but yeah, it’s been great, man.
Lotsofmuzik: I think reaching the fifth album is quite a landmark in any band’s career. And one thing I noticed is that the buzz for every new Soen album is bigger than the one before. Have you noticed that as well?
Martin Lopez: I definitely have! I was talking to my wife about this today: all the prior albums when the album came out and we had a video, you could read all the comments. Now it’s impossible! I mean, it’s too much! Unless I want to sit there forever to read them…[laughs].
Lotsofmuzik: When you guys wrote this album, was there like a concern or an attempt to replicate the success of Lotus?
Martin Lopez: Not really. The idea is still always to make the best music that we can and, and not to release something that we don’t think is better than the last time, but that’s the pressure that I think every creative person has. And we are not very focused on the commercial part. We don’t have those dreams of conquering the world and being the biggest band in the world, we just want to do our music, play shows and feel happy about what we do.
Lotsofmuzik: Let me ask you about the title Imperial, what does it represent?
Martin Lopez: Well, it kind of represents life as we think it is today. And, you know, even if we consider ourselves free human beings who live in a democracy and get to make choices, we also think that we live in an empire that is ruled by the big corporations that are polluting our planet and telling us how we should live a life. You know, they’re telling us that we should value success by how much money you’re making and not by how many people actually love you for who you are, for being a good human being. They’re telling us that we should work more so we can buy more shit that we don’t need, instead of telling us that you should do what you love, because time flies away, and your life will just pass by.
Lotsofmuzik: Now that you explained it, I think the cover art of Imperial makes a lot of sense because it’s somehow connected to the name. That evil looking kind of snake on the cover might be the emperor you’re alluding to, right?
Martin Lopez: Yeah. And also, what living in an empire today really means. You have this beautiful, beautiful animal that is also dangerous and deadly, and it represents the amazing, beautiful, comfortable life that we have in front of our screens, computers, TVs, Netflix, and all that. And how we just sit there and are very comfy and don’t do anything at all to try to change injustice in the world and how we, more and more seem to disconnect from other humans which makes us more and more dependent to all these screens, social media and all that.
Lotsofmuzik: And once again, the album was produced by Inaki Marconi who also worked with Leprous, Sepultura, Katatonia and others. Is it fair to say that by now you guys are comfortable working with him?
Martin Lopez: Yeah. He’s a very close friend of ours and he’s always on tour with us. And we feel very, very comfortable working with him. He’s also a guy who doesn’t have any problems in telling you if you’re being lazy or if you’re not giving a hundred percent. So it’s really good to have him on board and make albums with him. He’s the kind of guy that you actually, in the heat of the moment, you can have a fight with and then be friends with ten minutes after, without anyone being hurt or disappointed.
Lotsofmuzik: That helps because you don’t, you don’t want a yes, man, but also you don’t want someone who you’re clashing against all the time, so there’s a good balance there.
Martin Lopez: Yeah. I think the most important is to find someone that you know that really cares about what’s coming out musically. And we know that they found a person honest about what we do. So it’s really easy to work with him that way.
Lotsofmuzik: And this is Cody’s second album with the band. And I remember when Lotus came out, you told me everyone wanted the guitars to sound crispy and loud. I think the intention remained the same for this album, am I right?
Martin Lopez: Yeah. I think in this album, for the most part, we kind of didn’t focus as much on every instrument’s sound, but mostly on the whole song, and on how you will perceive the songs as a listener. I mean, if the message is clear and if it’s straight to the point and what sound we have to actually make you listen to the song and not be taken away by the details and kind of just floating around, but just a potent delivery. This is what we went for and I really think we achieved our goal.
Lotsofmuzik: Let me ask you about “Monarch”, which I think talks about how you’re always supposed to be strong and not show any sign of weaknesses. I think that’s where you alluding to in that song, right?
Martin Lopez: Yeah. It’s alluding to maybe the traditional values of what being a man is and how that somehow has infected the world, you know, in a sense that based on the traditional values, you’re not supposed to feel, you know, be an empathic person. You’re supposed to be a strong man who is ready to fight to defend your country and, and fight against whoever has a different opinion. That kind of has come to a point now, even if it’s more, maybe the traditional values of the forties, fifties, sixties, those are the guys that actually are ruling the world now, and they grew up that way.
Lotsofmuzik: I sense that there’s a concept throughout these songs, even if unintended, but there is a common theme between all those songs, right?
Martin Lopez: Yeah, of course it is not in a thematic kind of way, but in, in the way we talk mostly about the things that worry us and, and how we should just change! We should fight for things that are wrong and that we need to address. As a parent, you know, what, what do you teach your kid? Do you teach your kid to be a lovable person that will follow his dreams? Or do you teach your kid to be a vulture and face the risk that he might become an outcast of society? What dreams should we follow? The dreams that the politicians and the corporations tell you to go for? Or are these dreams just “work, work, work, work, buy a big house” and go for material things?
Lotsofmuzik: Interesting! Another high point for me is “Deceiver”, which for me is a signature Soen song. What I like about the band is how you can talk about difficult issues, sometimes even with aggression, but with a keen sense of melody, I guess that’s, that’s the balance you strive to achieve, right?
Martin Lopez: That’s pretty much how we go about to try to say things. But for those words or that message to really cut deep and make you think about it, you need to have a certain amount of emotion because you need to make the person reflect. If that person is just headbanging, they’re not going to listen to what you say [laughs], but if you can make the person actually sit down and listen, then the message may come through.
Lotsofmuzik: “Illusion” is another song you made a video for, and I think it talks about dealing with differences and blaming your failure in others. And it’s a departure song from what I could tell.
Martin Lopez: It’s a song about trying to bring together different points of view. It comes from the fact that politics are separating us so much today. If you’re left or if you’re right, if you’re Democrat, Republican, whatever, they’re separating us to the point where we almost don’t respect a human being, because he has a different ideology than yours. And politicians are trying to make us feel that there’s one answer. They have the answer, the other guy is wrong. “Don’t listen to them, they’re idiots, they are psychopaths” and all that. And the song is somehow trying to remove all that bullshit and just sitting and talking to each other as human beings, without looking at politics, color or religion. We need to do something for everyone to have a better chance of being happy, you know?
Lotsofmuzik: I don’t know about you, but I think it’s horrible how divided we are on every level and almost every subject and every country too. It’s almost by design. If you talk to a guy from Australia or somewhere in Europe or Brazil, we’re so divided! It’s almost like there’s some sort of conspiracy trying to put us against each other!
Martin Lopez: I know. I’m not choosing sides because I never talk about other countries’ politics, but when you start choosing these really aggressive politicians like Bolsonaro and Trump and such, there’s no more dialogue, you know? It’s just so aggressive! It seems like half of the country is your enemy instead of everyone in the country being your brother. They just think differently. We all have different choices. And that is the number one cause of this polarization and this division that we see in society. Every platform has that, even the metal scene is infected by that now. And you have the Bolsonaros and the Trumps, and you have the extreme left sacrificing you every time you say something wrong. You don’t have the choice to learn. You don’t have to choice to say something that may offend someone and then say “sorry, I didn’t know”. There’s no room for that anymore. You’ll go here or you go there or you’re in the middle and then you’re quiet because nobody listens to you! There is no room for common sense anymore.
Lotsofmuzik: Exactly. There is no middle ground. And I think even “Antagonist” on the new album is alluding to that somehow.
Martin Lopez: It’s exactly about that!
Lotsofmuzik: I remember when we last spoke to promote the previous album, you were kind of surprised about how people reacted to the video you did for the song “Martyrs”. Did that affect the script for the music videos of this album or not?
Martin Lopez: No it did it not. New songs, new ideas!
Lotsofmuzik: Let me ask you about my absolute favorite song on the new album, which is “Dissident”. Again, it’s a classic Soen song and it has that kind of flamenco beat in the middle, right?
Martin Lopez: Maybe it’s the proggiest song of the album. It’s one of the first songs that we actually wrote for the album. I really liked that song too.
Lotsofmuzik: Okay. And “Fortune” the album closer starts with a Black Sabbath kind of riff, and gets bigger with the orchestration. It must’ve been a fun one to track in the studio!
Martin Lopez: Yeah, and mostly because it’s such a different song for us. It’s kind of a slow rock, heavy ballad kind of thing, which is not really what we are used to play. When we wrote the song, we tried a metal version of it, and then we had a version that was more like a ballad. We tried a few different versions, and then we came to this point where it just felt like that just sounds like it should be Black Sabbath-y and heavy and straight to the point, with no complex stuff. And it’s a really emotional kind of song. I really I think it cuts straight to the heart, which I love.
Lotsofmuzik: And I like the way that it ends the whole album on a positive note too!
Martin Lopez: It’s yeah, it’s supposed to be inspirational and give strength.
Lotsofmuzik: I know you’re doing a few shows to promote the album. There are dates a few months from now already booked. What is the talk with promoters like these days? I mean, are these dates actually going to happen or is it all up in the air?
Martin Lopez: I think we’re all in the same boat, promoters and us [laughs]. And so what we do now is try to keep going as it was before the pandemic just booking shows. And then we book a tour and then after a few days, if it’s not possible, we start talking about plan B, and move on. I think for all of us, for our mental sanity, we need to keep being positive and booking shows just to have something to look forward to. Because for a musician, not being able to play new songs and connecting with your fans, it’s heavy.
Lotsofmuzik: Well, at least there’s some hope, right? There are bands that released albums just before the pandemic hit and they had to stop the tours halfway through. In your case, there is something to aspire for.
Martin Lopez: Yeah. I think we have a tour in September. I will go around and vaccinate people myself, if I have to! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Thank you so much for the interview. We reaching the end here, but I hope to see you on stage sometime soon. I don’t think you ever came to Canada after we spoke the last time. So if, and when you do, I want to keep in touch.
Martin Lopez: The plan was to go there in September this year, that was the plan. But now it seems like we have to do Europe instead, but next year we’ll definitely be going there!
Lotsofmuzik: I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Martin Lopez: All right, man thanks!
Released By: Silver Lining Music
Released Date: January 29th, 2021
Genre: Progressive Metal
- Martin López / Drums
- Joel Ekelöf / Vocals
- Lars Enok Åhlund / Keyboards and Guitar
- Oleksii “Zlatoyar” Kobel / Bass
- Cody Ford / Guitar
All songs written by SOEN
Produced and recorded by Iñaki Marconi
Vocal editing by Ricardo Borges
Vocals on track 1 to 5 and drums recorded and produced by David Castillo
Mixed and mastered by Kane Churko
Cover design by Enrique Zabala
Art Design by Wriliya
Cover photo by Mark Laita
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