The opening riff of Lotus sums up the album fairly well. Though the riff is technical and groovy, the guitar tone itself has a certain stank to it—a lingering, though not altogether unwelcome, stank that permeates the entire album. Lotus is generally more soulful than its predecessors, emphasizing passionate vocals and bluesy guitar sections, occasionally to a fault, but often successfully playing off precise, progressive riffs.
Much of the album puts the focus on vocal passages, with extremely exposed lyrics. The choruses are usually simple in melody but thickly layered with keys and long tones. The opener, “Opponent” is good example. Joel Ekelöf lingers on the phrase, “in isolation” for forever, allowing for real drama, atop some precision guitars. I will say, the lyrics for this track, and much of the album, do come off a bit passive and angsty. Words like “in isolation,” “pushed away,” “rejected,” “pressured,” really paint the speaker as a helpless victim. He goes so far as to actually declare, “victimized by my equals all my life.” The message comes off very juvenile, perhaps purposefully catering to a younger audience, which I find off-putting.
Many of the passages are truncated with time stops or even silent moments, creating some real dynamic contrast. For instance, in track two, “Lascivious,” after the soaring chorus, there are moments where everything drops out except one or two elements—the vocals and keys at 2:20, a simple guitar tone and keys at 2:40. The guitar solo following is a simple jazz interlude, and Martin Lopez’s drums are quite minimalist. Again, in the single, “Martyrs,” at three minutes in, we get thirty seconds of completely exposed piano, then accompanied by a subdued vocal part.
“Lotus,” for which the album is named, demonstrates how much the band wanted to focus on soul, and drama. The track is more or less a five and a half minute blues ballad. The lyrics are overtly sentimental, and Ekelöf sounds like Mikael Åkerfeldt attempting to channel Bob Seger. There are no frills to the song—no technical guitar or drums, and to be honest, it is easily the least original track on the album and one I can do without.
By contrast, “River” is a soulful ballad that is much more successful. This track, again, is slow, with no real technical instrumentation, but the elements build nicely, adding in strings, piano, and exquisite slide guitar. The melody is sung from a first-person perspective, allowing the listener to greater connect with the message. The lyrics are still vague and sentimental, “all these words I left unspoken, I will say when I meet you again,” but at least we are given imagery, and I buy the emotion.
I do think Ekelöf’s performance on Lotus is a step up from previous albums, as is the overall production. The album is crisp and clean. The guitars are snappy when appropriate, but the bluesy passages are also mixed with the proper timber. The instrumentation is very carefully orchestrated, with moments of silence or exposed voices, as well as densely layered passages with various strings and piano.
Though Lotus is a polished, properly-matured step forward for Soen, there is a little too much ground ceded to soulful blues for this listener’s tastes. Some of those passages are dramatic and evocative, while others come off trite. Though the vocals are the best yet recorded for the band, a lot of the lyrics are vague and angsty. The production is excellent, but not all of the songs are well-conceived. That being said, Lotus will serve as an accessible and serviceable album for a lot of prog fans, and with any luck, the band will continue to improve with each release.
FAVORITE TRACK: “Opponent”
RELEASE DATE: 2/01/19
FOR FANS OF: Porcupine Tree, Opeth