“We’re always going to keep the proggy elements alive – it’s part of the essence of Soen”: Lars Åhlund and Cody Lee Ford may have scaled down the “eight-minute songs with a million riffs”, but their adventurous guitar playing remains intact

Soen
(Image credit: @arefikb)

When Soen released their debut album, Cognitive, back in 2012, the Swedish band were rooted in a claustrophobically groovy prog-metal subterranea. A decade and some lineup changes later, that approach seems a world apart from the soaring songcraft the act bring to their sixth full-length, Memorial.

Take the record’s first single, Unbreakable, which solidifies Soen’s anthems era with jubilant sing-alongs and hard rock hooks. But even if it sounds like Soen have progressed past prog, guitarist Cody Lee Ford suggests their new material is much odder than you’d think.

“When you listen to parts that seem simplistic, there’s lots of weird stuff happening in the groove,” he says, pointing to how Memorial’s Fortress has him and co-guitarist Lars Åhlund chunking above a 4/4 beat with deceptively complex, djenty dexterity. “We’re always going to keep these proggy elements alive; it’s part of the essence of Soen. It’s impossible to stray away from that too much.” 

Nevertheless, Memorial is Soen’s most streamlined release yet. Åhlund says that since the release of 2017’s Lykaia, the band have scaled down “from eight-minute songs with a million riffs” to a tightly focused, melody-first approach (only Memorial’s closing ballad, Vitals, crosses the five-minute mark). 

Since joining up in 2018, the Canadian-born Ford has primarily employed a spacious vibrato to his lead work. While that continues through much of Memorial, the record’s most propulsive tempos inspired Ford to tap into a more frenetic form of fretboard expressiveness. 

“Up until this album, there wasn’t really space for the shreddy stuff,” he says of busting out the big runs on Fortress, adding that his love for the late Alexi Laiho – as well as the acquisition of a 27-fret Jackson Wildcard SL27 – factored into the “Floyd Rose trickery” he brought to the track. 

Åhlund, meanwhile, prefers a softer touch. He says his role in Soen is often to add “the extra sugar,” whether through supportive acoustic strums, textural effects work or synth arranging. Fittingly enough, his spotlight moment on Memorial was somewhat of an accident. 

On Vitals, the guitarist rolls the volume off his ’72 Les Paul’s neck pickup to tenderly finger-pluck a few blues-broken bends. This was originally done in service of a vocal line from frontman Joel Ekelöf, until drummer Martin López convinced the band that Åhlund’s understated playing was the main course.

“It was more like a background feel [behind the] vocal line initially. That’s why it’s breathing that much,” the guitarist says.

In true Soen fashion, it’s another subtle performance with substantial depth.

Axology

• GUITARS PRS models and a Fender Strat (Ford); Gibson Flying V, Gibson Firebird, Hagström Fantomen, Siljan acoustics, modded Fender Strat (Åhlund)

• AMPS Neural DSP Quad Cortex (Ford); Line 6 Helix (Panama 5150 and 808 Tube Screamer, Greenback 25 and Vintage 30 in stereo) (Åhlund)

• EFFECTS Quad Cortex (Ford); Various delays and an occasional phaser, Cry Baby wah (Åhlund)

  • Memorial is out now via Silver Lining Music.

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Gregory Adams

Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling. This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.