In anticipation of the live show of the former supergroup and now established monolith of the modern and growing prog scene, my expectations were high. I arrived at Gagarin 205 early last afternoon to find it already mildly crowded and pervaded by a cozy family atmosphere as I have become accustomed to, on the few rare opportunities when prog geeks like me have to gather and celebrate. With a bang and right on time, things get going.
Now admittedly being the first of three bands in a live show in is a difficult place and it’s rare for the 20 people who came to see you at 8 o’clock to take notice of you. Opener The Price from Italy gracefully handled the task, instantly creating a positive atmosphere with their amalgam of elements ranging from classic heavy / groove to progressive metal. Their intense stage presence, powerful and well rehearsed songs as well as their endless joy in performing gave us a tight opening set, that convinced me to listen to them again after the show.
Following that, a quartet of hooded figures came out on stage, arousing my suspicions of a guerilla Sunn O))) live show. Alas, they proved to be the Finnish band Wheel. Now for the writer to confess to a controversial truth, I have my reservations about bands trying to establish themselves with a particular image. It is not forbidden, of course, that’s how cult followings are created. But in order to avoid hubris, the bands doing it are setting a high bar for themselves from a musical prespective. The Finns achieved their intent without breaking a sweat, with passionate songs and flawless execution. Combining intense elements of hypnotic tribalism – hearkening back to the good old days of Tool – with the fresh vibe of modern prog trends, they were easily distinguished. A good word is deserved for their more than worthy drummer, who was half the show on his own for the musicians in the audience.
After a long period of patience and self reflection, Soen came on stage. The crowd roared. From the very beginning of this show it was clear that the people entering the venue this night weren’t casual fans. Of course, progressive fans in our country rarely get to genuinely enjoy a live show, so it’s no surprise that when the gods unexpectedly decide to give us 2-hours of happiness we appreciate it to the fullest extent. Thus, as soon as the first riff in Covenant hit us softly and tenderly like a falling boulder the electricity among us remained unceasing.
All members of the band did their best just as promised, with new guitarist Cody Ford performing his emotionally charged solos with absolute mastery, as well as the multi-talented Lars Åhlund performing his everyman routine. The man ran back and forth sweating and toiling, performing backing vocals, playing a second guitar, ripping keyboard solos and still having time to play shakers and bongos in between. No words are needed about the great Martin Lopez, on whose shoulders the entire set rode, as he relentlessly assaulted us with streaks of groove and complex emotion. Joel Ekelöf is nothing short of a priest for his audience (in the sense that he elicits religious devotion with absolute grace, not in the sense that he’s boring and trite), having us hanging from every word and tearing up at every note.
Highlight moments were the killer break in ‘Opponent’, the throwback to the days of Cognitive with ‘Slithering’ and the intense emotional charge in the interlude of ‘Martyrs’. Soen easily surpassed and exceeded all our expectations, and we live with the hope that we also won their hearts by singing through their set word for word and chanting at every riff. Let’s pray they’ll return and we’ll get to take our prog t-shirts out of the closet again.