Third albums—what a goddamn mystery. We’ve spoken about the unique challenge posed by them before on the blog but there’s never been any concise solution offered to their peculiar problem. Should bands double down on their established sound and “dig deeper” (like TesseracT‘s Polaris for example) or throw everything to the wind and experiment wildly with their sound (like Karnivool‘s Asymmetry)? Both options entice with their advantages but both also hold pitfalls. Too often, bands simply don’t choose and try to walk a golden, middle round. This “secret” third option is extremely difficult to pull off but also hedges the band’s bets, since failing it carries less hazards. At worst, it leaves an album a little bit forgettable. Otherwise, this third choice skirts many of the potential disasters of the other two options.
This “best worst case scenario” is exactly what Soen‘s third release embodies; Lykaia, when faced with a choice between the two different styles prevalent in the band’s earlier releases, tries to choose both at the same time. The album blends the more ethereal approach found on Soen’s debut album on tracks like “Lucidity” while still jaunting in the more hectic approach of Tellurian on its opening moments. It even tries to marry the two influences, creating tracks which juggle both the vocal-centered antics of Cognitive and the heavier dispositions of the follow up at the same time. These work to a certain extent; “Opal”, for example, benefits from the contrast created by the more dreamy vocals at its middle and end and the more technical, instrumental based riffs which open it. However, most of the tracks on the album do not attempt this more challenging mix, instead settling on one of either styles.
While this isn’t a bad thing necessarily and most of the album still sounds great, it also makes Lykaia devoid of anything really new to give the listener. It’s inherently and consistently Soen, easily recognizable and appreciable to fans of the band. However, what does the album do for the band’s career? What is the trajectory which can be gleaned from its innovations? Nothing much, since those innovations are almost completely absent. Thus, when the album is over, the experience doesn’t stick with the listener like the freshness of Cognitive or the shocking departure from established sound of Tellurian. Lykaia is certainly fine and might be even considered excellent as a debut release but as a third album from an established band populated by veteran musicians, it lacks its own identity and punch.
During the few moments where Lykaia does new things for Soen, a future can be glimpsed for the band and that future is very exciting. This promise is most present on “Jinn”, fascinatingly slow track for the band which also includes oriental timbres on the instruments, mainly the guitars. The slow down in pace doesn’t contradict the track being heavy, as if the case for most other tracks on the album, but instead creates a more post-metal feel for Soen’s sound. This influence works incredibly well with the vocals and creates one of the best tracks on the album. Perhaps future releases could focus on that sound and explore more what it means for the band and how it can work with their sound. For now, Lyakia avoids that and remains a pleasing if ultimately slightly forgettable third release, unable to completely walk the golden third path. Hopefully, the next release doubles down on a new direction for the band and breaks through the barrier which a sustained career presents.