"Sworn to a Great Divide"

(Nuclear Blast)

01. Sworn To a Great Divide
02. Exile
03. Breeding Thorns
04. Your Beloved Scapegoat
05. The Pittsburgh Syndrome
06. I, Vermin
07. Light Discovering Darkness
08. As the Sleeper Awakes
09. Silent Bullet
10. Sick Heart River
11. 20 More Miles
12. Martyr (bonus track)

RATING: 6/10

SOILWORK sounds like SOILWORK at this point — whether that's a good thing to you or not is another story, but the fact remains that you could pick this CD out of a lineup in about three notes. For all the talk of returning to form or getting heavier, the band still builds what amount to chrome-dipped AOR songs, verse/chorus/verse pop tunes driven by the vocal melodies and made incidentally heavy by the guitars. For the most part, this makes for some pretty predictable music, to the point where this many albums into the band's career, it can be hard to care.

But if they're working from a comfortable groove (who said "rut?"), they're at least putting a lot of high-gloss texture onto the same old skeletons. These songs are produced within an inch of their lives and performed flawlessly, and it sounds like they still care even when they're busting out an utterly paint-by-numbers cut like "I, Vermin" or "20 More Miles". The solos are good, the riffs sound great (even if you don't remember them five minutes after the album ends) and "Speed" Strid does both his "yelling death metal guy" and "guy from TEARS FOR FEARS" vocals with conviction and power (I actually checked the liner notes to make sure that wasn't Chuck Billy supplying the occasional bellow, such as the chorus of "The Pittsburgh Syndrome").

While there does seem to be a self-conscious effort to make things marginally heavier here, it just means a few more death metal vocals and a few more musclebound riffs in a few verses. Too much of "Sworn To a Great Divide" is squandered on formulaic tunes too beholden to the band's already-established sound to seem fresh, and not clever or inventive enough to make them interesting despite that fact. Even the token throwback thrash song, "The Pittsburgh Syndrome", seems a bit forced and obvious, a hook upon which to justify the "back to the roots" claims, but without the vicious edge that propelled "The Chainheart Machine" or even "Natural Born Chaos" into glory.

"Sworn to a Great Divide" has a pleasant, mildly enjoyable sound, but it all kinda dissipates into a fine mist after the record ends. Glimmers of the band's creative fire pop up here and there, like in the surprisingly emotional solo of "20 More Miles" or the halting attempt at a moody atmosphere in "Sick Heart River". But this is ultimately the sound of a band wearing out their own blueprint, too ensconced in their Gothenburg-lite world to shake off the torpor of the studio and jam out something with, if not blatant originality, at least a little bit of metal heart to it. Very professional, in a not so good way.


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