Soilwork and Dark Tranquility, with Hypocrisy and Mnemic

Soilwork's latest album combines the title Stabbing the Drama with ludicrously literal thrust-dagger clip art. Its singer's stage name, Speed Strid, rhymes when pronounced correctly. And its music -- all blast beats, chugging riffs and relatively cheesy keys -- sounds like Pantera mauling Europe's "The Final Countdown." Unintentional hilarity aside, Soilwork has evolved intriguingly from standard, if savage, Swedish thrash to unabashedly melodic metal, with Strid's gradual metamorphosis from relentless barker to chorus-hook crooner playing a pivotal role in the progression. Strid's part-time job as a counselor for troubled teens informs his lyrics, giving an unusual authenticity to his adolescent-angst-themed anthems. While many tracks reveal his poignant devotion to what he dubs "Generation Speedkill," Strid saves space for old-school odes ("Steelbath Suicide," a tribute to the "metalgods of the '80s") and puzzlingly surreal serial-killer songs ("Sadistic Lullaby," in which "life's a sculpture that can't resist.")

The fellow Swedes in Dark Tranquility march under a banner that is something of a misnomer. Yes, they're dark, but they are not all that tranquil. While many of their Scandi peers went prog or deeper into the dark recesses of black metal, Dark Tranquility's members stayed the course and arguably have become the leaders of a more melodic form of power metal that hasn't been really popular since the salad days of Maiden and Priest. Some have taken the band to task over the last few years for their reliance on maudlin vocals and sometimes intrusive and often cheesy Soilworkesque keyboard parts, but all that seems to have changed recently. On the new album, Character, all signs and reviews point to a band that has figured out how to blend the best of both worlds by cutting down on the dramatics and letting the music flow on its own. Not the happiest band on the planet, for sure, but this will certainly be a show that will speak to the stripy sock/melancholy chin-beard set.

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Andrew Miller