By James Whitlock

Artist: Soilwork

Date / Venue: Thursday February 18th, 2016 - The Powerstation, Auckland

Soilwork are one of those bands that seem to have only diehard fans. It appears to me that in NZ at least, people either love ‘em or haven't heard of ‘em. When I bowled up to the Powerstation on this particular humid Thursday night, I saw that this observation rang true... but more about that further down the page.

First up, I have to say how stoked I was to hear that the support band was Subtract. I loved these guys back at their very beginning (circa 1998… yup, they’ve been at it for nearly 20 years!), but haven’t really made the time for them in recent years. I was keen to make up for it.

They are a band like no other in NZ. Riffs like a cinder block being dragged along rough concrete, their sound is brutal and precise. Mark Rees was at his juggernaut best on the drums. The bell of his ride cymbal cutting through the mix beautifully at times, adding a jangly counterpoint to the roiling chug of the guitars.

Their newer songs tend to start off fairly ‘by the book’ and (dare I say it) a bit samey. Not that that’s a bad thing… it’s still good solid metal but it’s not what separates these guys from the rest. It's the breakdowns in the last couple of minutes of each song that makes them great. Each and every song ramps up in a such massive way – at times bringing Metallica's Seek and Destroy to mind – and finishes on a fantastically powerful high.

For two decades these guys have been fighting the good fight in a country whose music industry couldn't give a toss about metal. I’m so glad they’re still going, and I look forward very much to the 20-year anniversary tour of their Quench EP (he says hopefully!).

Perfect curtain raiser for a spot of Swedish melodic death metal.

My first thought, looking around the venue, was "where is everybody?" There had to be only about 250 in attendance, and at the Powerstation that feels like a small crowd. Like... I'm-pretty-sure-the-band-will-have-noticed small.

But then I noticed the huge proportion of Soilwork t-shirts, which brings me back to my earlier comment. These guys have a diehard fan base. It may not be huge (in NZ at least) but they made the trip to honour it nonetheless, and that deserves credit.

As it turned out – singer Björn Strid knew exactly what to do with a front row of fans that had room to move. I’ve seen some circle pits in my time, but not many quite so… enthusiastic!

My first impression was that there are no tricks with these guys. It's pretty naff to talk about a band having energy, but the effort Soilwork put into their performance was palpable. Björn assaults the microphone with a violence I’ve rarely seen since Phil Anselmo with Pantera, and Dirk Verbeuren may be built like a scarecrow but he knows how to hit. Hard!

No triggers on those kick drums... I could really hear the sound of beater on head. And I’d heard he was fast but seriously! That is some of the quickest double pedaling I've ever heard live, especially in Chainheart Machine, the title track from their 2000 album. Profoundly impressive drumming.

The other band members were impressive in their own ways. On bass, Markus Wibom looked like it was his first ever gig he was so bouncy with effervescent energy! Both guitarists (David Andersson and Sylvain Coudret) were very polished and precise, although I could have done without some of those facials. No offence, but there comes a time in one’s life where one becomes too old to be making O-faces in public. As for Sven Karlsson on keys… it looked like he was working very hard, but I didn’t really hear any of it until Whirl of Pain… the 2nd to last song they played. Pity that.

One thing I have to mention… at times Björn used a backing track to support his vocal work. He was clearly still putting all his energy into reaching those high notes, but once the illusion had been shattered so obviously, it took a bit of a shine off his hard work. He’s a fantastic metal vocalist and I reckon he needs to back himself (no pun intended) to get through the whole set.

All in all it was a very enjoyable and very impressive night o’ metal. I can’t say they’ve made a diehard fan out of me yet (I don’t own a t-shirt) but at least I know there’s some solid well crafted songs and some face melting double kickers waiting for me whenever I need feel the need for ‘em. Thanks Soilwork.