Soledad – XIII – Album Review

Artist: Soledad

Album Title: XIII

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 15 April 2022

I’m so excited about bringing this review to you, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a new discovery for me, and those are always exciting. Secondly, this new discovery came from a friend and fellow music journalist, demonstrating that we always try to work together and support each other for the benefit of the music and the bands/artists themselves. Thirdly, this is a self-produced record, deliberately so, in order for the band to stay as independent as possible. I like everything about this, so I couldn’t wait to record my thoughts in this review and get the word out there.

The band in question go by the name of Soledad, and depending on how you look at it, this is either their debut or their sophomore release. Soledad, you see, was born in 2016 by Lola Damblant-Soler and the first recording, ‘Catharsis’ was a solo affair. This record, entitled ‘XIII’, is the first for Soledad as a band in the traditional sense. Joining Lola are a trio of musicians that include guitarists Matthieu Colas and Theo Pinte, and drummer Julien Giet. Lola herself continues to contribute vocals, guitars, and keys, as well as being the primary songwriter for Soledad.

The description that they offer of themselves is sure to get many of you salivating from the outset, as they proudly reference bands like Haken, Leprous, Neal Morse, and Muse in the process. The words ‘pop’ and ‘romantic music’ make an appearance to create an intriguing and exciting prospect. What’s even better, though, is that the music does live up to the hype. In fact, whilst there is merit in the description above, I’d also add A.C.T. in there too, as well as mentioning genres like ‘West End Musical’, ‘classical’, and ‘djent’. It’s a heady concoction and as we all know, throwing a million things into the melting pot does not always work. In the case of Soledad though, the majority of the music works, meaning that ‘XIII’ is a very impressive creation indeed.

What it also means is that it’s a typically difficult album to review in a succinct fashion because of the sheer amount of variety at play. In which case, strap yourselves in and get ready for what’s to come.

The record begins with ‘Hanging Over Me’, a track that has a very A.C.T. art rock feel to it. It starts with piano and vocals, the former delicate but rich, and the voice smooth and almost hushed, whispered. The melody is beautiful, and things only get better with the introduction of drums, bass and guitar, taking the composition into all kinds of directions, from pop, to prog rock, to West End Musical. But at it’s heart is a wonderful energy, so stirring, and elegant. It also has a slightly bittersweet feel to it, with a sense of overriding positivity pushing through despite the album’s dissection of themes of doubt and uncertainty.

After this rousing intro piece, I wasn’t quite ready for ‘Hex’ and its incredibly muscular djent-like riffs, reminiscent of more recent Haken. There are a few harsh vocals in the background too, for added aggression, before guest vocalist Suzie Lou makes a bold appearance. I love the overt progressive nature of the riffing and the complex structures, as well as the way the heaviness recedes on a sixpence to be replaced by sounds of nature accompanied by much more minimal sounds. As the track develops, there are so many layers to uncover, so many ideas going on, but it sounds absolutely spot on, and not overdone or contrived in any way.

The opening harsh mechanical sounds that usher in ‘Migraine’ are entirely in keeping with the song’s title, as are the punishing, thumping drums that mete out a simple but effective early beat. This song features the talents of Hassan Hajdi, and it is the sudden shift into melodic territory that captures my full attention. The juxtaposition between uncomfortable sounds and embellishments, and all-out serene melody, accented by layers of vocals, is inspired, justifying it’s place as one of my favourites on the album. The meandering lead guitar solo is another great touch, showing dexterity and feel to sit alongside some chunky, heavy riffs.

From there, we are led to ‘Fading Sight’ which has a much more whimsical feel to it, with plucked strings creating the opening delicate sounds alongside Lola’s soft voice. The final minute or so features a heavier soundtrack, but the opening melody continues unhindered by the weight of strong riffs – if anything, it is only enhanced and firmly supported by them.

By contrast, ‘Shelter I’, featuring guitarist Jeremy Bares, has a much more modern feel to it, coupled with a lush classical-infused slow waltz tempo. Strong but reserved djenty riffing plays an important part, bringing those Haken references to the fore. The incongruous slide guitar sounds from Bares actually work in a strange way as this composition highlights the greater art-rock drama and theatrics that are very much a part of the Soledad sound.

Having only described five of the eleven tracks thus far, I feel I need to change tack to prevent you all falling into a coma. However, it’s so difficult to do so because there’s still so much to discuss. ‘Shelter II’ is another favourite, with bucket loads of over-the-top pomposity and strong performances from all corners of the band. To me, this is the sound of the lovechild created by an illicit rendezvous between early Haken, A.C.T., and even Queen at their most outrageous. The central chorus melody is an utter delight and bathes the entire song in its warm glow.

The title track sounds like I’m walking past a nightclub in the early hours, with the electronic beats just about audible through the tightly closed doors. But then we’re whisked away on a metallic carpet, across aural soundscapes that are really rather diverse and ambitious. I can certainly hear the Leprous vibes, but again, there’s so much going on that it’s hard to pinpoint just one reference. By the time you become familiar with the path upon which you’re treading, Soledad take you elsewhere. None more unexpected than the all-out classical interlude at the heart of this song, that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a performance of ‘Swan Lake’ and then back to the prog metal via a Disney soundtrack. I love it, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to, I guarantee it, as the commitment to their art is so palpable at this point.

One of the most arresting and heart-breaking melodies appears within the stunning ‘The Spell’. Again, piano and vocals take the lead here, embellished lovingly by strings until the heaviness descends in the latter stages to add extra gravitas to that opening melody that so captivates me. ‘Remedy’ continues the excellence, with more effortless skill and powerful songwriting, before the album’s longest track arrives in the form of ‘Remembrance’. As you might expect, it dances all over the place with delight, taking us from dark and foreboding, to light and playful in the blink of an eye. Again, the chuggy riffs and muscular rhythms are well-placed and underline just how properly heavy Soledad can be when the mood fully takes them. But such is Lola’s voice that everything is laced with a smooth, effortless visage. And the sheer power and beauty of the final three or so minutes is utterly spellbinding, the way it ebbs and flows, building the tension, only to release just as I hoped it would with a flurry of dexterity, particularly the drums.

‘XIII’ is a 58-minute record and yet it really doesn’t feel like it’s that long. Before you know it, you’re listening to the concluding track, ‘Amnesia’, a song that cleverly reintroduces melodies and ideas heard at earlier points on the album. But here, the melodies feel even more expansive and emotive, pulling many of the album’s strands together neatly in the process. And that final guitar solo is nothing but sheer musical nectar. I’m so glad I was introduced to Soledad, because the French quartet have impressed me immensely with their ambitious, bold, eclectic, and slightly eccentric musical vision. I really hope that this review has whetted your appetite, because if not, I’ll be gutted. Not only because I’ll have clearly lost my touch as a reviewer, but also because it might mean that a truly marvellous record will have slipped past you. Please don’t let that happen – listen to ‘XIII’ and, I hope, prepare to be entertained and captivated like I have been. This is easily one of the best progressive records of 2022 so far.

The Score of Much Metal: 95%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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