Metal Review – Arch Enemy: War Eternal

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Metal Review – Arch Enemy: War Eternal
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Arch Enemy: War Eternal
Melodic Death Metal
Century Media Records
June 10th, 2014
Release length: 47:30
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Arch Enemy has become one of the most instantly recognizable and largely adored groups in the Metal world today. Their first three albums with vocalist Johan Liiva at the helm were strong enough to get their footing for the initial line-up consisting of Fredrick Akesson (ex-Tiamat) and former Carcass members Michael Amott and Daniel Erlandsson, but it wasn’t until they brought in Angela Gassow on vocals around the release of 2001’s Wages of Sin that their abrupt success startede to spiral out of control, largely thanks to 2003’s Anthems of Rebellion. Since then their recordings began to grow formulaic, relying on repetitive anthem foundations and sterilizing digital production levels by 2009’s The Root of All Evil. In 2012 Christopher Amott left the band’s ranks and was replaced with Nick Cordle (former Arsis), and just the other month it was announced Angela had left the group, but not before The Agonist vocalist Alissa White-Gluz was chosen as her replacement. After a shaky reception from fans based on the release of the title track from their tenth full-length album War Eternal, it became clear a lot of people weren’t ready just yet to lose her. But does this line-up change really hinder this new effort, or is all the fear unwarranted and simply in the minds of fans not willing to embrace change.

When you look at “War Eternal” as a lead single, it is understandable as to why so many people question Alissa as a vocalist. No, she doesn’t have the same ruthless aggression in her voice. In a way it’s a bit more on the traditional side when it comes to any gender. However, its when there’s a little more range and energy put in from her in the chorus that it does suit the typical anthem approach well. Overall the song itself is catchy and boasts one of the richest production qualities Arch Enemy has seen in years, leaving a robust and ballsy sound that is hard not to bang your head along to, especially when coming upon the guitar solo and going through the intense riffs that throw back to the group’s mid to late nineties aggression. But, truth be told, this title track may have been the weakest introduction to Alissa, not to mention War Eternal as a whole.

Yes there still are some modern-day Arch Enemy anthems scattered about, but they aren’t always as engaging. “No More Regrets” shows this quite well, and its immediately clear it was written with Angela in mind. The song carries that empowering Melodic Death Metal presence while some of the hooks in the chorus show a simple Neoclassical Heavy Metal touch that actually derails that atmosphere a bit, giving way to a slightly eccentric tone despite the lyrical theme of the performance. Unlike “War Eternal,” this one doesn’t really offer much to really grab the listener outside some catchy hooks and overly technical solos, leaving Alissa to try her best to move it along which includes layering deeper toned shouting in the background to give the chorus a little extra bite. But then you have “You Will Know My Name” which is a perfect throwback to Anthems of Rebellion‘s moving riffs and a powerful chorus with deeper vocals that get the point across perfectly. The additional keyboards really enhance the mood and even help to bring in the most glorious eighties vibe possible that almost single handedly makes this the most stand-out performance of the album despite the guitar solo not really working at first.

But then you have the songs that don’t follow the band’s standard paint-by-numbers approach of recent years. After the brief symphonic instrumental “Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F Minor),” you are greeted with “Never Forgive, Never Forget,” which just hammers away at you with pounding blast beats and equally as fast riffs. The raspy vocals show a little more range overall and match the general tension being created in the verses before slowing down to traditional catchy hooks at a mid-tempo pace leading to a tighter, faster chorus that perfectly builds into a brief calm before raging back into the storm once more. “As the Pages Burn” is just vintage Arch Enemy resurrected. The furious music cuts away at the listener before dropping to the largely melodic chorus that allows Alissa’s minimal raspy shouting harmonizations to make the deeper hooks and darker atmosphere even more gripping.

But it’s at “Graveyard of Dreams” where War Eternal starts to make a noticeable shift in direction in that the prototypical Arch Enemy foundation is shaken back to its roots. “Stolen Life” chugs along in the main verses in a way that feels like repeat punches to the face while Alissa’s deeper vocals punctuate each hit perfectly. Her voice and some later effects that cut it in and out make for a nice touch to the dark, sleek sound before heading into the glorious melodic performance that heralds back to the days of Black Earth and Stigmata instead of relying on anthem-based leads. “Down to Nothing” is a faster assault that just sounds oppressive, though the chorus doesn’t fully capture that mood. This is one of the few tracks of this half that doesn’t include keyboards too. While its great to see the focus back on the group itself and not one specific instrument, you can’t help but wonder if its inclusion actually could have saved the performance like with “Time is Black” where those notes manage to save it from the bland Groove Metal-style bits that creep up and not always work out for the better.

The only issue here is that sometimes the music can become a bit generic and too far away from either era of Arch Enemy that has been represented thusfar. This starts at the time of “Avalanche” with some pretty uninspiring chunks including most bridges, as well as pushing the focus away from the band itself almost entirely. This is due to the over reliance on keyboards and additional synth effects to the point where it almost sounds like a whole other The Agonist album, or even a Melodic Death Metal version of Nightwish. What’s worse is the main verses have more of a Hardcore touch to the riffs that are catchy but seem geared more towards making the pit dance or pick up change than actually mosh or headbang. And then there’s the depressing “Not Long for This World.” This one moves at a trudging Doom Metal pace punctuated by the resonating echo of the drums against a bleak emptiness. The forlorn atmosphere of the performance is moving, though the hooks in the chorus set up a glorious rememberance, as if looking back at a field of battle and mourning the dead lying atop or even buried under the blood soaked lands before a heart beat and beeping monitor reference one’s own passing. Ironically this conclusion would make a far better start to the album than “Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F Minor)” thanks to that emotion, obviously removing the aforementioned sound effect at the end. If the need for it to be included was that strong it perhaps could be used as the conclusion of “Down to Nothing” instead of the five seconds of silence it actually ends on, though for some it may end up overkill.

When you break it down, War Eternal is undeniably a transitional litmus test that is separated into two acts for just that purpose. The first half was clearly composed with Angela in mind, and many of the tracks will have you wishing she had atleast recorded these few cuts before passing the torch along. The second half acts more as a proper introduction of Alissa as the current vocalist, and a glimpse at a possible change in direction for the next album due to the use and abuse of keyboards and synths. It’s evident that Arch Enemy are looking to their past for inspiration as well, though some of the later tracks go so far as to allow little to no restraint on the keyboards, causing the destruction of much of what Arch Enemy established over the years in favor of emulating the core principals of Alissa’s former band The Agonist, thus leaving a nagging fear in the hearts of many as to what might become of the band in the near future.

But that is further down the line and, for now, we have the band’s second Wages of Sin to enjoy which, really, even when the road gets bumpy towards the end you can’t get too mad at it. War Eternal is a fantastic album no matter how you look at it or certain songs. This isn’t one that really sets out to set a new standard for the group. Instead it’s just a fun as hell album that, despite all the flaws outlined above, you will have a hard time justifying taking it out of your media player (CD or otherwise) since it rarely stops banging your head against an abrasive brick wall. Not only is War Eternal one of Arch Enemy‘s strongest albums in years, but also a necessary breath of a fresh air that will hopefully stop the anthem abuse with growing audio sterilization since Anthems of Revellion and unite the band’s purists with those that appreciate the Angela-era more.

01. Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F Minor) – 1:12
02. Never Forgive, Never Forget – 4:16
03. War Eternal – 4:16
04. As the Pages Burn – 4:01
05. No More Regrets – 4:06
06. You Will Know My Name – 4:37
07. Graveyard of Dreams – 1:10
08. Stolen Life – 2:59
09. Time is Black – 5:24
10. On and On – 4:05
11. Avalanche – 4:39
12. Down to Nothin – 3:48
13. Not Long for this World – 3:29
Initial Pressing Score: 8/10

Arch Enemy
Arch Enemy

Digital review copy of this release provided by Century Media Records.