Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Album Review; Arch Enemy - War Eternal

Track Listing:

1. Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude In F minor)
2. Never Forgive, Never Forget
3. War Eternal
4. As The Pages Burn
5. No More Regrets
6. You Will Know My Name
7. Graveyard Of Dreams
8. Stolen Life
9. Time Is Black
10. On And On
11. Avalanche
12. Down To Nothing
13. Not Long For This World

This album will no doubt be subject to very close scrutinizing; it's been three years and a lot of inactivity since the last Arch Enemy album 'Khaos Legions'. Whilst that album did have its moments, it was largely a disappointment, and certainly no match for albums such as 'Rise Of The Tyrant' and 'Doomsday Machine'. In the time since then, Michael Amott has fully left the band Carcass in order to focus fully on Arch Enemy. Then, only last year, Carcass released the monstrous album 'Surgical Steel' to universal acclaim. I'll stress that I'll be making no direct comparisons to that album within this review, but it's safe to say that the pressure was on.

Things get more delicate yet; a few months ago, the band's iconic frontwoman Angela Gossow announced her exit from the band. This was seen as a blow to the band that left many fans shocked, wondering what the future would hold for Arch Enemy. At the same time, a replacement was announced; Alissa White-Gluz, who previously headed up the Canadian Metalcore/Melodic Death Metal band The Agonist. Doubtlessly, it entered the mind of many that Arch Enemy couldn't possibly be the same band without the irreplaceable presence of Angela Gossow's voice.

However, when the first single and title-track from 'War Eternal' was released the song was given praise. This praise also stretched to the talents of the new frontwoman.

Maybe the band weren't as doomed as the naysayers would have you believe...time to find out.

After the ominous, strings-led intro track, Arch Enemy kick the album into high gear with the single fastest song they've put to record. 'Never Forgive, Never Forget' contains the kinds of blast beats that you wouldn't expect of Arch Enemy, but it fits them like a glove. Melodic guitar flourishes separate the blasts of all-out speed. The vocal performance by newcomer Alissa is venomous and manages to bring a brilliant new feel to the band that does not cast off the bands history. Throw in some brilliant shredding from Michael Amott and Nick Cordle and you have one beast of an album opener!

This leads to the first single 'War Eternal', a fast paced, melodic affair that is more reminiscent of classic Arch Enemy. The lead guitar lines are sublime and will get stuck in your head for days on end. The star of the show here though is Alissa, who really shows off what she can do with her voice with vehement conviction. Nick Cordle also shows a manic soloing style that contrasts Amott's precise, Mustaine-inspired style wonderfully, bringing another dynamic to the band. This song will likely join the list of Arch Enemy's anthemic hits.

'As The Pages Burn' was the second song released from 'War Eternal'. Here, we see the song structure go from fast to slower with great effect. Lyrically it's a beast, with all the rebellious fire that one would want from Arch Enemy. We also see the new vocalist perform lower growls in the bridge section before the chorus as well as somewhat more a melodic vocal production during the chaos. It's another great song, which is especially great for everyone when I consider that this far into 'Khaos Legions' I was already bored!

So, with the guitar solos, vocal style, riffs, and song writing standards, we've seen that this new line-up of Arch Enemy are capable of playing songs cut from the same cloth as the albums 'Rise Of The Tyrant' and 'Doomsday Machine'. We'd hope for nothing less from such a well established band, but listeners are in for a few surprises after the absolute guitar shredding, larynx tearing, head banging tour-de-force that is 'No More Regrets'.

'You Will Know My Name' opens with an atmospheric percussion-and-strings arrangement before the traditional Arch Enemy fare comes back into play. The song itself is slower than most of the band's past work as far as overall pace goes. The added strings again rear their heads during the second verse and it's an extra ingredient that adds a brilliant new flavour and texture to Arch Enemy's repertoire. I'll admit that when I'd heard Michael Amott mention that the band were working with a string section on this album, I was apprehensive, but it could not have worked better! With this new addition to the sound of Arch Enemy, the material here gains a whole new dimension that Arch Enemy have sorely needed for some time.

'Graveyard Of Dreams' acts as a short, emotive intermission in the album before 'Stolen Life' comes in with a solid riff and a thick, familiar sound that's trademark Arch Enemy. Venomous lyrical content comes back again, urging you to scream along in fury. 'Time Is Black' has an off-kilter intro passage before delivering a very thick riff, one of the catchiest that Arch Enemy have put out in quite some time. There's more strings to be heard during the chorus, and yet again it works wonders. Definitely a stand out song on the record, especially when the guitar solos come out swinging.

'On And On' features another few great riffs, and Alissa's vocals continue to command one hell of a charge. There's a speedy groove on this song that's rather infectious. More great leads are punctuated by great drum beats that show diversity between the conventional metal beats and the more subtly executed use of the cymbals. Vocally, the chorus shows the frontwoman's somewhat more melodic side, which is used well on the album.

'Avalanche' starts off with a bit of an eyebrow-raising electronic sound, but it's only for a second, so it's not worth losing sleep over. Orchestration takes more of a front seat on this song, which may throw as many listeners as it endears. There's still a good guitar solo to wrap your ears around, though. This song displays again how the writing of  'War Eternal' has taken musical dynamics to the next level for the band. There are more layers, musically to this album than would have been heard previously on an Arch Enemy record.

'Down To Nothing' sees Alissa embracing full-on, deep, guttural vocals as well as utilizing that scream. It's another faster song for all the Thrashers and headbangers out there. The guitar solos are maybe a little too drawn out for some people, but shred-heads will love it. Leaving the last lyric on the album as "I will return" makes for a cool exit from the new frontwoman.

The album closes with a slow, steady, but ultimately rather satisfied sounding 'Not Long For This World', an instrumental that brings out Michael Amott's more anthemic edge, as the track closes there's almost a feeling of foreboding which rather matches the mood of the moment in regard to this band, as one cannot help but wonder; what is next for Arch Enemy? Where does it go from here?

The answer to those questions will come to us in the not-too distant future. For now, we've got 'War Eternal' to enjoy. It's great to see one of the genre's greats get a new lease of life and put out a fresh sounding body of work that shows the potential we all know this band is in possession of. Sure, some will find this transitional period jarring, and we will all miss Angela Gossow's presence; what she brought to Arch Enemy, to their fans and to the Metal World can never be denied nor forgotten, but the world must go on, and I for one am very happy with the trajectory that Arch Enemy have set themselves upon.

Rating: 9/10

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