Thursday, October 12, 2017

Matt Spall reviews Arch Enemy

Our friend the British music critic Matt Spall, who specializes in long reviews, has stated that he is a big fan of "melodic death metal." As everyone knows, Arch Enemy has a boatload of talent and experience and they have had success for many years playing the "melodic death metal." When the new Arch Enemy album arrived, as expected, an committed enthusiast of the genre like Matt Spall is bound to get around to pour his energies into analyzing the work.
What did he find? What is going on with Arch Enemy in 2017?
If you love detailed and loquacious reviews, especially in the field of progressive music, it is difficult to go wrong with Matt's writings. He writes about it a lot, as you can read at the link at the end of this review. --MMB.
Artist: Arch Enemy
Album Title: Will To Power
Label: Century Media Records
Date Of Release: 8 September 2017
Have I ever mentioned that I love early Arch Enemy? I’m talking ‘Burning Bridges’ and before. This, as far as I am concerned, was the pinnacle of their career, with ‘Stigmata’ remaining my personal favourite. I loved the dark brutality that married so effortlessly with blazing solos, soaring melodies, a touch of progressive intent and topped off by the characterful growls of Johan Liiva. This was proper, unadulterated melodic death metal that delighted and beguiled me on each and every spin.
Since the departure of Liiva and the recruitment of Angela Gossow, I have to be honest and say that the output from this undeniably talented quintet has been disappointing and frustrating. Sure each album remains littered with muscular riffing and lightning fast and expressive solos, because to a certain extent, with the likes of Michael Amott and now the newest recruit, Jeff Loomis in the fold, there has to be a certain amount of six-string exuberance. It is part of the Arch Enemy DNA. However, in almost every other department, Arch Enemy have taken a step backwards as far as I am concerned.
To be crystal clear though, I am not blaming Gossow for the reduction in my enjoyment. Sure, I preferred Liiva’s delivery but this is only part of the story. Overall, I have found the post-Millennium material too dull, too prescriptive and lacking in that magic ‘je ne sais quoi’. I appreciate that I am likely to be in a minority with this view but I have to be honest otherwise what else do I have?
But that being said, there are moments within the likes of ‘Wages Of Sin’, ‘Doomsday Machine’ and even ‘War Eternal’ that make my ears perk up. I’d be a fool to say otherwise given my undying fondness for heavy guitars and wailing solos, particularly when handled by such accomplished musicians.
And now, in 2017, Arch Enemy find themselves fronted by the utterly gorgeous Alissa White-Gluz for whom ‘Will To Power’ is her second studio album having replaced Gossow in 2013. She is joined by the founding duo of guitarist Michael Amott and drummer Daniel Erlandsson as well as long-time bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and now second axeman Jeff Loomis.
This being the first studio record to feature Loomis as a fully-fledged member of the band, I had a tingle of excitement about a new Arch Enemy album for the first time in the better part of two decades. Being a huge fan of Nevermore and their more unique style of melodic prog/power metal, I was hoping Loomis’ songwriting abilities would have an effect on ‘Will To Power’. Imagine the huge lump of disappointment I experienced then, when I found out that Loomis has zero input into the songs on this record. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to let go of bands that have historically been so important to me. As a result, I wanted to give Arch Enemy one last chance before giving up on them once and for all.
Sadly, I can honestly say that my relationship with Arch Enemy is at an end. And I am genuinely sad to say this. I really wanted to like ‘Will To Power’. I really wanted to welcome the band back into my life with open arms. And, after hearing the infectious anthem that is ‘The World Is Yours’, I dared to believe that the spark might be reignited. It contains some devastating riffs, savage drumming from Erlandsson, bold bass work from D’Angelo and some excellent growls from White-Gluz. The chorus is hook laden and the lead guitar trade-offs between Amott and Loomis are full of energy and mind-bending dexterity. There’s even a riff at the two-minute mark that’s classic ‘Burning Bridges’ territory.
The unfortunate truth however, is that this is by far and away one of the best tracks on the record, leaving much of the rest in its dust. Hell, a few songs in and I find myself getting bored, wondering when I can listen to something else – ‘Stigmata’ for instance.
In the interests of fairness and as I have hinted elsewhere, I will gladly admit that the musicianship throughout this record is of the very highest order. There are plenty of bruising and satisfying riffs to be heard as well as some crazy lead work. But I have come to realise that these ingredients alone are not enough. I need more. I want to be blown away by the music that I listen to, or moved, or fascinated. ‘Will To Power’, does none of these things. Even the painfully inevitable dabble with clean vocals within the ballad-like ‘Reason To Believe’ does very little to stir my interest. White-Gluz has a tremendous voice, with a rich, smouldering tone. But when she executes something in between this and her all-out extreme delivery, it just sounds a bit cringe-worthy.
Speaking of cringe-worthy, I now find myself addressing the lyrics on ‘Will To Power’. I’m all for bands spouting positivity if that’s what they want, but the content here hits an entirely new level. ‘The World Is Yours’, ‘Reason To Believe’, ‘A Fight I Must Win’ and the album title itself; these all sound like chapters in some kind of self-help book rather than heavy metal song titles. Being this overt and in-you-face, I find the lyrics just a little too positive and a little too toe-curling. It’s all too saccharine and nauseating to be perfectly honest.
That said, tracks like ‘Murder Scene’ with its lovely dual guitar harmonies and very strong melodies are rays of sunshine in an otherwise murky and unfulfilling record. There’s also ‘Blood In The Water’ which has more of a ‘Burning Bridges’ bright and breezy feel to it. And the closer ‘A Fight I Must Win’ has a certain gravitas thanks to a lush orchestral intro and symphonic overtones throughout.
But at this point, there’s not much more to say really. I will state once again that I am almost certain to be in a small minority with my views and there will be legions of fans chomping at the bit to deride my review. Some might even use an occasional swear word in my direction. That’s fine, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and if you like a polished and conventional style of extreme metal, ‘Will To Power’ will be a triumph. But in all honesty, there are far too many excellent records out there that I’d rather listen to. I wish that it wasn’t the case but hey, you can’t win them all. And with that, Arch Enemy and I have officially parted ways.
The Score Of Much Metal: 5

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