For Fans Of
When I think about my personal favourite metal records, there are the classics that I adore – Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’, Slipknot’s self-titled album, Death’s ‘The Sound Of Perseverance’, At The Gates’ ‘Slaughter Of The Soul‘, Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’, among a handful of others. Then there are the modern day metal albums (post-2000, in this case) that I love to no end. Records like Lamb Of God’s ‘Sacrament‘, Meshuggah’s ‘obZen‘, Heaven Shall Burn’s ‘Iconoclast’, In Flames’ ‘A Sense Of Purpose’, and Bullet For My Valentine’s ‘Scream Aim Fire’. More recently, that list has also expanded to included both Architects‘ ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us‘ and Lodz’s recent masterpiece, this year’s immense LP, ‘Time Doesn’t Heal Anything’.
Another 21st-century metal record that I also cherish is Arch Enemy’s fifth effort, 2003’s ‘Anthems Of Rebellion’. That album is, essentially, pure melo-death bangers from start to finish; ‘Silent Wars‘, ‘We Will Rise‘, ‘Despicable Heroes‘, ‘End Of The Line’, or ‘Saints & Sinners‘. In fact, on top of ‘Anthems…’, that 2000’s era of Arch Enemy’s career saw the Swedish group release what is easily their best material overall, whether it was ‘Wages Of Sin‘ (2001), ‘Doomsday Machine‘ (2005), or ‘Rise Of The Tyrant‘ (2007). Hell, even ‘The Root Of All Evil‘ (2009) – a compilation of select re-recordings from their first three long-forgotten records, giving songs from a bygone time a whole new sense of life – is a great listen.
However, once we hit this current decade of Arch Enemy, things start to go downhill and oh, how steep that decline has become. 2011’s ‘Khaos Legions’ and 2014’s ‘War Eternal’ were at the absolute best, passable, decent records for the much-loved metal band; releases that simply keep the cogs of this mighty Swedish death metal machine turning well-enough. While not awful albums, those two didn’t really reach the benchmark the band had previously set so high for themselves. Sadly, those diminishing returns continue set in deeper now with their tenth record, ‘Will To Power‘.
Every thing about this new record – from the riffs, solos and harmonies, the song’s melodies and keys, the rhythms and tempo’s, the production, structures, the teenage-targeted “rebellious” lyricism – is so painfully bland. Moreover, so much of it is just so eerily similar to the very sound that Arch Enemy has rigidly stuck to over the past decade. So much so that it now contains less impact and staying power. Plus, there are even far fewer memorable songs to boot. Look, if you answer ‘yes’ to the question, “Would you drop money on this record and waste your time with it when you have four superior Arch Enemy records to choose from instead?” then I’ll pray for your clearly questionable sanity.
The primary songwriters for Arch Enemy are, of course, talented lead guitarist Michael Amott and rock solid drummer Daniel Erlandsson, both of whom it seems are now all out of ideas. And I think that’s a slowly growing issue that’s been showing ever since Amott’s brother and partner in guitar sweet guitar harmony crime, Christopher, left the band back in 2012 (who has now been fully replaced by Nevermore guitarist, Jeff Loomis, who is also very skilled). Yet that’s now all come to a disappointing head with ‘Will To Power‘. It saddens me to think that these Swedish metal masters may actually be destitute of any other fresh sound or new creativity soon enough.
This record’s two pre-release singles, the merely decent ‘The World Is Yours’ and the laughable ‘The Eagle Flies Alone’ (whose music video is an awful cliché) show everything that Arch Enemy will offer your ears on the full 50-minute release. These two piece’s of repetitive melodic metal are egregious examples of a band prematurely showing their full hand before the full deck has even been dealt out. Because as a massive fan of this band, once I had heard those two particular tracks, I knew that ‘Will To Power‘ would present little else than what its lead singles so lowly displayed. And as soon as the painfully “Arch Enemy” sounding lead guitar of the album’s opener hit, the short instrumental ‘Set Flame To The Night‘, I knew I was right. So very right. Contrary to popular belief, I do hate it when I’m right sometimes.
To be fair, the band do… “expand” their galloping, riff-heavy, melo-death style at times. For instance, the noisy synth line that rears its head towards the end of ‘The World Is Yours‘; that distant Gregorian-like chant heard early on in ‘The Eagle Flies Alone‘; the backing choral parts and harpsichord that slips under the riffs and leads in ‘Dream Of Retribution‘, and the accentuated string sections that start and end ‘A Fight I Must Win‘. So yes, there are some small, varying musical elements heard throughout. (I’m skipping ‘Saturnine‘ because it did feel like an unnecessary instrumental track). Yet they’re just never enough – not even fucking close! And not even some solid clean singing parts can save matters.
Much like Christopher’s clean vocals on ‘End Of The Line‘ and ‘Dehumanization‘ from ‘Anthems…‘, this new record also sees clean singing used sparingly so. Obviously, they’re not performed by old mate Amott, as that role now falls to powerhouse vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, whose screams sounds just as brutal as ever on this new album. We see her clean vocals most notably used in the verses of ‘Reason To Believe‘, which finds a hard rock/power metal dynamic for the band due to the talented frontwoman flaunting her wide singing range. We also hear White-Gluz provide double-tracked clean vocals to her own venomous screams on ‘The Eagle Flies Alone‘ (I’m not fully counting the seldom spoken words in the sluggish ‘Blood In The Water’). ‘Reason To Believe‘ is the one real change up we see for the Arch Enemy’s melodic metal sound here, and I just do not think it’s enough, especially with its cheesy lyrics about self-perseverance and fighting on when life’s shitty. While empowering for some I’m sure, they come off as deeply cringy to me. White-Gluz is a terrific vocalist – that much should be clear to anybody with ears – but with so many cliché lyrics scattered throughout this record, her powerful vocal deliveries are undermined. (The lyric credits for ‘Will To Power‘ show it being split between both White-Gluz and Amott, but maybe it’s time someone else wrote lyrics?) Because while a vocalist might sound amazing when screaming and singing, if the actual words coming from their mouths aren’t al that shit hot, there’ll be an imbalance. Which is the case here.
In a last ditch effort to excavate some positives from ‘Will To Power‘, I will say that ‘Murder Scene‘, the evil crunch of ‘First Day In Hell‘, and the instrumentation and pace of ‘Dream Of Retribution‘ are all fine songs; they get the job done. And yet, they are the only real standouts of what is a sub par and mediocre record from a band that can – and has – done so much better. If you’re a fan of Arch Enemy and someone that just wants more from them, no matter how similar is it, then more power to you. As for me, I cannot abide by this.
In the summary section for this review, I state: “What the fuck happened to this band?“. Perhaps I should’ve said, “What the fuck didn’t happen to this band?“, because nothing has changed or evolved in Arch Enemy’s sound over the past decade or so. It’s the same old formula time and time again. The only thing different here on ‘Will To Power’ is that the album title and song names are different, and there’s some new faces. While the band’s lineup in 2017 is different from their 2007 roster, the vision and music for ‘Will To Power’ remains the same; meaning this isn’t that invigorating of a listen, but that it’s also nothing new for the band. Especially not with the glorious past material that stands taller and prouder in Arch Enemy’s rearview mirror.
Back in my uni days, one of my lecturer’s told me he thought all bands should stop writing new albums after their fourth release, and at the very latest, their fifth release. I, of course, didn’t quite with him as that’s an extreme, and such implied repetition isn’t indicative of every single artist or musical collective out there. But man, ‘Will To Power’ has really made me rethink that notion.
1. Set Flame To The Night
2. The Race
3. Blood In The Water
4. The World Is Yours
5. The Eagle Flies Alone
6. Reason To Believe
7. Murder Scene
9. Dream Of Retribution
10. My Shadow And I
11. A Fight I Must Win
‘Will To Power’ is out Friday, September 8th via Century Media Records.