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, such as 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, straight 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, 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 also.
However, once we hit this current decade of Arch Enemy, things start to go downhill and oh, how steep that decline is. 2011’s ‘Khaos Legions’ and 2014’s ‘War Eternal’ were at the absolute best, passable, decent records for the band; releases that just kept the cogs of this mighty Swedish metal machine turning well-enough. While not awful albums, those two didn’t reach the benchmark the band had previously set for themselves. Sadly, those diminishing returns continue and have set in even deeper now with their tenth album, ‘Will To Power‘.
Every fuckin’ thing about this new record – from the guitar riffs, solos and harmonies, the song’s melodies and keys, their rhythms and tempo’s, the release’s polished production, the song structures, the teenage-targeted, “rebellious” and cheesy, self-motivational lyrics – is all so painfully bland. Moreover, so much of it is just so eerily similar to the sound that Arch Enemy has rigidly stuck to over the past decade that it now contains far 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, at the very least, four superior Arch Enemy records and a great compilation release to choose from instead?” then I will pray for you and 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, sadly. And I think that’s a slowly growing issue that’s been showing ever since Amott’s brother and partner in guitar harmony crime, Christopher Amott, left the band back in 2012 (who has now been fully replaced by Nevermore guitarist, Jeff Loomis, who is also very talented). Yet that’s now all come to a very disappointing head with ‘Will To Power‘. It truly saddens me to think that these Swedish metal masters may actually be destitute of any other sound or creativity.
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 just 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 once massive fan of this band, once I had heard those two particular tracks, I knew that ‘Will To Power‘ would present very little else than what its lead singles so blandly displayed. And as soon as the painfully “Arch Enemy” sounding lead guitar of the album’s first song, the short instrumental of ‘Set Flame To The Night‘ hit, I knew that I was indeed right. So very right. Contrary to popular belief, I do sometimes hate it when I’m right.
Now, to be fair, the band do… “expand” their galloping, riff-heavy, melo-death sound 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 very small, varying musical elements heard throughout. (I’m skipping ‘Saturnine‘ because it feels like such an unnecessary instrumental track). Yet they’re just never enough – not even fucking close! And not even some solid clean singing can save matters.
Much like Christopher Amott’s clean vocals on ‘End Of The Line‘ and ‘Dehumanization‘ from ‘Anthems…‘, this new record also sees clean singing used just as sparingly so. Obviously, they’re not performed by old mate Amott, as that role falls to powerhouse vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, whose screams sounds just as brutal as ever on this 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 word lyrics in the sluggish and dull, ‘Blood In The Water’). ‘Reason To Believe‘ is the one real change up we see for the Arch Enemy’s melodic metal sound on album #10, and I just do not think it’s enough, especially with its cheesy-as-fuck lyrics about self-perseverance and fighting on when life’s shitty, that while may be empowering for some, will come off as deeply cringy to others. White-Gluz is an utterly terrific metal vocalist – that much should be clear to anybody with ears – but with so many cliché lyrics scattered throughout this album, her powerful vocal deliveries are sorely undermined. (The lyric credits for ‘Will To Power‘ show it being split between both White-Gluz and Amott… so maybe it’s time someone else wrote lyrics?). Because while a vocalist might sound amazing in terms of screaming and singing, if the actual words coming from their mouths aren’t, then there’ll be a massive imbalance. Which is exactly the case here.
In a last ditch effort to excavate some actual positives from ‘Will To Power‘, I will say that ‘Murder Scene‘, the evil and sluggish crunch of ‘First Day In Hell‘, and the instrumentation and pace of ‘Dream Of Retribution‘ are all fine songs; they get the job done well. And yet, they are the only real standouts of what is a sub par and incredibly mediocre record from a band that can – and has – done so, 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 anymore.
In the above summary section for this review, I state “What the fuck happened to this band?“. Perhaps I should have said “What the fuck didn’t happen to this band?” because nothing has changed, adapted, or evolved in Arch Enemy’s sound over the past decade or so – it’s just the same old formula again and again. The only thing different here on ‘Will To Power’ is that the album title and song names are different. While the band’s lineup in 2017 is also quite different from their 2007 roster, the vision and music for ‘Will To Power’ remains the same old; meaning this is not only that invigorating a listen, it’s also nothing new in the slightest 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 once told me that he thought all bands and artists should stop writing new material after their fourth or fifth albums, and at the very latest, their sixth release. I, of course, didn’t quite agree with him as that’s a bit extreme and such implied repetition and indifference isn’t indicative of every single artist or musical collective out there. But man oh 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.