Two key changes have taken place in Arch Enemy's ranks since 2011's 'Khaos Legions'. In 2012, Michael Amott's brother and fellow axeman, Christopher, exited the band for the second time (a permanent departure, it seems, on this occasion), and was swiftly replaced by American guitarist Nick Cordle. Cue ephemeral press coverage of said exit and minimal ruckus. Earlier this year, it was announced that longtime vocalist Angela Gossow was to step out of the limelight to re-focus her energy and efforts in the realm of music management, including that of Arch Enemy (for whom she's assumed the dual role of managing for the past few years anyway). Her replacement? Canada's Alissa White-Gluz, formerly of The Agonist. Cue widespread press coverage and maximum commotion. I can't recall so much fuss being made when Angela replaced original frontman Johan Liiva at the turn of the century - a few eyebrows raised perhaps, but certainly not the furore that's erupted throughout online social media the past few weeks. That's evidently a sign of not only Angela's popularity as an artist but, also, Arch Enemy's ever escalating fanbase since she joined. In other words, there are a significantly greater number of fans to upset in 2014 than there were fourteen years ago. That said, for every piece of negativity aimed at Arch Enemy's latest personnel change, the positive reactions seem to have been three times that. And, not forgetting, this is all before their tenth studio album, 'War Eternal', has been released. There's no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes.
First-off, rest assured, 'War Eternal' is a metallically muscular beast of an album. It's Arch Enemy through-and-through, and indubitably up there with their best work. For all the naysayers who've expressed inequitable criticisms based on the couple of tracks they've heard from the album ahead of its release, or those who've simply reacted to the news with blindly impetuous malice without even listening to a single bar of music, also rest assured that Alissa is the finest of fine replacements for Angela. Anyone already aware of her work in The Agonist will know that she's the real deal. Personally, I'm profoundly saddened she was forced to leave The Agonist upon joining Arch Enemy, even though it makes sense logistically due to the latter's heavily demanding tour schedules. However, with her refined and incisive growls, and one of few singers who growl with a sense of pitch (à la At The Gates' Thomas Lindberg et al), she would have been my first choice for replacing Angela. Her vocal performance is, as expected, stunning throughout. And for those who are aware of Alissa's previous work, what will undoubtedly become a much debated question for said peeps: should she be using her rather magnificent clean voice within Arch Enemy's music? Personally, as a longtime fan of the band (since the Liiva era), I've always believed that a sporadicity of clean vocals would both progress and add a fresher dimension to their aesthetic. Now, with Alissa in their fold, they have the perfect opportunity for such. It seems, however, they've opted to play it safe for the time being, at least with the vocals, so it's growls all the way. I'm guessing they predicted a degree of backlash after the announcement of Angela's departure, so didn't want to exacerbate the situation by also introducing clean vocals into their sonic arsenal.
Musically, every single Arch Enemy idiom and heterogeneity of genre ingredients for which the band have become known and loved, has been thrown into the compositional mix, and with exhilarating results, all balanced out within their staple contraposition of metal extremity and the extremely melodic. Chock-full of massive/epic riffs, virtuosic shred, twin guitar harmonies, dexterous drumming, anthemic melodies and technical prowess, 'War Eternal' is Arch Enemy doing precisely what they do best, but with more compositional consistency than they've had for a while. There's no filler here whatsoever. And not averse to sporadic neo-classical divergences within their compositions, this is more prominent on the album than it has been since 1999's 'Burning Bridges'. There's nothing overtly such (à la 'Silverwing' or the 'Demonic Science' outro), but neo-classical flavours do rear their head throughout a fair number of the songs. Such a nod to their past adorns certain passages of music with a nicely warm nostalgic feeling. And, neo-classical twangs aside, tracks such as 'No More Regrets' and 'As the Pages Burn' have old school traits running through their veins anyway. All that said, 'War Eternal' is in no small way a pastiched re-tread of tried and tested Arch Enemy genericism. There's a genuinely progressive impetus to much of the music that ensures their status as one of the most exciting metal bands plying their trade in the twenty first century. And so begins, in emphatically thrilling fashion, an exciting new chapter for them. I just hope they make full use of Alissa's remarkable vocal range on future music.
Review by Mark Holmes
9th June 2014
1) Tempore NihilvSanat (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
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a metallically muscular beast of an album... indubitably up there with their best work."