The current multi-national lineup of Arch Enemy are back once again, with their follow-up to 2014's rather magnificent 'War Eternal'. Is 'Will To Power' a worthy successor? In one sense, yes... at least for some of the tracks. However, re-trodden paradigmatic paths and a few inherent weak spots make this a subpar effort... albeit still a very good album, overall.
Let's get one of the biggest curiosity questions out of the way first - does a post-The Agonist Alissa White-Gluz continue to sacrifice her creative integrity by delimiting her vocal repertoire within the context of Arch Enemy's restrictive aesthetic? Kind of yes and no. Her growls are varied, and with a nice amount of tonality, and... wait for it... there are some cleans! Don't get overexcited by the latter, though.
White-Gluz's clean voice materialises during the sixth track. While 'Remember to Believe' will undoubtedly satisfy all those who cried out for her clean voice when she joined the band three years ago, it falls short. It's a likeable enough tune during the verse... her low-end clean vocals sound great over the reverb-drenched, mellow guitars and a little synth... and there's a nice build-up during the bridge as her voice starts to pick up momentum with the track, and she belts out some powerful cleans... but then the chorus arrives. Oh dear. It's one of the worst things I've heard all year, There are some seriously misplaced growls over what can only be described as a passage of music that's entirely anti-climactical. A great build-up that promises to erupt into an emotionally potent crescendo of chorus magnificence where Alissa's voice could truly soar... but, instead, it all collapses into banality. A shame. It's not that the growls are mismatched with the music... I adore growls over the most unlikely instrumentation... look no further than Subterranean Masquerade's 'Awake' as a perfect example. It's more a case of some substandard growling over a hideously boring backing. A hideously boring backing that would've, otherwise, been elevated with some great singing. A missed opportunity here.
And that's it for cleans. Some passages of music, particularly the many melodically-swayed choruses, are CRYING out for a clean voice, but it's the growls that dominate. This isn't necessarily a negative thing per se but, being aware of Alissa's capabilities, it's a frustrating, self-imposed restriction of Arch Enemy... and, dare I say, an incredibly short-sighted one. Some of the tracks could've been given a little extra character and oomph with White-Gluz's powerful and charismatic clean voice. As such, that's not the case.
My other criticism of 'Will To Power' is that I deem it to be a bad move in not allowing ex-Nevermore axeman Jeff Loomis any degree of creativity, compositionally, within the band. It's fantastic, in one sense, that Arch Enemy have adhered to their core essence, with the addition of White-Gluz and Loomis to their ranks. However, it could also be regarded as a wasted opportunity. New members of the calibre and talent of White-Gluz and Loomis could've been a perfect chance for Arch Enemy to evolve further as a band; to spread their creative wings into sonically fresher territory. That said, there is a degree of progression to be heard on 'Will To Power'... both with White-Gluz's vocals (albeit fleeting on the aforementioned 'Remember to Believe'), and the songwriting. But, there's also a huge chunk of Arch Enemy genericism.
Some album highlights? It's nice to hear a neo-classical motif towards the end of 'Blood in the Water'... which Arch Enemy have occasionally coloured their music with in the past, like for the lengthy instrumental outro of 'Demonic Science'. It's the same for the neo-classical flavours of 'Dreams of Retribution', which also ventures into prog-metal territory... not in any wildly innovative way, but with enough inventiveness to stand out as a refreshing composition amongst the standard Arch Enemy idioms. And it has some truly fantastic, up-tempo riffage. A few additional elements are also brought into the instrumentations, here and there, such as the synth/keys on the intro and outro to 'The Eagle Flies Alone' (which is, otherwise, a fairly bland and plodding number). And 'A Fight I Must Win' has an orchestral-styled intro that adds a symphonic edge to proceedings... which re-materialises towards the end of the track, and over the outro.
Overall, 'Will To Power' is yet another solid album within Arch Enemy's impressive canon of work. However, while adventurous and refreshingly inventive in parts, it is, on the whole, playing it 'safe' a little too much. 'The World is Yours' is a prime example of such. A little too paradigmatic, if you will. But, within the band's self-styled compositional paradigms, there's the expected high level of musicianship to be found - of which Amott and Loomis' virtuosic leads, licks and immense riffage, and Daniel Erlandsson's rather awesome drum work, are incessant highlights throughout. Sharlee D'Angelo's bass is pretty nifty here and there, too. From my own perspective, as a long-term fan of the band, since the 90s, this is far from Arch Enemy's best work, although it will undoubtedly prove to be a mightily successful release for them, particularly amongst the contingent of their fanbase that want "more of the same". If Arch Enemy have the will to power, then maybe they'll also conjure enough bravado to have the will to change a little more in the future. One can but hope.
WILL TO POWER
Review by Mark Holmes
8th Sept 2017
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
8) First Day in Hell
10) Dreams of Retribution
11) My Shadow and I
12) A Fight I Must Win
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...re-trodden paradigmatic paths and a few inherent weak spots make this a subpar effort... albeit still a very good album, overall."