Album Review – Arch Enemy / Will to Power (2017)

A good balance between the classic days of the band with the more modern path they decided to venture after the arrival of frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz. But please, they need to stay away from clean vocals.

Will to Power, the tenth studio album by Swedish Melodic Death Metal icons Arch Enemy, might be far from being a masterpiece, but at least in my humble opinion it’s a considerable improvement from their previous installment, the uninspired War Eternal, released in 2014. The first Arch Enemy album to feature guitarist Jeff Loomis (Nevermore, Conquering Dystopia) as well as clean singing as lead vocals, Will to Power presents a good balance between the classic days of the band with Angela Gossow on vocals with the more modern path they decided to venture after the arrival of frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz, with each song having its own soul and purpose on the album.

Although Jeff definitely brought a new dynamism to the music by Arch Enemy after joining the band in 2014, I guess it was the departure of Nick Cordle that same year that had the most positive impact on the songwriting by Michael Amott, who seems to have gotten rid of the damaging “generic” virus that infested his music in War Eternal. Furthermore, another nice touch in Will to Power is the album’s stylish and meaningful cover art, designed by American artist Alex Reisfar. “The human skull as a central focal point, the flesh sort of falling off into the circular pattern. The snake ouroboros weaving in and out of the mouths and throats of the severed heads of a wolf, a goat and a vampire bat… All representing self-determination and a predatory, almost parasitic will to power”, explained Mr. Amott, and as the music progresses in the album you’ll realize how powerful the art is and how much it enhances the impact of the whole album.

Set Flame to the Night is a classy intro perfect for their live performances, warming up the listener for the high-octane anthem The Race, my favorite song of the album, where Alissa and drummer Daniel Erlandsson take the lead with their wicked growls and unstoppable beats, respectively, violently questioning the dangerous direction our society is taking (“I heard there was a race / Where we’re all one race / Color, gender, age never could dictate / I saw there was a time / When we valued all life / Nobody oppressed, everyone had rights / Suddenly, in an age where the distance between us is binary / All we see, is an internal war friendly fire in the sky and respect on the floor”). Less intense and more melodic, Blood in the Water, another fantastic choice for their live concerts, transpires old school Arch Enemy with a pinch of their contemporary creations, with the flawless guitar duo comprised of Michael and Jeff being absolutely on fire, blasting slashing riffs and solos throughout the whole song. And in The World Is Yours we face more insane riffs by Michael and Jeff, not to mention the always awesome keys by guest musician Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) and the song’s sing-along, catchy chorus (“If you want the world / Use your mind / Take control / Feel the strength / Rise from within / If you really want it the world is yours”).

One of the first tracks in Will to Power to be revealed, The Eagle Flies Alone, is not as gripping as the rest of the album despite its powerful lyrics, with Alissa showcasing a good vocal performance, though, as well as the good job done by Michael and Jeff on the guitars; followed by Reason to Believe, which really feels like if Arch Enemy meets The Agonist as it’s the first ever Arch Enemy song with lead clean vocals in almost its entirety (with some growls added to make it less cheesy). It’s indeed a power ballad that might make their newer fans happy, but it’s unfortunately too generic compared to what they’re capable of. Not even Michael’s own brother, ex-Arch Enemy guitarist Christopher Amott, is capable of saving it from being tiresome. On the other hand, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo kicks off the dark and belligerent tune Murder Scene, where Alissa sounds truly enraged adding even more electricity to the song’s already boisterous rhythm. Put differently, it’s top-notch Melodic Death Metal with hints of traditional Death Metal, with highlights to the superb job done by both Michael and Jeff with their fiery strings; whereas First Day in Hell, the most ominous of all songs, brings forward a neck-breaking main riff boosted by Alissa’s obscure, deep gnarls and screams, and as the story being told evolves you’ll feel your soul getting darker and darker.

Then we have the instrumental bridge Saturnine, shaping up the sonority for the multi-layered and gripping Dreams of Retribution, a Melodic Death Metal feast that brings together the past, present and future of the band, with its guitars and bass being in total sync while Daniel adds progressiveness to the musicality and Jens once again kicks ass with his spot-on keyboard notes. The second to last song of the regular version of the album, titled My Shadow and I, is another violent creation by Arch Enemy, sounding slightly less inspired than some of the previous songs but still above average, mainly due to the intricacy found in drums and bass lines. Finally, A Fight I Must Win might be slower than most songs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not cohesive, piercing and metallic, representing almost to perfection the path Arch Enemy has been following with their latest albums, closing Will to Power in a strong way. Actually, if you go for the limited edition digipak, you’ll be treated to their cover for English Street Punk band Charged GBH’s 1982 song City Baby Attacked by Rats (you can listen to the original version HERE), an amazing version by Michael, Alissa & Co. that’s definitely worth the investment in the special edition of the album.

Overall, Will to Power is a pretty decent album by Michael and his crew, being recommended for all fans of modern Melodic Death Metal. After listening to the album for the very first time, I had some mixed feelings about some of the songs, while others (the ones where clean vocals where pretty much nonexistent) hit me in a very positive manner right from the first second, proving that, at least to my ears and my heart, Arch Enemy still got it and can deliver high-end metal music if they want to. I honestly believe the best thing the band can do right now is to stay away from the idea that clean vocals are a good addition or variation to their music, because in the end that’s certainly not what made this band so relevant and admired in Heavy Metal. I’m not saying Alissa is not a good singer when using her clean voice; quite the contrary, she’s an incredible vocalist, but Arch Enemy are a synonym to rebelliousness and anger, things that can only be represented by some high dosages of rabid screams and deep guttural growls.

Best moments of the album: The Race, Blood in the Water, Murder Scene and Dreams of Retribution.

Worst moments of the album: The Eagle Flies Alone and Reason to Believe.

Released in 2017 Century Media

Track listing
1. Set Flame to the Night (instrumental) 1:18
2. The Race 3:15
3. Blood in the Water 3:55
4. The World Is Yours 4:53
5. The Eagle Flies Alone 5:15
6. Reason to Believe 4:47
7. Murder Scene 3:50
8. First Day in Hell 4:48
9. Saturnine (instrumental) 1:09
10. Dreams of Retribution 6:40
11. My Shadow and I 4:05
12. A Fight I Must Win 6:37

Limited Edition Digipak bonus track
13. City Baby Attacked by Rats (Charged GBH cover) 2:48

Band members
Alissa White-Gluz – vocals
Michael Amott – lead guitars, backing vocals
Jeff Loomis – lead guitars, backing vocals
Sharlee D’Angelo – bass
Daniel Erlandsson – drums

Guest musicians
Jens Johansson – keyboards on “The World Is Yours”, “Saturnine” and “Dreams of Retribution”
Christopher Amott – guitars & keyboards on “Reason to Believe”

Album Review – Stratovarius / Episode (1996)

The best album from the best Finnish band of all time.

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stratovarius_episodeOi maamme, Suomi, synnyinmaa, soi, sana kultainen! Finland is by far one of the most Heavy Metal countries in the world, and I’m not inventing this information from out of nowhere: take a look at this map showing the number of Heavy Metal bands per 100,000 people and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Nightwish, Lordi, Amorphis, Sonata Arctica, Turisas, Apocalyptica, Teräsbetoni, Finntroll, HIM, Sentenced and Wintersun are just some of the biggest exponents of heavy music in this land that offers its people a lot more than just ice and snow, but none of them have changed the world of heavy music as the Power Metal/Melodic Heavy Metal band Stratovarius.

Since their start in 1984, Stratovarius have released many important albums which revolutionized Heavy Metal with intense and fast riffs, double bass, high-pitched screams and epic songs. Among those releases there was their fifth studio album, Episode, released over 20 years ago, which in my opinion was the most important step in the band’s history in terms of creativity and evolution. With the awesome Timo Kotipelto on vocals for the second time after the good album Fourth Dimension (and fortunately until present days), and the addition of the beasts Jens Johansson on keyboards and Jörg Michael on drums, Stratovarius became a synonym for Melodic Heavy Metal in the 90’s and influenced an infinite number of bands all around the world. That was the band’s most stable and powerful lineup of all time, until Timo Tolkki left the band in 2008.

The music in Episode is pretty straight forward, it’s fast and clean Heavy Metal with total synchronicity of instruments, together with lyrics talking about life, love, dreams, and all the struggles a man has inside his mind. Add to that the beautiful atmosphere created by the Sibelius String Orchestra and Sibelius Choir, and you have a musical masterpiece. The clock ticking in the beginning of the album just announces that what comes next is no less than memorable: Father Time is an incredible song that summarizes all the power and technique of the band’s members, especially Timo Tolkki and Jörg Michael. What those guys do with their instruments is beyond awesome, and seeing this song live is like having a musical orgasm. Furthermore, Tolkki’s riffs are a constant in the whole album and one of the elements that make it so special for all Heavy Metal fans.

The speed goes on with Will the Sun Rise, another classic showing how perfect the partnership Tolkki/Kotipelto used to be. Then things slow down a little with the beautiful Eternity, but after the instrumental intro Episode comes one of their fastest and most amazing compositions ever: Speed of Light can make even a Thrash Metal band jealous of its speed and riffs, and as Canadians love a mosh pit I can’t wait for a Stratovarius concert here in Toronto to slam into the pit with this song. On the other hand, Uncertainty is quite boring and the lowest point of the album, despite its nice intro.

stratovarius_1995The next track is another good ballad, Season of Change, where Kotipelto once again demonstrates why he’s a reference in Melodic Heavy Metal, followed by the instrumental song Stratosphere, where we can see an inspired Timo Tolkki and a crazy Jens Johansson “masturbating” their guitar and keyboards respectively for our pure delight. Babylon can be considered an “epic” song due to its lyrics, strong intro and variations, while Tomorrow brings back the band at full speed with its inspiring lyrics (“Feeling strong and brave inside / my head up high with pride / yes I’ll be back tomorrow”) and Jörg Michael pounding his drums with his unique technique.

Finally, we have the song Night Time Eclipse, a nice semi-ballad with pleasant riffs and solos, and then a ballad so beautiful I can’t even find the right words to describe it, Forever, where Timo Kotipelto melts the heart of any woman with his performance (“I’m still there everywhere / I’m the dust in the wind / I’m the star in the northern sky / I never stayed anywhere / I’m the wind in the trees / would you wait for me forever?”). The Japanese version of Episode also contains a good bonus track called When the Night Meets the Day, another nice song, albeit not as wonderful as the regular tracks.

If you don’t know Stratovarius, I would say Episode is probably the best album to start. The only “issue” would be the side effects of listening to this musical wonder, which are an extreme addiction to Finnish Heavy Metal and a compulsive obsession with the language, culture, drinks and people from the marvelous land of ice and snow.

Best moments of the album: Father Time, Speed of Light and Forever.

Worst moments of the album: Uncertainty is the only “weak” track of all, or let’s say the least awesome.

Released in 1996 Noise Records

Track listing
1. Father Time 5:01
2. Will the Sun Rise? 5:06
3. Eternity 6:55
4. Episode (instrumental) 2:01
5. Speed of Light 3:03
6. Uncertainty 5:59
7. Season of Change 6:56
8. Stratosphere (instrumental) 4:51
9. Babylon 7:09
10. Tomorrow 4:51
11. Night Time Eclipse 7:58
12. Forever 3:06

Japanese edition bonus track
13. When the Night Meets the Day 5:30

Band members
Timo Kotipelto – vocals
Timo Tolkki – guitars, backing vocals
Jens Johansson – keyboards
Jari Kainulainen – bass
Jörg Michael – drums

Album Review – Stratovarius / Eternal (2015)

The Finnish masters of Power Metal are back with a beautiful album made to be eternal.

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Stratovarius_EternalIt is unfair to say that Stratovarius are back because, actually, they are that kind of band that don’t let their fans waiting for too long. But, yeah, on September 11, date which many bands picked to release new albums too, Eternal came to light and for the fans of Power Metal, Speed Metal, Symphonic Metal and Finnish bands, this is definitely one of the best releases of the year.

So, here are some interesting facts about Eternal: the whole process, from the writing to the release, took the band one year; the producer of the album was, once again, the guitarist Matias Kupiainen, who has been involved with the production process of Stratovarius’ releases since joining the band in 2008; all the lyrics were written by Timo Kotipelto and Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica), except Man in the Mirror and Fire in your Eyes, written by keyboardist Jens Johansson; Liimatainen also co-composed along with Kotipelto three tracks for this album: Shine in the Dark, In My Line of Work and Few Are Those; the cover artwork, designed by the Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák, who previously worked with the band in the albums Polaris (2009), Elysium (2011) and Nemesis (2013), was ready more than a year ago and brings together elements and references from the previous artworks; after several suggestions and ideas, the title of the album, Eternal, was chosen by the band in a Facebook chat session. You can check these and other cool facts and highlights of the band on this album on this short documentary from inside the studio, released by earMusic.

In my opinion and in the opinion of several reviews I’ve read recently, Stratovarius are sounding better than ever in Eternal, bringing again all that old school vibe of the Power/Speed Metal they helped to develop in the early 90’s. The best example of this is the first track, My Eternal Dream (check the beautiful official video clip below) that has a lot of energy thanks to the intense keyboards, the heavy guitars and fast drums and bass, not to mention Kotipelto is also singing beautifully. It also has an amazing guitar solo by Kupiainen like the old ones we used to hear on the early years of the band. Shine in the Dark is another great song, sounding slightly heavier, and it was the first presented to the fans with a lyric video and, believe me, the lyrics will stick to your mind for days (“I am what you made of me / Your blood is my blood / And your heart is my heart / We are what we leave behind / An eternal stream / You flow through me / I fear no more though you’re gone / I know we’ll meet again / I know you’re there still somewhere / You are waiting”). Rise Above It brings again the Speed Metal style and definitely sounds like something you have heard before, it is intense like “Forever Free”, and one could easily think it has been released on their 1997 album Visions.

The first tunes of Lost Without a Trace may trick you and make you think there is a ballad coming, but take another listen at it and you will find a more modern and progressive touch. Rolf Pilve’s performance on drums in this song is great, very paced. This is the second album recorded by Pilve on drums and it seems like he has been in the band forever. Feeding the Fire has a great start with keyboards, like many of Stratovarius’ classics, and its vibe grows stronger along the music. I imagine this song played live as one of the highest points of the concert – I hope they add it to their upcoming tour setlists. In My Line of Work is a great example on how the band is working great together; it brings the perfect balance of vocals and all the instruments and sounds more modern than the previous songs of the album, just like the following one, Man in the Mirror, showing that Power Metal can sound classic and yet bring new elements.

StratovariusFew Are Those has several levels of intensity: it starts with a nice keyboard intro, then gets rhythm with the addition of bass and drums and reaches its peak with powerful guitar riffs. Once again, Kotipelto’s performance is great and full of feeling. The ballad Fire in Your Eyes brings a moment of calm after so many stormy songs. It starts (and ends) in a beautiful way with Kotipelto’s voice and a piano, and gains force later with an outstanding work by Pilve and Kupiainen.

Eternal comes to its end with a nearly-12-minute epic song, The Lost Saga. This is, undoubtedly, the highlight of the album, sounding intense and progressive like many other of the band’s hits, like “Infinity”, for example. It has choirs, orchestrations, great extended solos, amazing beats, unexpected (and yet perfect) change of rhythms, in summary, a song that has everything to thrill even the most coldhearted fan.

In very few words, after 10 songs and 54 minutes Eternal makes you ask for more. Stratovarius definitely have a very consistent line-up, still developing great ideas and bringing to the 2000’s the same kind of songs that made them huge more than 20 years ago. Soon their world tour starts, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for more updates. May all Stratovarius’ songs be eternal!

Best moments of the album: ALL OF THEM!!!

Worst moments of the album: Duuuh! None, of course!

Released in 2015 earMusic

Track listing
1. My Eternal Dream 6:04
2. Shine in the Dark 5:05
3. Rise Above It 4:26
4. Lost Without a Trace 5:28
5. Feeding the Fire 4:12
6. In My Line of Work 4:18
7. Man in the Mirror 4:43
8. Few Are Those 4:11
9. Fire in Your Eyes 4:15
10. The Lost Saga 11:39

Band members
Timo Kotipelto – vocals
Matias Kupiainen – guitars
Lauri Porra – bass
Jens Johansson – keyboards
Rolf Pilve – drums