More melodic than ever, less brutal than usual: this is the new album from one of the most important Swedish bands of all time. But isn’t their music getting too melodic to the point it fails to deliver?
When Swedish Melodic Death Metal icons Arch Enemy released a statement earlier this year about the unparalleled and irreplaceable diva Angela Gossow stepping down as the lead singer of the band to become their business manager, I must say I was truly shocked, not to mention I felt really worried about the future of one of my favorite bands from the past decade. However, when they announced the also amazing Alissa White-Gluz (from Canadian Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore band The Agonist) as her replacement, I knew the band was going to be in very good hands, which is proven by the good War Eternal, their ninth studio album and, more important than that, the beginning of a new phase in their extensive history.
Another very significant change in the band was the departure (for the second time) of Michael’s brother, the superb guitarist Chris Amott, replaced by American guitarist Nick Cordle in 2012, because although Nick has been with the band for two years now, this is his first studio album with them. I’m a huge fan of the Amott brothers playing together, and again I was a worried about the final result in War Eternal. Guess what? Once again I was “happily wrong”, as Mr. Cordle showcases an excellent performance throughout the whole album. So this means there’s nothing wrong in War Eternal? Well, let’s say the album is far from being a failure, but it has lots of highs and lows which you’ll be able to notice as soon as you take your first listen to it.
War Eternal kicks off with the interesting intro Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F minor), which is the Latin for “Time Heals Nothing”, before the band strikes the listener with the reverberating havoc named Never Forgive, Never Forget. This song is way better than I expected, especially after listening to the singles released earlier this year: this is the true Melodic Death Metal we learned to love from Arch Enemy, with the always bestial riffs and solos from Mr. Michael Amott and a totally inspired Daniel Erlandsson pounding his drums. On the other hand, War Eternal shows us a more contemporary Arch Enemy, which means less brutal and more melodic than ever. Moreover, the lyrics and chorus are annoyingly cheesy (“Try to tell you what to do / They love to have control of you / Back against the wall / In danger of losing it all / Search deep inside / Remember who you are”), which is kind of the same issue found in Khaos Legions, but thanks to its traditional riffs and Alissa’s excellent performance the song is not a complete disaster.
The following track, As the Pages Burn, is the Arch Enemy most fans want for sure: it is A LOT better than “War Eternal” in terms of rhythm, lyrics and creativity, with highlights to the beautiful solos by Michael and Nick at the end; while No More Regrets is the perfect example of how Michael Amott masters the art of starting songs with quick and efficient guitar solos, and by here you’ll be able to notice Alissa won’t use her clean vocals in Arch Enemy, at least not in this album, which in my opinion is completely understandable, expected and correct. Although I’m also a fan of The Agonist, simply remember the band here is and will always be Arch Enemy.
Then we have the biggest disappointment of the entire album, the unbearable You Will Know My Name, a song that cannot be considered Arch Enemy, but a totally disposable track that sounds like a rip-off of “No Gods, No Masters” with less intensity and horrible lyrics. Fortunately, after a traditional instrumental bridge called Graveyard of Dreams, the band gets back on track with the good Stolen Life, a song that reminds me of the musicality from their last two albums, especially its heavy groove, and the even better Time Is Black, with an excellent start, lots of shredding and some keyboard parts, sounding like some of their songs from Doomsday Machine.
The last part of the album is a music rollercoaster that starts with On and On, which despite its very cohesive sonority, lacks a lot of creativity and ends up falling flat; Avalanche, a good song with more keyboards and quick but awesome guitar solos, which should sound a lot better if played live; and the excellent Down to Nothing, where Daniel Erlandsson is kickin’ fuckin’ ass one more time. In addition, the bad chorus prevents it from being really awesome, but it’s one of the best songs of the album anyway (especially the guitar solos). Michael & Co. still have time for the instrumental Not Long for This World, a very traditional way to end an Arch Enemy album.
One might ask why I gave it only a 3.0 if I said so many good things about the album. Well, there are two main issues for me in War Eternal, which I do not expect everyone to agree 100% but at least acknowledge them: first of all, the lyrical themes are too cheesy and shallow again. Where’s all that obscurity and violence from their old records? And secondly, although some of the songs sound very strong, there isn’t a single one with that “wow factor” found in masterpieces such as “Enemy Within”, “Nemesis”, “Diva Satanica” or “I Am Legend/Out for Blood”. It’s not Alissa’s or Nick’s fault, though, it’s the lack of brutality that bothers me in War Eternal, not to mention the fact that the whole album seems to have been done a lot faster than it should, which probably hampered more in-depth and complex compositions.
Not only that, it looks like the main goal with their two official videos so far has been to literally showcase Alissa’s physical attributes to the fans instead of focusing on the music, as they were by far the worst songs of the whole album. Alissa is extremely hot, but I’m pretty sure all Arch Enemy fans prefer a more rampant musicality than fancy music videos. At least the excellent artwork for the album, created by Romanian artist Costin Chioreanu, lives up to Arch Enemy’s legacy.
To sum up, War Eternal is good, but not memorable, and I don’t believe that’s because Alissa is new to the band: she’s a superb singer and performer, and Arch Enemy couldn’t have found a better person to replace Angela. As I said a couple of times in this same review, it’s the extremely melodic (and sometimes too commercial) path the band has chosen to take that concerns me. For instance, I personally consider Johan Liiva just an average vocalist, but the music Arch Enemy used to play with him was so much more intense that lots of fans still miss him nowadays, even after the outstanding work done by Angela. I’ll keep loving Arch Enemy and headbanging to their music as always, but unfortunately most of the songs from War Eternal won’t be missed on my personal playlist in a couple of months.
Best moments of the album: Never Forgive, Never Forget, As the Pages Burn and Down to Nothing.
Worst moments of the album: War Eternal, You Will Know My Name and On and On.
Released in 2014 Century Media
1. Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F minor) 1:12
2. Never Forgive, Never Forget 3:43
3. War Eternal 4:16
4. As the Pages Burn 4:01
5. No More Regrets 4:05
6. You Will Know My Name 4:37
7. Graveyard of Dreams (Instrumental) 1:10
8. Stolen Life 2:58
9. Time Is Black 5:23
10. On and On 4:04
11. Avalanche 4:38
12. Down to Nothing 3:47
13. Not Long for This World (Instrumental) 3:29
Alissa White-Gluz – vocals
Michael Amott – lead guitars
Nick Cordle – lead guitars
Sharlee D’Angelo – bass
Daniel Erlandsson – drums