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”

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