Sunday, 6 July 2014

Arch Enemy's 'War Eternal' - Album Review

Melodic death metal is a very popular sub-genre of metal, and Arch Enemy are one of the biggest bands to fit that description. Their mix of harsh vocals and tight, melodic guitar leads gives them a lots of cross-over appeal. War Eternal, the band's ninth studio album, sees a big change for the band as long-time frontwoman Angela Gossow announced her departure earlier this year. This obviously caused a lot of sadness in the metal community, but the fans should not have been worried, as new frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist) fills the void exceptionally well. There is not a great deal of difference between Gossow and White-Gluz's vocal delivery, so do not expect a big change of direction from the band. I will say however that I think White-Gluz has a slightly more musical voice, and her harsh vocals carry a little more melody than Gossow's. She possess and excellent clean voice too, but unfortunately does not get a chance to show it off on this album. This is also the band's first album to feature guitarist Nick Cordle (Arsis) who joined the band in 2012 replacing founding member Christopher Amott. Having two new members (and songwriters) on board for this release has definitely helped main songwriter Michael Amott up his game. The last couple of Arch Enemy albums, while containing some good songs, fell a little flat when compared to some of their previous work. With Christopher Amott's desire to play metal music clearly dwindling, Michael Amott's main co-writer was not as inspired as he had been in the past. It is always sad when a founding member of a band leaves, but I think in this case, it was for the best. Christopher Amott has contributed so much to this band, but if he feels it is time for him to move on and concentrate on other genres of music, then it was right for him to do that. Cordle has come into the band with a whole load of new, fresh energy and has totally rejuvenated Arch Enemy's sound. The overall style has not changed one bit, but the urgency and anger of some of their earlier work is back with a bang here. His joining the band is just as important as White-Gluz's and his contribution to the songwriting and flashy guitar leads should not be forgotten! In short, what we have in War Eternal is easily the band's best album since 2005's Doomsday Machine and is likely to revive some interest from people who were getting a little bored of the band.

As with most Arch Enemy albums, there is a short instrumental prelude to kick things off. Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F Minor) serves that purpose here and sets the tone with demonic choirs and dramatic strings before the album proper starts with the thrashy Never Forgive, Never Forget. From the outset, White-Gluz is out to impress and her impassioned vocal delivery grabs you right from the gate. Drummer Daniel Erlandsson blasts his way with ease through sections of the track and the angsty chorus sees White-Gluz compete with some lead guitar lines as both stick to the same melody. The album's title track is up next and it is classic Arch Enemy. Amott and Cordle's riffs are big and catchy and White-Gluz screams powerfully over the top, especially in the anthemic chorus. There are lots of excellent lead breaks in this song as Amott and Cordle track licks and riffs aplenty. The main solo section here is very strong, with plenty of changes in tempo and playing styles that shows the versatility of the players. As the Pages Burn is another fast, thrash metal track with some real gut wrenching vocals from White-Gluz that show her great range. She can tackle the low growls and the higher-pitched screams with equal ease which allows her to add plenty of emotion into her performance. It is a fast song that is over almost as soon as it has begun, but it sure to go down a storm live. No More Regrets continues on in the same vein but with plenty of added lead guitar. Te riffing during the choruses in this song is stunning, with the two guitarists playing at full tilt to ensure a stunning piece of work is delivered. It is not the band's most memorable song by any means, but it has a certain fury about it that makes it infectious and enjoyable to listen to. You Will Know My Name opens with a slightly atypical classic rock style guitar riff that soon evolves into a really solid mid-paced heavy metal song that has a very 1980s vibe about it. Subtle keyboard textures helps to augment certain sections of the song and makes it sound much more epic than it would without them. The guitar solo in this song is excellent too, and makes good use of fluid melodies before the chorus kicks back in and White-Gluz assures us that we will know her name - and many more people definitely will do after hearing this album, that is for sure!

After another short instrumental Graveyard of Dreams, we reach Stole Life which is probably my favourite song on the album. It is quite short but it packs so much excellent music into such a short space of time that you cannot help but bang your head and sing along. Short stabs of orchestration really help the overall mood of the piece and White-Gluz delivers the anthemic chorus with gusto that you are required to join in and shout the words back at her. I hope the band decide to play this one live and, being short, they should as it will not take up much time during the set! Time is Black starts off quite slow before a really excellent riff starts up that is the backdrop for some excellent drumming from Erlandsson. The strings from the previous couple of numbers return here and are quite prominent during the chorus and some of the instrumental breaks. Arch Enemy are not new to gentle keyboards or subtle orchestrations, but they seemed to have upped their game much more on that front here. This is not a symphonic metal album by any means, but there is certainly an element of that in some of the songs, and it works for the benefit of the album in my opinion. On and On is not as memorable as some of the songs on this album, but it still works well as an Arch Enemy song. Their albums always contain a little filler, and this is definitely an example of this. The chorus with what sounds like some oddly distorted piano works well with White-Gluz's very deep growled vocals and the short neo-classical style solo adds some Yngwie Malmsteen-like flair to the song. Avalanche is another really solid heavy metal song that relies on chugging riffing rather than the more thrashy aesthetics found on other songs. The strings are very prominent here, and really add an extra melodic dimension to the song. This is a song that really grows on you over repeated listens and is likely to become a classic in the future because of the overall power of the piece. Plus, it sounds like White-Gluz gets to use her clean vocals after all, as backing to her harsh vocals in certain spots of this song! Down to Nothing and the instrumental Not Long for This World bring the album to a heavy close. The former is thrashy with vocals that are pure death metal and the latter is a slow instrumental that focuses on guitar leads building up in an almost doom metal way. It works well as a closing number and it is akin to watching the credits slowly scroll up after watching an excellent film. Overall, War Eternal is a really enjoyable metal album that is likely to be enjoyed by many throughout the metal community. Arch Enemy are back with a vengeance, and I am very glad about that!

The album was released on 9th July 2014 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for War Eternal.

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