Here’s our Arch Enemy: War Eternal album review. Be sure to tell us what you think of the album in the comments.
Back in March when many of us heard that Angela Gossow would be stepping down as vocalist of Arch Enemy and The Agonist’s Alissa White-Gluz would be assuming vocal duties on the upcoming new album, reactions were mixed. Some felt that this could end up being a welcome change for the band (these were mostly Gossow detractors). The other camp was a bit concerned as the band was replacing one of the better female harsh vocalists with a relative unknown. I myself fell into the concerned camp. Not that I feel like Gossow is any kind of revelation, but as far as female death metal vocalists go, I felt like she was one of the best.
My concerns were quickly alleviated when I heard the first single “War Eternal”. White-Gluz has a slightly more brutal vocal style with more rasp that fits almost as well as original vocalist Johan Liiva. Now that I have checked out all that War Eternal has to offer, I can confirm that White-Gluz is a welcome upgrade over Gossow. As for the album itself, that’s a different story.
War Eternal lacks an overall identity. Is it old school style, heavier and faster, melodic death metal? Is it the typical slower more mainstream Arch Enemy (when I say typical, I’m speaking of the Gossow years), or is it an album that experiments with more symphonic elements? The answer to all of these questions is a way too overwhelming yes.
The first three full tracks on the album had me really hopeful. So much so that I was beginning to think we had an album of the year candidate on our hands. The pacing was much faster than I had become accustomed to in recent years with Arch Enemy. It reminded me of the early days of the band when Liiva was on vocals. “Never Forgive, Never Forget” was so brutal and heavy that it was even reminiscent of founding member Michael Amott’s days in Carcass. “War Eternal” and “As the Pages Burn” kept things going with fast thrash style riffs, great harmonized guitar and excellent long guitar solos. This was going to be awesome!!!
That’s when the fast, brutal goodness came to a screeching halt. Things quickly dropped into a much slower pace bringing back the signature, more mainstream Arch Enemy style of the last ten plus years. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the addition of a much larger focus on guitar harmonization than had previously been used threw things for a bit of a loop. This was a new album with a new singer. I wanted to hear something a bit different, but instead things went into a malaise of the all too familiar with even more mainstream metal elements than I had become accustomed to. Songs like “No More Regrets”, “Stolen Life” and “On and On” had those typical slow Arch Enemy grooves, breakdowns and guitar harmonization. This pacing really brought White-Gluz’s vocals down a notch and had me forgetting that Gossow was actually no longer on vocals. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gossow era Arch Enemy, but this is not the album I thought I was getting from the start.
Wait a minute though! Now another change was coming. “You Will Know My Name”, “Time is Black” and “Avalanche” began with even slower guitar picked opens and had some use of keyboards, giving things more of an extreme symphonic metal feel. I know the band has employed keyboards slightly in the past, but never to this degree or to a symphonic end. In this same vein, there were three wasted tracks with the short intro track “Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F minor)”, the short instrumental “Graveyard of Dreams” and the longer instrumental to end the album “Not Long for This World.” The two instrumentals featured great symphonic style musicianship, but just seemed out of place. I have nothing against experimentation or a band evolving their sound, but all the different styles on War Eternal were beginning to feel a bit muddled. The lone bright spot with regard to the slightly symphonic tracks was “Avalanche” as it had some great and catchy guitar work along with an excellent guitar solo.
Now, there is certainly a lot to like about this album. The first three full tracks discussed above, along with “Down to Nothing” are all awesome. I wish the album had been built more around the sound put forth on these tracks. If that had been the case, we might be talking about one of the best metal albums of 2014.
The vocals of White-Gluz were also amazing. Having come from a band that dipped a bit more into metalcore may put a bit of doubt in your mind However, she can reach brutal vocal levels that are not even attainable by some men. When the pacing slowed a bit, it unfortunately took away some of the guttural range that she had to offer.
Lastly, the musicianship, most notably the guitar work of Michael Amott and new guitarist Nick Cordle is flawless. War Eternal may literally contain some of Arch Enemy’s best fast riffs, harmonization and guitar solos to date. I can’t say enough great things about the solo work here. Even if one of the tracks isn’t working for you, the multiple solos contained within can save the song in many cases, at least slightly. Amott and Cordle trade back and forth seamlessly between one-guitar solos and dual harmonized ones. It’s refreshing to hear such well crafted and executed guitar work in modern day metal.
Arch Enemy’s latest effort definitely has more positives than negatives, but the overlying issue here is that the album just does not know what it wants to be. All the differing melodic extreme metal styles the band delves into are done well. I just wish they had been a bit more consistent. If the band had picked and stuck with any one of the three styles I spoke of in the review, we would probably be talking about one great album. Instead we get a somewhat incoherent, albeit very listenable album that I would still recommend checking out.
The album’s top tracks “War Eternal”, “Never Forgive, Never Forget” and “Down to Nothing” may be the best material that the band has ever released. Plus getting to hear some new wrinkles from Arch Enemy isn’t such a bad thing either. Unfortunately, the album just felt like too much of a roller coaster ride to be in consideration for one of this year’s best. The potential was there, but things just fell a couple steps short. Was it the band’s best? No. Was it their worst? Certainly not even close. They have a lot of great stuff to build on going forward and hopefully as newcomers White-Gluz and Cordle become more integrated, the band’s sound will really start to mesh together once again.
War Eternal will be released on June 10, 2014. Once you take a listen give us your thoughts on the album in the comments section. Do you agree with our assessment or are we off base?