By Carl Begai
The departure of vocalist Angela Gossow should have and probably would have destroyed Arch Enemy had the situation not been handled with the elegance and intelligence that it was. Fact is her entrance in 2000 is what yanked the band out of the underground and put them through the roof, and only the devout Johan Liiva followers from way back wanted to see her gone. She left the ranks gracefully, and with the ultimate parting shot: choosing singer Alissa White-Gluz (ex-The Agonist) as her successor. It’s amazing what a lack of drama and a new focus can accomplish; in this case, the creation of Arch Enemy’s strongest album since Anthems Of Rebellion, possibly their best ever. Beg to differ all you want, but to these ears the Arch Enemy war machine has sounded increasingly tired in recent years, not quite spinning its wheels but definitely in need of a tune-up. War Eternal is the battle cry of an armed-to-the-teeth new model strike force.
Simply put, War Eternal epitomizes melodic death metal; emphasis on “melodic.” There are truckloads of melody woven, stacked, and layered through the full length of the record, to the point of guitarist / braintrust Michael Amott being wonderfully obnoxious about it. Even the heaviest tracks on the record – ‘Never Forgive Never Forget’, ‘As The Pages Burn’, ‘No More Regrets’, ‘Stolen Life’, ‘Avalanche’ – are built around miles and miles of melody-based hooks that never get dull. And even when it sounds like there’s potential for cheesy softness around the edges, as on ‘You Will Know My Name’ and ‘Time Is Black’ (thanks to the latter’s symphonic / keyboard backbone) the damn hook-and-melody attack works wonders. And there’s the title track, a bloody anthem for the ages that I daresay may be one of the finest Arch Enemy songs ever written, second only to ‘Nemesis’. Depends on how you like your AE, of course, but what may sound like head-in-the-clouds accolades will at least give you an idea of the infectious high quality of the material.
Performance-wise, choose your discipline and soak up the shred. Brash and addictive, if there’s an album that’ll make you want to go out and see a band play live, War Eternal is it. I hesitate to use the world “gorgeous” in describing face-ripping guitars but hey, I just did. Technically amazing, and the riffs are instantly memorable in that classic Iron Maiden kinda way.
As for putting Alissa White-Gluz up front, Angela Gossow isn’t stupid. She clearly saw something in Alissa that the band would be able to harness, and the results range from impressive to astounding to omfg. If this too sounds like too much, think about the shoes Alissa has been asked to fill. The fact she’s able to stand toe-to-toe with Angela’s past, never mind surpass it, is noteworthy. No clean vocal breaks à la The Agonist and far more room to move as a singer compared to her old situation, Alissa growls and screams her way through War Eternal as if she’s been with the band forever. Her attack fits the music like a glove, there isn’t a single moment where she sounds out of place. At times she’s reminiscent of Angela (‘War Eternal’, ‘You Will Know My Name’, ‘Stolen Life’) and there are songs that belong entirely to Alissa (‘As The Pages Burn’, ‘Never Forgive Never Forget’, ‘Avalanche’, ‘Time Is Black’) that will hopefully become her calling card in the years to come.
In a very big nutshell, War Eternal is a massive victory for Arch Enemy and a beautiful gift for the fans that may have thought the band had run out of road.
War Eternal tracklist:
‘Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude In F Minor)’
‘Never Forgive, Never Forget’
‘As The Pages Burn’
‘No More Regrets’
‘You Will Know My Name’
‘Graveyard Of Dreams’
‘Time Is Black’
‘On And On’
‘Down To Nothing’
‘Not Long For This World’
For information and updates on Arch Enemy go to their official Facebook page here.