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Arch Enemy - War Eternal

Arch Enemy – CD Review
War Eternal

Arch Enemy





CD Info
Century Media
13 Tracks
English Lyrics

Alissa White-Gluz is as excellent a replacement for Angela Gossow as Arch Enemy might have dreamed of finding. That’s the bottom line. For me personality, Alissa is absolutely perfect.

This in no way diminishes my love of Angela and her gigantic contribution to metal. On the contrary, the recruitment of Alissa may turn out to be one of Angela’s most important achievements since her decision to retire from singing. Nobody would sensibly have expected Arch Enemy to find a perfect Angela clone; no such person exists. Instead, the band and their inimitable vocalist recruited a singer who brings a different but totally engaging vocal style to the band.

More than that, Alissa contributes in other essential areas as well. She is a composer and arranger in her own right. The band has proved to be expertly adaptive. Together, the Alissa-Arch Enemy combination has the potential to reach even greater heights than the band has already scaled. The synergy they generate is manifestly evident on the new album.

Fans will inevitably be making comparisons between the “old” and the “new” Arch Enemy. It might be more broad-minded to think of Arch Enemy, top-quality melodic metal band, continuing its evolution from its beginning as an all-male band to one that included a female vocalist and continues to do so. That won’t happen for many. Angela’s role has been too central to the band’s recent growth, success and popularity. I fear the “new Arch Enemy” tag may stick for a while.

There is vital other newness in the present line-up. With much less fanfare, Nick Cordle replaced second guitarist Christopher Amott in 2012. War Eternal is the first Arch Enemy to include Nick on every track. If the band sounds different, it’s not only because Alissa has taken Angela’s place. Nick’s guitar work is both distinctive and extraordinary. If you want to be in Arch Enemy, you have to be a grand master of your chosen instrument.

There have been seven personnel changes in Arch Enemy during their 18 years of recording. Change, as the professors of thermodynamics constantly remind us, is inevitable. So now we have Angela in a management role for the band in which she was elevated to the status of metal goddess. Alissa will join that pantheon too, I have no doubt. I worship Angela’s singing (and, ahem, she’s awfully cute). After playing War Eternal many times, I know I’ve been right to think of Alissa as a metal goddess too (and she’s also awfully cute. Granddads are allowed to make comments like that).

Alissa’s voice is higher, lighter and raspier than Amanda’s in the upper range. Lower down, she projects the gutturals as well and as forcefully as anyone. I’m sure her dark vocals generate ozone in my office, the same lovely ozone that adds a tingly freshness after a thunderstorm or when waves break along the sea shore. There are no clean vocals on War Eternal. It doesn’t need any.

She explodes her way into Arch Enemy to open the second track, “Never Forgive, Never Forget”. Like Angela (oops, comparisons again!) she has great diction. You don’t need a lyrics sheet to hear what she’s singing. That’s not easy to achieve in dark vocals. She sings this song in a higher register. Track 4, “As The Pages Burn”, showcases her skills in the deeper vocal range.

The track selection results in an album of four parts, although the songs are not linked directly to each other in separate thematic sections. The musical division is more stylistic and compositional.

The intro track, “Tempore Nihil Sanat” (“Time Heals Nothing”) is an instrumental that heralds the dark theme of the album. The alternative title of this intro is “Prelude In F Minor”. That’s an interesting key, and not only because it suggests the vocal range that might best Alissa. Minor keys tend to be moodier than the major chords. They also allow switching from minor to major and back again. This adds complexity and variety. Every sub-genre of death metal thrives on complexity and variations.

The next three tracks sound like a huge nod of acknowledgement to Amanda and the legacy of the band as a whole. Any of these songs would have fitted well on the previous album, Khaos Legions. This is the type of music that made Arch Enemy my favorite melodic death band. There are the familiar, rich, mid-range guitar riffs, thrashy and pulsating with echoes of the guitar sound on early Iron Maiden albums. The groove is deliciously augmented by the inventive but not flashy use of the keyboards. The percussion races along or drops to slow walking pace as the mood and time signature of each song changes. Underlying everything is the smooth, sympathetic bass. In short, the musicianship on the album is Arch Enemy par excellence.

From these opening songs, the band chose the title song, “War Eternal”, to promote the album. It was a grand choice, highlighting both the shining talents of Alissa and the flawless music behind her voice.

The style seems to change somewhat on the tracks in the middle of the album. Unless I am completely off-beam, these songs are the band giving Alissa more rein to influence the compositions and instrumentation. If I were to choose a song from this set as the new signature of Arch Enemy, it would be “You Will Know My Name.” To me it is the most orchestral and lyrical of all 13 tracks.

The last four or five tracks are dazzling and quite remarkable in a different way. They include neo-classical passages. The challenge I have set myself is to identify the sources that influenced these compositions. “Time Is Black”, for example, opens with glockenspiel and strings, and interludes during the song would have fitted comfortably into Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet.

It may be impossible to find a metal album I will enjoy more this year than War Eternal. I listened closely, many times, for flaws and faults. I didn’t hear any. It’s perfect.

Rating: 10 / 10

Official website: http://www.archenemy.net

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