Review: Arch Enemy – Will To Power

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There was a time when Arch Enemy seemed the biggest melodeath band in the world, neck and neck with Amon Amarth as the entry point to extreme metal du jour for pretty much every young neophyte of a certain age. A few lineup changes and style shifts later, does metal’s most visible melodeath band still have that zazz that captured so much attention? Link and I sat down over a flagon (or a few) of mead and pined for the old days of Arch Enemy, when everything was infinitely worse, but we had still the spryness of youth in our limbs to withstand it. Does the brand new platter of splatter, Will To Power, return that spring to our steps? Send me 10€, and find out.

Bear: Where do you stand on [Arch Enemy’s] work of recent years? How has Amott been treating you; I know you’re a big fan of their earlier works at least.

Link: Well, recent Arch Enemy discography has been a hit and miss for me, but I still value Michael Amott’s work. I believe in loyalty and from all these years I still treat Arch Enemy as one of my favorite bands of all time, but I also tend to think Spiritual Beggars has been stronger last years in terms of songwriting quality and sonic exploration. Sunrise to Sundown, for example, had a couple of cool new features into the core sound of this Amott powered side project.

War Eternal, the first album with Alissa White-Gluz (ex-The Agonist), proved them as a commercially successful brand, but from the whole record I only enjoyed four songs. It is now my least played record of theirs, and with time passing by, I feel more inclined to stick with the old records.

On Will To Power, my expectations were lower than ever. How about you?

I would agree, Arch  Enemy’s affiliated bands have proven much more inspired as of late, whether we’re talking of Spiritual Beggars, Night Flight Orchestra or Witchery

It’s been a long time since I was a fan. Rise of the Tyrant being the only post-Wages of Sin album I’ve ever felt like returning to as a record. Though I did enjoy some of Khaos Legions‘ most formulaic, poppiest AE ditties for what they were, War Eternal largely leaves me cold. There’s a few melodies or riffs that I find enjoyable, but only a couple songs I don’t skip.

I will admit receiving a faint glimmer of hope on Jeff Loomis’ announcement as Nick Cordle’s (ex-Arsis) replacement.

I agree with that, Jeff Loomis’s inclusion was something I expected to impress me at least a little bit, but sadly, Will To Power does not have his contributions to the song writings.

Having jammed this new entry of the Arch Enemy saga for quite a while, I can assess that there are new elements that really change their formula for good, and for bad. There are a couple of Loomis’ solos that catch the listeners’ attention, but I felt this record has far less guitar pyrotechnics, one of the reasons most people got attracted to the band in the Doomsday Machine era.

Also, like it happened in War Eternal, the poppiest tracks were lackluster as well. “Eagle Flies Alone”, for example, is one of the weakest songs they have ever released, and the title track is “War Eternal” rehashed with some cheesy elements like the whisperings and the middle silences. Which one you choose as the worst of the two singles, Beargod?

I wasn’t enamored with either. “The Eagle Flies Alone” has a nice intro/chorus arpeggio that reminds me of Dismember’s “Dreaming In Red”, and “The World Is Yours’ ” verse riff did have a good, thrashy edge to it, although I definitely would’ve preferred if it was a little more jagged.

Hell, that’s one of the biggest issues with Will To Power, it’s neutered, slick and inoffensive through and through. The only power it has are those power metal half-a-melodies in the choruses.

That is a sincere and obvious way to compile the feeling of the record, even the new elements. Will to Power is the most pop, melodic and, maybe, uplifting album they’ve made. Remember the dark closers like “Bridge of Destiny” or “Fields of Desolation”? They are gone. And some songs, like the singles or “Blood on the Water” are diluted by a never finished rage. They made these thrashy segments that never get concluded and instead are left in the air.

I honestly think “The Race”, on the other hand, will become the hidden treasure of this roller-coaster ride. The d-beat inspired accents and the fast adrenaline rhythmics got a cool, nice Daniel Erlandsson work. I read somewhere this is Loomis’ pick for the best on the record and it has my favorite solo section of him, and even some of Alissa’s best vocals, too. If this album had a more dirty guitar tone that song would crank to 11. But, anyways, that was the only highlight for me on the first half, the rest did not live up to expectations, low as they were.

“The Race” is the only thoroughly good song on the album, to me. Can’t help but to think, all those covers gave ’em a spark to write it in the first place. Though it mostly feels better in comparison due to not lacking anger, like Will To Power in general does. Tepid, middle-aged anger for sure (sterile production ftw), but anger nonetheless.

Now, Michael’s expressed so much worry, in interviews, over what fans want and how they want it, I can’t escape the thought Arch Enemy is no longer his passion, but a day-job he funds his other bands with. Letting Loomis write being a risk to financial security – it should be no surprise that on an album like this, the only noteworthy moments are the two songs breaking the scheme. Aforementioned “The Race” and “Reason To Believe”, a ballad, notably featuring Alissa’s cleans – underlining the rushed, bland composition. As if they didn’t bother to write a song around them. Naturally, it also features growls – which seem redundant and very out-of-place. Possibly the band’s single worst moment.

Glad you mentioned “Reason To Believe”. I was impressed this featured writings from Christopher Amott, Michael’s brother and famous for his work on Armageddon and many different guest spots. This is now paired with “No More Regrets” on the black list of the band.

I was never a fan of Alissa’s vocals, to begin with, but her cleans on this weird ballad makes me think she can do better. All her highs are always finished with this raspy faux-grunge voice to give some drama to the accentuation that just does not work. I feel bad about this, she have some good low register color on the verses.

I thought “Reason To Believe” could work if you strip it off from the cheesy vocals, put more dirt on the guitar tone, slow down the tempo and give it some hooks; it could be a “Burning Bridges pt. II”.

After this, we open a second half full of more surprises. “Murder Hell” is the happiest sounding song of their whole catalog, but I found myself humming it during my trips home this week, so I think I liked it. “First Day in Hell’s” music does not live too much, but the lyrical lines are nice and it’s a cool change from the atrocious lyrics.

“Saturnine” and “Dreams of Retribution” were the shocker, I expected something else, something darker. Jens Johansson’s (Stratovarius, Yngwie Malmsteen ) keys are present, but there is a constant lack of bite and obscurity. It is not only for the clean production, like you told earlier, the power metal-like epic felt flat.

In the end, “My Shadow and I” and “A Fight I Must Win” sound promising, but both tracks are mixed with plain parts that bury the segments I jammed. The latter has this cool section with a strumming alt-rock style rhythm aided by an orchestra which concludes abruptly with a standard chorus.

My issue here is that the “exploding harmonic” style of the Swedish school of melodic death metal, like I want to call it, is never present. Take for example a song like “The Immortal” (from their third record Burning Bridges), a track built to make the soloing battle the “oomph” factor and what made it later a fan favorite. There is never that danger on Will To Power with its safe songwriting; maybe “Murder Hell” and “The Race” are the songs closest to the sentiment I tried to describe above.

“Murder Hell” could be an excellent late-Arch Enemy song. It’s got the snappiest, most biting riffs on the record – but the vocals are drenched in effects and the middle-section doesn’t work at all, with the ever-so-artsy whispering. With all the effects too, I’m not fond of Alissa’s performance on this album. “First Day In Hell” has a good groove thing going on as well, but like you said, drags on to hell and back without taking advantage of its potential. I think that’s still the best one-two punch on the record. 

Both “Dreams” and it’s faux-aggro-riff led follow-up “My Shadow And I”, with its LoG-break, sound like Arch Enemy is ready to become a power metal band. The keys, bright melodic work and chuggy riffs are taking their template towards it, beyond just the happy melodic work. The lack of “exploding harmonic” style only underlines Arch Enemy’s separation from the style that made them.

Will To Power is, probably, the logical continuation of the career of this band. With the release of Wages of Sin, Arch Enemy saw every record breaking the last in terms of sales. When Doomsday Machine arrived, mostly because of the “Nemesis” single, the project achieved way more spotlight from the mainstream metal press. Commercial success comes with a cost, and the management mindset of both Amott and Angela Gossow pushed them to larger arenas and festivals. I was utterly suspicious this was going to be the brand from now on, since the Black Earth live shows in Japan, with first vocalist Johan Liiva, were made under a whole different name.

Do not get me wrong, this is pretty impressive for a Swedish band which began as a side-project with a couple of death metal and heavy metal maniacs from the year one, but this is another monster. Maybe that is why the singles are so obnoxious and the new direction is bland to us. Their current audience is new, younger and searching for something different in their music. Just go ahead to social networks and check who’s commenting on their posts. Most of them are people who came out around the last album and do not even know or care about their older eras. These are probably not blog dwellers that thrive for new sonic experiences, these are persons that will probably throw on Will To Power with more modern pop metal, and that is fine. Good for them.

I must admit it and now I understand why the new Arch Enemy branding is gone for me; Will To Power made me reinforce that sentiment. And it’s ok, the older records still have a place in my playlists and I will still cherish them for what they are and how they accompanied me all these years.

I give it a 2 flaming toilet rating. If you dig really pop metal, you may check out a couple of songs of it. But if you are wanting a more deep melodic experience, you better check other bands right now, or maybe their older records!

I think that’s a fair assessment, time hasn’t passed Arch Enemy by, but it’s no longer interested in us. For my part I can’t give this album more than 1 flaming toilet, which would translate into a total score of

1.5/5 FLAMING TOILETS OF HELL

Be sure to keep with Arch Enemy on Facebook. And get the new album from Century Media, in case you disagree with our assessment of it. And if you happen to be in Finland around this Sunday, be sure to make it to their gig – they’re shooting a video.

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