Originally regarded as a “supergroup”, featuring former members of such seminal bands as Carcass, Mercyful Fate, and In Flames, Arch Enemy have managed to permanently shed that title, as each new album has elevated the band to new heights of metal stardom. Led by ace lead guitarist Michael Amott, his brother (and fellow axeman) Christopher, and the supremely skilled drummer Daniel Erlandsson, Arch Enemy started out following the example of both Michael’s former band Carcass and Swedish greats At the Gates, creating unrelenting, no-frills Scandinavian thrash/death metal, but it wasn’t until vocalist Angela Gossow joined the fold for their third album, 2001’s Wages of Sin, that the band first got a taste of the big time.
One of the most distinctive female metal vocalists in history, Gossow has avoided being lumped in with the two other most popular female metal singers today, Nightwish’s Tarja Turonen and Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia, by adopting a similar vocal style to that of her male peers, and holding her own brilliantly. Hers is such a unique banshee howl, that when Wages of Sin came out, Gossow’s presence instantly captured people’s attention, to the point where, four years later, she is one of the genre’s most identifiable figures.
The thing about Arch Enemy, though, is that despite the presence of the snarling Gossow up front, the real focal point of this band is the dual guitar attack of the Amott brothers. Reeling off blazingly fast solos and crunching staccato riffs, the pair fly in the face of trends, avoiding sinking into the more downtuned, churning metal guitar sounds, instead keeping things strictly old school, putting great focus on both melody and pure showmanship, like no band has done since Yngwie Malmsteen’s influential album Marching Out. After Wages of Sin, which is regarded by many as a near-classic, 2003 brought Anthems of Rebellion, which continued to head in a much more accessible direction, greatly aided by such trappings as keyboards and “clean” backing vocals, not to mention the immaculate production of Andy Sneap. It got to the point where it became impossible to call Arch Enemy a “death” or “thrash” band, as they had clearly crossed over into the more classic form of “power metal”, and their new album, Doomsday Machine, continues that progression.
For all the good qualities of Doomsday Machine, you have to remember that unlike Carcass, unlike At the Gates, Arch Enemy are far from innovative. That means you’ll get sweeping, majestic solo harmonies that echo classic Iron Maiden (“Enter the Machine”), more theatrical moments that hearken back to the glory days of Fates Warning, plenty of those extremely tight Gothenburg-inspired riffs, and a never-ending supply of rather uninspired, cliché-ridden lyrics that rival Manowar for pure cheese. That said, nitpicking aside, this album scorches. “Nemesis” revisits the ferocity of the band’s early work, throttling the Anthems single “We Will Rise”, Gossow’s lyrics as endearingly silly as they’ve ever been (“One for all/ All for one/ We are strong/ We are one”), before the Amott brothers propel the song to the skies with a soaring solo breakdown. “Taking Back My Soul” is a muscular album opener, while the ominous “My Apocalypse” is the kind of midtempo chugger that Judas Priest mastered back in the Painkiller era, and is greatly aided by Erlandsson’s herky-jerky beats.
Michael and Christopher Amott truly shine on the album, their solos the highlight of each track, and the album’s three instrumentals, “Enter the Machine”, “I Am Legend” (which segues into the brilliant thrasher “Out For Blood”), and especially the fantastic “Hybrids of Steel” all stand up well alongside the vocal-oriented tracks. Doomsday Machine does wear thin late in the proceedings, as the sleepwalking “Mechanic God Creation” and “Machtkampf” both sound phoned in.
It’s the presence of Gossow that is always toughest for new listeners to adjust to. Although her atonal vocals are far easier to understand than the majority of her male counterparts, many will think that the lack of vocal melodies is too much of a glaring weakness. In his own defense, Michael Amott contends that his goal with Arch Enemy was to marry the brutal with the melodic, and on Doomsday Machine, the band does so with impressive skill. It’s an acquired taste, but it’s one that becomes more rewarding the more you hear it, as hundreds of thousands are discovering.
// Notes from the Road
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