One of the greatest, most imposing challenges in music is when a former member of a much-loved, highly influential band sets off on his own, and tries to create music that's just as great as his or her older material. Such a feat happens very rarely in popular music, but especially in metal, as fans are so staunchly devoted to an artist's early work, that it's a foregone conclusion among the majority of the audience that nothing will ever top it. Take some of the most important metal bands from the 1990s versus their contemporary offshoots, for example: Superjoint Ritual and Damageplan can never top Pantera, Soulfly means well but lacks the magic that Sepultura possessed from 1988-95, and The Haunted, while a very good band, will never be able to top the work of At the Gates.
Michael Amott has something to say about that theory, though. Formerly of Carcass, he helped dramatically reshape heavy metal in the early 1990s, incorporating the seminal grindcore sound pioneered by Napalm Death with the clean, ornate guitar melodies of classic death metal, yielding such important albums as 1991's Necroticism - Descanting The Insalubrious and 1994's great Heartwork. When the band dissolved later that decade, the guitarist moved on, forming Arch Enemy with his brother Christopher, also a guitarist, and over the course of five very well-received albums, Amott has found his second wind. While not as innovative as his previous band, Arch Enemy is still one of the leaders in metal today, as they continue to produce some thrilling, traditional death metal (owing as much to At the Gates as to Carcass), played with a technical prowess that hearkens back to the glory days of Megadeth, and boasting one of the most truly unique female vocalists in metal history in Germany native Angela Gossow.
Coming on the heels of their very confident 2003 album Anthems of Rebellion, Arch Enemy's new EP Dead Eyes See No Future is clearly a mishmash collection, thrown together both to appease their devoted fanbase, and to help promote their upcoming North American tour. Looking at what's on the half-hour disc, it's got the usual bells and whistles one would expect: studio track, live songs, covers. But wait, stifle that yawn, you cynics out there. This little CD is much better than many have anticipated, In fact, it's terrific.
One of the best tracks from Anthems of Rebellion, "Dead Eyes See No Future" benefits from the immaculate production of Andy Sneap, as the Amott brothers trade solo harmonies and extremely taut riffs (that Megadeth sound creeping in, as usual), the song anchored by the surgical precision of bassist Sharlee D'Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson. Gossow's distinctive wail is underscored by a very subtle synth harmony, and strings and choral harmonies creep in during the melodramatic power metal of the song's middle section. The live tracks are especially good; recorded this past April in Paris by producer Sneap, the band tears through three tracks. The great "Burning Angel" and the unrelenting "Heart of Darkness", from the band's much-heralded 2001 release Wages of Sin, as well as the surprisingly catchy "We Will Rise", from Anthems, are all executed perfectly. Some listeners might think the performances are too perfect, as the exactitude of the band's musicianship leaves no room for improvisation, but Arch Enemy's music is a dish best served cold, taut, and with a razor-sharp focus.
The EP's covers provide the most fun. Any Megadeth song is tailor-made for this band, and while it's one of Dave Mustaine's more, erm, pedestrian compositions, the famous "Symphony of Destruction" still suits Arch Enemy perfectly. Those memorable, squeaky-clean riffs and taut rhythms are all executed flawlessly, and Gossow provides vocals that manage to sound more sinister than Mustaine's on the 1992 original. Most surprising is the cover of Manowar's comical 1984 power metal classic "Kill With Power"; to many, Manowar is a band you either love, or find absolutely hilarious (or love because they're hilarious), and while "Kill With Power" is one of the most charmingly silly metal songs to come out of the '80s, Arch Enemy improve on the original, tightening the screws, increasing the feral intensity, and best of all, Gossow snarls and sneers like a decrepit old hag, proving that this music isn't restricted solely to Brothers of Metal. In addition, in a moment of delicious audacity, Michael Amott has the band take on the first song he ever wrote for Carcass (and some might say his best), 1991's "Incarnated Solvent Abuse", and while the performance is the usual, by-the-numbers death/thrash the band excels at, they do a fantastic job performing the song, as its raw, full sound, produced by Rickard Bengtsson, is the perfect counterpoint to the meticulous production of the EP's title track.
Along with Shadows Fall and Lacuna Coil, Arch Enemy are one of the most popular bands on Century Media's deep roster of talent, and at the rate the band is going, and considering the remarkable resurgence of traditional heavy metal this year, the time for a real commercial breakthrough is nigh. Though not a proper follow-up, Dead Eyes See No Future serves as a reminder of how vital a band Arch Enemy is today. Yeah, fans, they've thrown you a bone, but by all means, sink your teeth into it. A band's table scraps rarely sound so great.