ARCH ENEMY: BLACK EARTH (1996)
1) Bury Me An Angel; 2) Dark Insanity; 3) Eureka; 4) Idolatress; 5) Cosmic Retribution; 6) Demoniality; 7) Transmigration Macabre; 8) Time Capsule; 9) Fields Of Desolation.
Death is really quite a brawny fellow — it likes to kick ass all over the place. This is the basic message of Arch Enemy, the AC/DC of death metal, Sweden's pride and joy. Slow, moody, «artsy», creepy-crawly atmospheric suites are not for these guys. Brothers Michael and Christopher Amott, bass player Johan Liiva, and drummer Daniel Erlandsson are here to punch your eardrums into oblivion and race your heart to total exhaustion, if you are ready to accept their faith.
However, despite the fact that most of the players already came with established pedigrees (Michael Amott, in particular, played with «goregrind» pioneers Carcass), so that Arch Enemy was dubbed a «supergroup» upon formation, this debut album is not particularly impressive. (Sure it got rave reviews in metal-oriented press, but the day I start rating metal albums by the standards of dedicated metal fans is the day I stop rating any non-metal albums by any standards). It is not laughable, and that is already a compliment; but this here section is definitely not granted to Arch Enemy because of Black Earth.
Basically, this is rather standard-fare «melodic» death metal — with rather rotten melodies, for that matter. Lots of fast demonic riff-driven rockers, but the riffs themselves are only so-so, and even when they are slightly over so-so, drummer Daniel Erlandsson hits his skins so hard that the twin guitar attack is almost completely muffled. Fast, loud, aggressive, monotonous, and, for the most part, utterly unmemorable. It does not help matters much that one (1) of the songs has a brief genre-allowed acoustic interlude ('Cosmic Retribution'), and that two (2) of the tracks represent brief instrumental overludes (one brutal-metallic and one other acoustic). None of these are particularly interesting either.
All the vocals are handled exclusively by bassist Johan Liiva, and this is both good and bad. Bad, because his «growling» is not very distinctive: he can handle it, but nothing more. Good, because his weak growls tend to get lost among all the rucus, without distracting the listener from the music — provided the listener does not want to be distracted. Basically, I just treat Liiva's growling as a slightly annoying background noise that can be overlooked. A lamentable side effect.
Still, what cannot be overlooked is the fact Black Earth is just a seriously professional, yet utterly generic record. It would take some time for Arch Enemy to find their own voice. But we are not quite there yet; thumbs down for the moment. (PS: The re-issue version has a bunch of bonus tracks, including a cover of Iron Maiden's 'Aces High' — nice gesture, respectable homage, but nothing particularly eyebrow-raising either).
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