ARCH ENEMY: STIGMATA (1998)
1) Beast Of Man; 2) Stigmata; 3) Sinister Mephisto; 4) Dark Of The Sun; 5) Let The Killing Begin; 6) Black Earth; 7) Tears Of The Dead; 8) Vox Stellarum; 9) Bridge Of Destiny.
Everyone agrees that the band's sophomore effort, Stigmata, essentially sounds the same as the debut. From there, people fall into two camps — those who think it sounds better, and those that think the opposite. I do not think the opposite. In fact, strange as it may seem, I liked it in most of the same «places» in which I actively disliked Black Earth.
I may be mistaken, but if you play the openers ('Bury Me An Angel' and 'Beast Of Man', respectively) back to back, it seems that the tag «melodic death metal» clings much firmer to the latter. Black Earth had too much generic hardcore/thrash influence in it: all low notes and careless brutality. 'Beast Of Man' is far more interesting, alternating speedy thrash runs with genuinely melodic lines, with a clever mix that allows the «melodic» lead guitar and the thrash riffs to complement each other rather than mesh into one turgid mess.
The same is true of at least three or four other monster rockers on the album. The production throughout is much clearer, showing that the Sabbath/Metallica influences were not wasted, after all (particularly on 'Sinister Mephisto' and the title track). Instead of generic acoustic interludes, we now get a stranger, more curious trick of inserting brief «not-belonging» bits of a totally different melody in between the «regular» bars — e. g. on 'Let The Killing Begin', whose second part, as a result, acquires a «progressive» sheen, to good effect. And the brief instrumental links themselves are either pleasantly symphonic in scope (the title track) or arena-rockish in a fairly tasteful manner ('Vox Stellarum').
Unlike Black Earth, Stigmata is worth additional listens — behind the predictably and expectedly monotonous approach, there is some very strong songwriting here, as no single song moves through fewer than three or four different alternating sections, and the Amott brothers show themselves well worthy of their twin guitar teachers from Iron Maiden. And, on a final note, 'Bridge Of Destiny' ends with a moody «epic» instrumental section that will be greeted heartily by any classic rock fan, no matter what his attitude towards death metal might be.
The weak point is still the vocalist, but, frankly, I do not even hear Liiva's voice all that much: it's just some disconcerting grumble somewhere in the back part of the speaker, and it doesn't even manage to disconcert all that much — so I'd love to say something like, «this would have worked out so much better as a completely instrumental album», but the fact is that my ears themselves already perceive it as a completely instrumental album. Also, for the record, most of the drum parts here were recorded not by the band's regular player, Daniel Erlandsson, but by session guy Peter Wildoer (don't ask why); and new member Martin Bengtsson relieves Liiva from his bass playing duties so that he can now concentrate on the singing (money wasted on the wind, if you ask me). Also, it's a modest thumbs up — modest, because we're not quite there yet.
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