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Monday, September 24, 2018

Arch Enemy: Will To Power


1) Set Flame To The Night; 2) The Race; 3) Blood In The Water; 4) The World Is Yours; 5) The Eagle Flies Alone; 6) Reason To Believe; 7) Murder Scene; 8) First Day In Hell; 9) Saturnine; 10) Dream Of Retribution; 11) My Shadow And I; 12) A Fight I Must Win.

General verdict: Like somebody asked them to make a progressive death metal album, only they took the wrong meaning of the word «progressive».

When it comes to death metal, there is a really fine line between entertaining corny spectacle and unbearably miserable self-parody — the two opposite ends in between which we lodge about 95% of everything ever produced in this genre (I cautiously allocate about five percent for the kind of death metal that demands to be taken seriously). In many cases, it is nigh impossible to tell whether that line has been crossed or not. But every once in a while, you see an artist inten­tionally going for a decision that is SO GODDAMN WRONG that it is hard to imagine how even the most tolerant fans could embrace him for this blunder.

War Eternal may not have been Arch Enemy at their very best, but the injection of fresh young (virgin?) blood worked well for the band, and, as I said, the quasi-punkish energy of Alissa White-Gluz managed to rub off well on the rest of the band, helping to cope with the departure of founding father Christopher Amott. A little later, they compensated for this loss by adding Jeff Loomis, another guitar pro from the Norwegian prog metal outfit Nevermore; and it may have looked like the future was really bright for these guys. And then it happened.

Actually, I do not even know what happened; you could say that warning signs might have been picked up on any of their previous three or four records, but for all that time, the band was still seriously bent on safeguarding its core values. Will To Power, in stark contrast, is not so much a death metal album with an occasional pop flavour as it is a punk-pop album dressed up in death metal clothes — well, maybe not yet the equal of Babymetal, but quite possibly influenced by its likes. Its vast bulk consists of optimistic songs of hope, incorporating catchy, sing-along choruses whose main problem is, of course, that they are still delivered through growling vocals.

After the usual brief instrumental introduction (ʽSet Flame To The Nightʼ — an odd mix of motives from Beethoven to the Soviet patriotic anthem), the very first song already sounds like it was commissioned by The Obama Foundation: "I heard there was a place / Where we're all one race / Color, gender, age never could dictate", says Alissa White-Gluz... except that she says this in her usual Satan's voice, which would logically imply that she is conveying a message from Hell, but if Satan himself stands for equality and multi-culturalism, then I'm confused. "We're alive! Abolitionists rise!" she roars later on, supposedly projecting herself into the Civil War era, albeit with a questionable «Lucifer for Black Freedom» message. Meanwhile, the insane tempo and the poppy intonations of the chorus suggest the influence of preachy hardcore punk acts like Bad Religion — an influence that keeps cropping up over and over again (amusingly, the deluxe edition of the album even includes a cover of an old Charged GBH hit, ʽCity Baby Attacked By Ratsʼ). Welcome to the progressive era.

It is not that the band's message is wrong or that their goals are not noble; it is just that some things do not mix by nature — staying within the stylistic limits of death metal while trying to borrow your substance from a completely different genre is something that cannot work properly by definition. And ʽThe Raceʼ is not even the worst example of that: the honor goes to ʽReason To Believeʼ, a song that shares its title and some of its sentiments with the Tim Hardin classic, but is otherwise completely ridiculous — a power ballad, featuring the only clean singing on the album (the opening acoustic bars with Alissa almost crooning over them are actually pleasant) but ultimately landing in the same ditch: few things in this world are as embarrassing as hearing "THERE'S A REASON TO GO ON!" thrown in your face by some fiery demon lord from Heroes of Might & Magic (one second before he tears you to shreds).

I certainly do not deny the hilarious aspects of this process; only problem is, I do not think they were intentionally going for hilarious. A song like ʽThe World Is Yoursʼ is a preachy anthem, with a pompous symphonic chorus, and the accompanying video has Alissa in one of her trade­mark posh «metal cool» outfits gurgling the lines "if you want the world, use your mind, take control" in your face with such puffed-up enthusiasm that it becomes clear: they are actually using this space for fuckin' educational purposes now. If we live in a world now where even death metal fans prostrate themselves before their idols to receive a lesson in self-empowerment... can I please requisition another brick in the wall?

With this new agenda in place, the few decent songs there are on the album are ultimately lost in the haze; quickly going over the tracklist one more time, I think I could salvage ʽBlood In The Waterʼ (although now I do believe I cannot tell the difference between Arch Enemy and Amor­phis any more!) and maybe ʽFirst Day In Hellʼ... but no, not really. A few riffs here and there are nice, but overall, this mix of hardcore, progressive, pop, and preachy elements is a total failure. It is one thing to break out of the confines of a formula, especially one as weirdly limited as death metal; but to try and imbue that formula with inappropriate content makes about as much sense as trying to drink good wine from an unwashed bottle of ketchup. All I can say in consolation is that to watch Alissa White-Gluz in one of her videos, or in concert, is to contemplate a bizarre work of visual art in itself. But preferably, this should be done with the sound off. 


  1. Small note: Nevermore were from Seattle USA. Jeff Loomis is an American.

  2. I don't know jack about this band but the unwashed ketchup bottle analogy sent me to Youtube for a sample.

    There was a female (professed champion of the "vegan lifestyle") in a skin-tight, semi-non-ironic, ???-themed costume jumping up and down in front of a pile of rocks to generic metal riffs, and... 32 M-M-MILLION VIEWS?!

    They say Satan is incredibly clever, so maybe this life-affirming death metal is not as dopey as it seems. In fact, maybe we should all be very, very terrified.

    1. Well, mine only had 25 million, but I have to say: she sounds like she drank the red tomato wine and vomited all through the song. No wonder she's so slim.