Shredding: Arch Enemy

Josh cuts to the quick of Sweden’s masters of melodic death.

Arch Enemy are one of the most well-known and most respected melodic death metal bands in the world, and for good reason. Although their line-up has proved rather turbulent over their two-and-a-bit decades of existence, they’ve proven themselves one of the most consistent and outstanding acts in the game—regardless of who’s fronting them. In fact, Arch Enemy are so damn consistent and their output of such a high caliber that there’s often a proverbial hair’s breadth between my preference for one album over another. Honestly, if I were reviewing these records independently, then I’d give all of these albums outside of the lowest two a score of 8/10 or above. Nevertheless, if distinctions are to be made then here’s how things divvy up:

10. Khaos Legions (2011)

Although Angela Gossow’s resignation following this release came as a surprise at the time, in retrospect the writing was clearly on the walls. Outside of a few choice cuts (“Under Black Flags We March”, maybe “Bloodstained Cross”…) Khaos Legions is a gratingly flat affair whose formulaic offerings come off as simple imitations of what came before. Add to that the fact that this record is Arch Enemy’s longest studio release and it’s easy to understand why the band’s eighth original full-length can be quite a slog to get through. Also, what’s the deal with the cleavage on the front cover? Who thought that was a good idea?

9. Will to Power (2017)

You can all read more about how tired Will to Power sounds and how poorly its cheesy experiments in power metal work and how inconsequential Jeff Loomis is to the whole affair in my full-length review. Yet, having said all that, the (mostly) Swedes’ latest offering isn’t all that bad when you really get down to it. If you take out the overly earnest “The World is Yours”, the abominable ballad “Reason to Believe” and the inoffensive-yet-equally-uninspiring “The Eagle Flies Alone”, what you’re left with is a fairly vicious modern melodic death metal record—albeit one which remains remarkably uninspired compared to the rest of the Arch Enemy catalogue.

8. Wages of Sin (2001)

Wages of Sin is a landmark release in Arch Enemy’s history, and arguably that of extreme metal as well, given that it introduced Angela Gossow to both the band and the wider world. However, while Wages of Sin is a fantastic record, it isn’t a particularly memorable one either. The album as a whole never lets up, but there is little of distinction to pull out from amid the onslaught, and even those tracks that have gone on to be staples of the band, such as “Ravenous” and “Savage Messiah”, were quickly and thoroughly eclipsed by those that came after. You could probably switch the ranking of this record with either of the next two, depending on what mood you’re in, but—for all its general quality, consistency and significance—Wages of Sin simply lacks the staying power and distinction of the records released both before and within its immediate aftermath.

7. Stigmata (1998)

Though the weakest album of the Johan Liiva era, Stigmata remains a crushing listen nearly two decades after its release. This is likely the heaviest offering in the Arch Enemy canon and at its best it’s as good as any of the band’s other offerings. The problem with Stigmata though is that—as strong as it starts, and as strong as it finishes—there’s a noticeable dip in quality during its middle section that robs the record of much of its furious momentum. Nevertheless, the album remains a remarkable remnant of early melodic death metal and “Beast of Man” and the very Edge of Sanity-esque “Tears of The Dead” remain some of the band’s strongest and heaviest compositions to date.

6. Anthems of Rebellion (2003)

Anthems of Rebellion is perhaps the most difficult Arch Enemy record to pigeonhole. Even at only 43 minuets, the record well-overstays its welcome—with everything following “Leader of the Rats” (track 6 of 13) coming off as largely indistinct and ultimately inessential. However, those cuts that constitute its earlier half are among the most formidable concoctions the band have ever come up with. “We Will Rise” remains the band’s catch cry to this day and “Dead Eyes See No Future” is arguably the best song they’ve ever put their name to. The album also marks a notable improvement in Angela Gossow’s vocals over its predecessor and is essentially the album that made her a metal icon. So, while little under half the record might be called truly remarkable, Anthems of Rebellion nevertheless maintains a prestigious slot in Arch Enemy’s formidable discography.

5. Rise of the Tyrant (2007)

Rise of the Tyrant is arguably the most underrated album in Arch Enemy’s discography. This frantic record boasts a level of consistency lacking from many of their weaker, even if it didn’t produce as many stand-alone staples as some of their stronger released. It’s also potentially the fastest offering of their discography, and there’s a delicious abrasiveness to go along with its bombastic modern production that harks back to the band’s earlier, rawer period. However, Angela Gossow’s vocals sound somewhat strained, and her insistence on sticking to her higher, raspier registers—even during the album’s more melodic moments—robs the record of a lot of the dynamics it otherwise sets up.

4. War Eternal (2014)

Angela Gossow’s shoes were always going to be tough ones to fill, but Alissa White-Gluz absolutely knocked it out of the park on her first go around. The ex-Agonist vocalist sounds more confident and powerful here than she ever has elsewhere and—while her performance on this record is nowhere near as varied as those she’d laid down with her previous outfit—the subtle variations she brought to the table (see her subtle clean touches on “Avalanche”) gave the then-tired band a vitality and dynamism Arch Enemy sorely needed at the time. It also didn’t hurt that she was paired up with some of the most inspired compositions the band had come up with in almost a decade. The White-Gluz incarnation of Arch Enemy is yet to strike gold a second time around, but War Eternal more than proves that they’re more than capable of doing so.

3. Black Earth (1996)

Picking up where Carcass’s Heartwork (1993) left off, and adding in a contemporary death metal twist—Black Earth provided Arch Enemy with explosive introduction to the metal world that has remained one of their most compelling and consistent offerings to the modern day. Black Earth gets by more on sheer gusto than it does mastery of craft, but that rawness only adds to the album’s appeal. Although modern Arch Enemy seems to be largely stuck on auto-pilot, on their debut, the band was nothing if not hungry and full of intent; and—while clearly a record of its time—it continues to provide one of the most exhilarating listens of their ample catalogue.

2. Doomsday Machine (2005)

Doomsday Machine is the second-longest album in the Arch Enemy discography. Unlike the bloated Khaos Legions, however, it makes every single second count. Each of the album’s first six tracks is a stone-cold classic and, rather than dipping off like Anthems of Rebellion did before it, the back half maintains this level of quality with a slew of equally outstanding—if not as widely celebrated—numbers that rival even the best tracks from the band’s lesser outings. Gossow sounds absolutely (and suitably) apocalyptic on this record, and the chemistry between Michael and Christopher Amott is utterly palpable. Although Doomsday Machine falls just short of being the best Arch Enemy record, it is without a doubt the band’s definitive offering. If you’ve never bothered checking them out or gotten into them before and are looking to do so, then this is definitely the place to go.

1. Burning Bridges (1999)

Angela Gossow will forever remain the definitive Arch Enemy vocalist. However, the output during her time with the band was far more turbulent than people might first realize or like to admit. As far as consistency and overall quality of output are concerned, the Liiva era is where it’s at and Burning Bridges represents both the pinnacle of that period in the band’s history and of their career as a whole. Every single track on this album is an absolute melodic death metal masterpiece, and it flows far more naturally than any other Arch Enemy before or after. Liiva sounds utterly phenomenal on this record and the performance delivered by the Amott rivals the best either of them have delivered elsewhere (which is really saying something in a catalogue that includes Heartwork). Burning Bridges is a certified classic among old-school melodeath fans, but those who jumped on board with Gossow and never bothered going back and checking out the Liiva albums needs to go and grab a copy of this album immediately.

+ Bonus: Burning Japan (1999)

Arch Enemy have released far more live albums than any band rightfully should (we’re talking almost Iron Maiden levels of ridiculousness here). Yet they’ve largely managed to get away with it because their live recordings are always so damn good, even if largely inessential. The exception that rule is their 1999 offering Burning Japan, which isn’t just not just a fantastic live Arch Enemy album: it also happens to be one the best live albums ever recordedThe tracklist showcases the best of what the Liiva era has to offer, and the organic setting brings a remarkable energy to these already fantastic songs. Likewise, Liiva sounds better here than he ever has anywhere else, so if you’re looking to investigate that period of the band’s history then you’re far better off starting here than with the lifeless renditions of 2009’s The Root of All Evil.

Anyway, that’s what I reckon. Let me know how and why I’m wrong in the comments. (But also try and be constructive about it yeah?)

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