With the stepping down of demon-lunged frontwoman Angela Gossow sending a tumultuous shock through metal circles just prior to the revealing of ‘War Eternal’, the anticipation surrounding the release of Arch Enemy‘s ninth full-length effort elevated dramatically. A linchpin for not only for the melodic death metal quintet, but in the seismic leap of female fronted extremity, the loss of the Gossow focal point understandably saw alarm bells chiming. Enter ex-The Agonist‘s Alissa White-Gluz, whose not radically dissimilar pipes slot rather seamlessly into Arch Enemy‘s Swedeath flavour, and make for an album, for better or worse, which sticks rather unflinchingly to the band’s nearly twenty year blueprint.
For the most part, ‘War Eternal’ is solid yet unremarkable. Predictably, the exploits of six-string deity Michael Amott and new cohort Nick Cordle (who replaces Amott‘s brother, Christopher) steal the show; a barrage of twin harmonies and toweringly melodic lead breaks plating up all the trademark thrilling excess long-time fans could hope for. Check out the lightspeed flourishes of ‘On And On’ and ‘As The Pages Burn’‘s lyrical refrains for some highlight examples.
It swiftly becomes apparent, however, that, even given the spine-tingling instrumentation on display, the songs here are just too archetypally formulaic, and indeed downright safe, to stir much of a reaction, and fall limply short of the potent blend of guitar wizardry and call to arms anthemia which saw ‘Anthems Of Rebellion’ and ‘Doomsday Machine’ such landmark releases. A few notable exceptions manage to salvage ‘War Eternal’ from being shelved under miss-fire, however.
Indeed, it’s the later half of the record where a majority of metallic gems are unearthed. ‘Down To Nothing’‘s strident thrash blitzkrieg sees the band as violent as they’ve ever been, whereas the rich opulence of ‘Avalanche’ and some orchestral strains ramping up the drama in ‘Time Is Black’ make for sumptuous lessons in melodious violence, frustratingly confirming that, with this streak of adventure fully nurtured, Arch Enemy still have all the firepower worthy of a classic full-length.
Long-time devotees will no doubt find much to love with ‘War Eternal’. Alissa turns in a debut performance brimming with righteous confidence, certainly boding well for her future with the band. Yet, it’s an unfortunate reality that we leave the album with the lurking impression that, given a steely focus on songwriting consistency, the rebirth of Arch Enemy could have been so much more.
Written by Tony Bliss