Amaranthe - The Catalyst

Artist: Amaranthe

Album Title: The Catalyst

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date of Release: 23 February 2024

I have followed the career of Amaranthe since the very beginning. As a writer for Powerplay Magazine here in the UK, I reviewed their early material, and interviewed the band on more than one occasion. At the outset, you could sense that Amaranthe were destined for success and so it has proved as over the years, they have released album after album of high class, catchy, and exuberant heavy metal, infused with modern electronics, and liberally laced with pop sensibilities. This, on top of the relatively unique tri-vocal attack, meant that Amaranthe were never going to be shrinking violets; these guys would always be the life and soul of the party.

And so, it has come to pass. As I write this review, I note that their UK shows have just about sold out and the same is true for the majority of their shows wherever in the world they decide to take their music. The fire still burns bright for Amaranthe.

That said, back when I reviewed ‘Manifest’ in 2020, I did begin to question whether I was personally growing a little tired of their bright, shiny, and saccharine aural output. In the end, that album won me over, but when faced with ‘The Catalyst’, their seventh full-length release, those questions returned all over again. I wasn’t immediately blown away by the music with which I was presented, despite the promise of a more ‘theatrical’ approach from founder, guitarist, and songwriter Olof Mörck. Admittedly, this does refer to the album’s concept more than the music perhaps, but if the story is more theatrical, it’s not unrealistic to expect that to rub off on the music itself, too.

Additionally, with the departure of long-time growler Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson, I was keen to see how the unit would fare. Into Wilhelmsson’s place steps Mikael Sehlin, slotting in beside Elize Ryd and Nils Molin to complete the vocal trio. The remainder of the band remains unchanged, rounded out by drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen and bassist Johan Andreassen. I can’t fault the ability of Sehlin, and the replacement feels just about as seamless as it could be. The chap certainly has a ferocious, snarling bark that fits well, alongside the kind of attitude you’d want from your chief cookie monster.

The problem that I encountered early on, was that the music wasn’t perhaps as over-the-top as I was expecting. I hadn’t actively listened to any of the lead singles (all four of them!) so I listened to the album from front to back without having preconceptions of any kind. And it all felt a little flat to be honest, with very few melodies, choruses, or moments of ridiculous pomposity hitting the mark and making me desperate to press the repeat button. After all, that’s what ‘pop metal’ should be about, right? Quick-fire repeated listens of short, sharp, incisive tracks that are built on the desire to get lodged in peoples’ heads and get their blood pumping. But that wasn’t the result after a couple of runs through.

Thankfully for Amaranthe, the dreaded lurgy hit a few days ago which led to enforced rest. This led to some quality music listening time, usually involving my headphones. It was during these sessions that things began to change and I began to appreciate the music on ‘The Catalyst’ a lot more. I’ll be honest and still say that there are a couple too many tracks that strike me as ‘something or nothing’, meaning that this isn’t the perfect album. Songs like ‘Outer Dimensions’, ‘Insatiable’ and ‘Ecstasy’ are too close to the formulaic ‘eurovision’ or ‘euro-pop’ sound without that killer hook to snare me. And the less said about the bonus track, a cover of Roxette’s ‘Fading Like A Flower’, the better.

Amaranthe - The Catalyst

When Amaranthe do get it spot on, though, they are a force to be reckoned with, and my first impression was unfair. The very first example is with the opening title track. Full-on theatrical, cinematic electronics bring the song to life before it explodes in the way you expect Amaranthe’s music to explode. Sehlin wastes no time in making his mark, sounding savage alongside a tight, heavy riff, punctuated by a driving rhythm section, and bold electronics. The pre-chorus offers up a delicious galloping beat alongside a grower of a melody, whilst the chorus is pure exuberance, grabbing me with its claws and not letting go.

One aspect of this album that I do really enjoy, is the apparent increase in lead guitar solos from Olof Mörck. I may well be mistaken, but it feels like there are a lot more of these scattered across the album, beginning with the opener.

‘Damnation Flame’ is one of the album highlights for me thanks to its genuinely different approach. It has a much stronger theatrical edge, that causes it to feel like it could be used in a metal circus, should one of those ever be ‘a thing’. But it has a much more playful vibe to it, with a full-on ‘fairground’ section that breaks up the metallic aspect of the song and reminds me a little of modern Nightwish.

Then there’s the intriguing ‘Re-Vision’ which the band themselves as a blend of the band’s signature sound alongside ‘ponderous cyberpunk and synthwave’ elements. If there was a song on the album that I could get my two young girls to listen to and not sneer in my direction, it’d be this, thanks to the really overt electronic embellishments and huge chorus. And when I say ‘huge’, I mean it, because this is easily one of the most memorable anywhere on the album, leading to it being a personal favourite of mine regardless of the overall shift in approach.

A nod should be made towards the slightly more industrial sounding opening to ‘Inferference’, with strong djent influences in the guitar riffs. ‘Breaking The Waves’ is also noteworthy because of the way that it introduces some nice new touches, such as the ethereal female vocals at points, the descent into a classical piano-led sequence, and the closing section that builds on the dreamlike vocal aspect which feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in Rivendell, in Lord Of The Rings. Or am I going too far? Perhaps.

I have also grown fond of the ubiquitous ballad that appears in the form of ‘Stay A Little While’. I always say that a ballad will work best if there’s full commitment to it, and that’s what can be said of this composition. Yes, it is syrupy, dripping in cloying sentiment, but it’s hard not to be won over by the rich piano, classical orchestration, and the overblown pomposity of it, especially as it moves into the chorus. But again, there’s a lead guitar solo that’s rather delicious, and the whole thing just works, even if I thought it was utterly dreadful on a first listen. I can be wrong on occasion, and this was one of those occasions for sure.  

It always seems like Amaranthe are on the verge of becoming boring to me, or less relevant as time goes on. And yet, every time I start to think like this, they find a way of keeping me interested and willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, the reasons are very simple: Amaranthe are an accomplished band with talented musicians, great vocalists, and strong songwriters. Together, these elements create a listening experience that is difficult to ignore however much you may really want to. Yes, it can be a little clichéd, a little silly at times, and a little over-the-top, but that’s part of the beauty of Amaranthe. Their albums are meant to be fun and enjoyed and, on that score, ‘The Catalyst’ certainly delivers.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%



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