Artist: Arch Enemy
Album Title: Deceivers
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 12 August 2022
I have made absolutely no secret of my feelings towards Arch Enemy over the years. When I discovered the Swedish melodic death metal unit around the time of their sophomore album, ‘Stigmata’, I was blown away. The power, the heaviness, the melody, and the sense of vibrancy and fun was infectious, and the first three records remain firm favourites to this day.
But then it all changed. Johan Liiva was replaced by Angela Gossow on the microphone and slowly but surely, the band started to forget one important ingredient with the albums that they steadily released: the songs. Technically proficient in the extreme, of that there is no doubt, but the compositions started, in my opinion, to be a little too one-dimensional and lacking in that early vibrancy. Heavy riffs became the most important aspect of the band’s sound, and whilst some melody remained, it was never as infectious or as thoroughly entertaining than their opening trio of records.
I want to make it clear at this point that I am certainly not blaming anyone in particular for this shift. But something, somewhere, changed and in my opinion, Arch Enemy have never been the same. Given the continued success of the band, I’m clearly in the minority with this opinion, but I stand by my convictions. In 2014, the vocal position was taken over by Alissa White-Gluz, and in came guitar god Jeff Loomis of the sadly defunct Nevermore. I was hopeful that Arch Enemy might discover some of that early spark again and bring me back into the fold. But it has not happened. White-Gluz is a sensational vocalist, with an incredible growl, but I have remained unimpressed because of the quality of the songs themselves. When you consider that Michael Amott remains, alongside drummer Daniel Erlandsson, and bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, there’s no denying that the talent of Arch Enemy is off the scale, and that’s why I have been so bitterly disappointed over the years.
Nevertheless, 2022 brings with it a new album, their eleventh, in the shape of ‘Deceivers’ and, believe it or not, I approached it with a fully open mind, hopeful that I would be impressed with the final product. I have listened to it a lot in order to create a fair and honest review and, in all fairness, I have to concede that it is better than I was fearing. But it isn’t a home run either, unfortunately.
I have been listening to a lot of melodic death metal of late, because The Halo Effect and Soilwork are releasing, or have already released new material; it’s certainly a busy time for the genre. And the thing that holds ‘Deceivers’ back, is the fact that unlike both of these other bands, the music doesn’t convey to me that the musicians are having a great deal of fun. ‘Deceivers’ is technically proficient, spectacularly so in places, but overall, it feels a bit numb, a bit lacking in soul, and it feels a bit like it’s all a chore to the quintet. I’m sure that’s far from the case in reality, but I don’t get the feeling of exuberance or of fun when I listen to ‘Deceivers’ like I do with other melodeath outfits.
Things start pretty positively though, with a gloriously effervescent and melodic intro to ‘Handshake With Hell’, and I’m immediately buoyed. It has energy, flamboyance, and those trademark solos are present straight away. I also like the insertion of clean vocals from White-Gluz, as she has a stellar voice. I also like the unexpected cinematic sequence at its heart. But, whilst the song does grow on me with repeated listens, I feel like the chorus melodies miss a trick and don’t match the opening promise. As such, for all of its bluff and bluster, it’s not the barnstormer I was hoping for after the first thirty seconds.
Next up is ‘Deceiver, Deceiver’ and it’s easily one of the most aggressive and downright bludgeoning songs on the record. I do like the riffing and the explosive drumming from Erlandsson, but again, the chorus does nothing for me, leaving the track coming across as underwhelming and a one-dimensional thump to the head.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though, because ‘In The Eye Of The Storm’ is much more positive, and has more of the energy and style that I want to hear from Arch Enemy. The stomping mid-tempo riff is fantastic, and crucially, it gives way to a chorus that I actually really enjoy; it has a nice melody, whilst the ensuing mid-section lays off the heaviness just a little to allow some atmosphere and an accentuation of the melodic aspect of the song. The follow-up ‘The Watcher’ isn’t bad either; the chorus is a grower, almost power metal in feel, whilst the lead solos are insane.
I really like the way in which the band have also tried to mix things up by adding a bit of cinematic grandiosity to the music, either through intros, outros, or mid-way through the odd some here and there. One of the best can be heard at the outset of arguably my favourite song on the album, ‘Poisoned Arrow’. The way the orchestration gives way to a delicately played clean guitar melody is great, as is the cheeky and catchy guitar work that ensues, and which appears throughout the song. This is the kind of fun and impishness, echoed within the galloping and more upbeat ‘House Of Mirrors’, that I miss and which I wish would make a greater appearance within modern Arch Enemy material. For me, these songs stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Sadly, there’s not enough of this to be heard within ‘Deceivers’, with songs like ‘Sunset Over The Empire’ failing to make the grade despite the increased symphonics and attempted grandiosity. In fact, there’s precious little within the final three or four compositions that come close to changing my mind. Too much of it feels like ‘chug, chug, underwhelming chorus, solo, chug, solo, end’.
I fully understand that the overwhelming majority of you will wildly disagree with me. I may lose a few readers, and I may receive some abuse over social media. That’s fine, because I’m a big boy, and I accept that opinions can upset people. But if I am to be respected as a reviewer, I have to have honesty and integrity. And it means that I must conclude that, once again, Arch Enemy leave me feeling disappointed.
The penultimate track, ‘One Last Time’ features a spoken word line by Alissa White-Gluz where she says “Patience is running out, it’s wearing thin”. Couldn’t have said it better myself, only I’m thinking about Arch Enemy when I hear her say this. I desperately want to love this band again, and I want to hear songs that are as magical as the talent these musicians possess. But with each passing album, aside from a few flashes of brilliance, I’m beginning to think it’ll remain a wish that’s destined to go ungranted.
The Score of Much Metal: 71%
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