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Now I've made it pretty clear that I don't consider myself much of a melodeath fan, and long time readers probably remember that I gave Rise of the Tyrant a pretty harsh review when it was new, and alluded within the review that I really didn't like Anthems of Rebellion either. Now, that's all true, but I have to make one thing clear: I do actually like Arch Enemy. Perhaps there's a nostalgic quality for me considering, despite what I always say, they were the first band with harsh vocals I'd ever liked. I always claim that Children of Bodom was the band that warmed me up to the style, and that's mostly true because I was/am a MUCH bigger fan of Bodom than I am Arch Enemy and have listened to Bodom's good albums waaaaay more than the good AE albums. But really and truly Arch Enemy beat them by about a month. Because of this, I'm one of the few weird people who really, really likes Doomsday Machine, but in all honesty it's the only Gossgow era album that I find holds any worth. It's got some crappy tracks like "My Apocalypse" and "Skeleton Dance", but tracks like "Out for Blood", "Taking Back My Soul", "Nemesis" (which could possibly be their fastest song), and even the instrumental "Hybrids of Steel" really make up for the shortcomings in my mind. Now this is going to sound strange, but despite considering myself a fan of the band, I don't really like more than one Gossgow era album, and I have a huge issue with the Liiva era stuff as well.
And that, my friends, is why I think The Root of All Evil is actually a brilliant idea. See, I agree with pretty much everybody in the universe who doesn't suck at music on this subject, but the songs on the first three albums were leagues ahead of the mostly uninspired crap that the band has been putting out lately. There was a much more prevalent aggression present and the melodies, while predictable, yes, were infinitely more infectious and memorable than turds like "Leader of the Rats" or "Revolution Begins". I'll go on record saying that "Silverwing" from Burning Bridges could well be my favorite melodeath song. But there is one glaring, unavoidable flaw with the early albums that makes me rarely want to spin them: the vocals were atrocious. I'm sorry, but Johan Liiva was a fucking terrible vocalist. He always sounded like he was lazily grunting out the words or just yelling like a wrestler instead of putting forth any fire or effort. It really brings down the soaring melodies and fast paced energy of the songs. When Liiva was given the boot and Angela Gossgow was brought in, the problems flip flopped. Yeah it's annoying how she layers her screams something like ten quadrillion times (which is one of my main problems with certain Behemoth albums, I'm looking at you, Demigod), but she has a legitimately good raspy scream that is just worlds better than Liiva's passionless bark. And therein lies the problem with the band as a whole, once they got a decent vocalist, they seemed to completely stop giving a fuck about their music, pushing out mostly lame, lazy plodfests. Which brings us full circle to why I not only like The Root of All Evil, but why I actually consider it to be Arch Enemy's best album. It is the only record where they managed to get a decent blend of good vocals and good music.
When it comes to the real music, there are virtually no changes from the original cuts. I notice it seems like the instruments are tuned a half step higher, but that doesn't detract at all for me. Yes, it makes the songs less dark, but more exuberant. While I dig the aggression on the earlier albums, that was never Arch Enemy's strength. Their strength lies in the huge melodies and searing leads, not the deep crunch or pounding rhythms. This is a band that is all about the flash and the style, and less about the base itself. This can be a problem for most people, as the old "Iron Maiden with growls" criticism is no less true here than it is with In Flames or pretty much any other Swedish melodeath band ever, but there's a sense that there's something larger at work in these older tracks. Post-Liiva, they've been more about being catchy, but pre-Gossgow they were more about dark splendor. With the new, highly polished production, it does cheapen the idea slightly. The songs are now presented more like big, dumb anthems like the band has been trying to do ever since Wages of Sin, instead of the darker, more mysterious and strange songs they used to be. Perhaps this is because Painkiller is my favorite Judas Priest album, but I love big, dumb anthems. So this new gloss and presentation only adds to what were otherwise good to decent songs in the first place. In fact, I love the new production, as I don't feel like it saps any aggression out of the recordings, instead beefing them up with a more pronounced drum sound and tighter performances. It is indeed less organic and more manufactured, and I acknowledge the problem with that, but it works really well for the style that Arch Enemy plays so I have no real criticism in that decision.
The track selection is a bit wonky, with Burning Bridges being overrepresented and Stigmata getting the shaft, but apart from maybe "Demonality" they didn't choose any straight up bad or boring tracks for this compilation. The inclusion of both "Bury Me an Angel" and "Silverwing" alone make the album worthwhile though, as they're the two best tracks from the band's early era. Honestly, listen to those two tracks alone and tell me you didn't spend the rest of the day humming the chorus melodies to yourself. Some of the straightfoward burners like "The Immortal" and "Demonic Science" are improved with the new, thicker production as well, and "Bridge of Destiny" is just epic as all get out as a closer.
But really, I have to address the elephant in the room, the question on nearly every old fan's mind; why was this album made? The general consensus seems to be making a quick buck with little effort by rerecording old material, cashing in on their newfound fame that they didn't revel in quite as much when the band started off as little more than "the new band by that Carcass dude". But in all honesty, my belief (and apparently the belief of the band as well) is that this was done because they loved the older songs, and a majority of the newer fans had no idea they existed. I saw them live about five or six years ago, and the crowd (consisting mostly of teenage mallgoth kids and grrrl pwr! type drones) stood around looking confused when they played "Dark Insanity". Let's face it, this isn't Gossgow's fault. She was a fan of the early albums, that's why she tried out for the band when Liiva was kicked out, she loves singing these songs. Michael and Christopher obviously want these songs they wrote in the 90s to continue being a part of the band's legacy, as evidenced by the fact that they keep playing them in the face of moronic fans who didn't know they existed before their current vocalist. This was an album that the fans demanded simply by not knowing these songs were ever written. I see it as the band throwing up their hands and saying "You know what? Fuck you guys. If you don't know these goddamn songs by now, we're going to make you know them". This gives the band the satisfaction of being able to see a real response when they play early era classics, and gives new fans the pleasure of being given a selection of their best songs from the time before they had the vocalist that made them so visible in the first place. In a way, it shows that the band was always legit, and they're not just trying to exploit the fact that they have a female vocalist and apparently no angsty teenager had ever seen that prior to 2001. Plus they make that easy money and people like me who hated Liiva get to hear those great old songs with better vocals. Everybody wins.
So at the end of the day, what we're left with is a fun and melodic album from a band who has been fervently boring the crap out of me for years. This is a welcome change, even if they didn't actually write anything new. New fans were introduced to the old classics, the band earned the ability to play the songs they love live again, and old fans either get a beefy reimagining of the songs they already enjoyed (like me) or a pointless cash-in (like idiots). The detractors have been pretty vocal about this album and for once, I have to side with the band making all the money. The Root of All Evil is a killer album, and you should be ashamed for writing it off as a pointless cash-in.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/