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As an avid fan of Arch Enemy it is a wonder that I didn't listen to anything by Armageddon sooner, and it would seem that I've really been missing out on a trick. Consisting of three band members and being the third album in Armageddon's release, Three is a fairly uncreative title for what is a surprisingly different route from what Chris Amott did with AE. Nonetheless it is a very entertaining release and I enjoyed it a great deal.
The first thing to state is that this is not a melodeath album, and bears no resemblances to the Gothenburg that I'd have expected the band to play. But although Chris remains one of the best melodeath guitarists in my opinion, I'm glad to see that he can do other things as well. Across the album there are a few different genres working their way together, mostly power, thrash and heavy metal, and there is a very classic feel to the album. It sounds like it's come directly from the late eighties or early nineties, albeit with better production.
But that isn't the only thing that I didn't expect: Chris does the vocals too. I was expecting something along the lines of a black metal shriek, but instead we get some excellent clean vocals. Personally I wouldn't have matched the voice to him, and to begin with I had trouble believing what I was hearing, but I'm very impressed with what he has to offer. He has a nice tone, not too high or low, and there's a clear power in his voice, yet at the same time he never drops out of the category of melodic, never resorts to shouting or even using any grit in his voice. It's a refreshing listen, even if it is a surprising one.
Daniel's drumming here isn't at its peak, mostly because the double bass which he is quite reliant on in Arch Enemy is not very present at all here. The style that the band follows doesn't allow him to play to his strengths and he is left to play relatively slowly and unoriginally. Not a great listen by any means, and the way that the guitar riffs tend to follow a simple pattern don't help the entertainment factor for a large portion of the album. As for the bassist, well, Tobias Gustafsson just wasn't meant to get any time in the spotlight. It's very much The Christopher Amott Show here, with his vocals leading the way and the occasional hooks following some way behind.
That being said, every single track has an absolutely killer solo. Not that I'd expected anything less, but considering that most of the riffing is not outstanding it's a little unexpected. At least here we see some more typical Amott-style hooks, leading to what is easily the best part of each track.
Overall, I'd say that Three was a solid effort, but that if we've learnt anything from this it's that Chris works better when playing melodic death metal than power/thrash/heavy metal. For anyone that likes modern bands with a retro feel, this album will probably appeal and it isn't a weak album by any means.
From melodic death metal he switches over to power metal and from there he ends up settling on heavy metal. Bengtsson isn’t here to save the day and Lövgren isn’t around as backup, so he ought to have something else up his sleeve. Well, if the fact that Chris performs vocals on this album doesn’t intrigue you enough, then you still might as well go the extra mile and hear this one out. I kept thinking to myself how he’d stack up; you know, the guy from Arch Enemy doing vocals in his own band!? If it was growling he’d have an easier time since many listeners accept a broad range of harsh vocals, but if you don’t nail the vocals down right in heavy / power metal then you’re quite screwed.
As a result, the little recognition this album received all focused on the vocals, which I must say don’t disappoint. Amott’s vocals are something you’d expect from, well, someone else. His voice is very clear and melodic, but it’s hard picturing it coming from him. Anyway, the voice isn’t high or cheesy, but very powerful, loud, and firm while sounding a bit boyish. The songs on here are straight up heavy metal tunes that center on the vocals to lead the crew to victory. They have this sing-a-long nature to them that you can’t help but follow along with, be it in the car or in front of a city crowd. Otherwise, Amott handles all the guitars once again, and the tone is stronger than the one found on the previous album. The tone also matches the clearer, more polished production style, but nothing’s too glossy. The riffs are heavy while the bass support is deep, groovy, and grumpy. The leads take on the typical, harmoniously positive impression and the solos are the climaxes of the songs ("Burn The Sun" and “Winter Skies” being the best of the basic tracks). The formula may get tiring for some, like myself, but the diversity brought on by the vocals keep it lasting right up to the finish line.
Most of the songs are mid-paced or fast, and their simplicity keeps things entertaining (not providing a whole lot of substance). In fact, it’s so sapped of depth that the last album can be described as an ocean full of life while this one is like a puddle. However, the one song that beats half of Embrace The Mystery is “Well Of Sadness.” As the longest song, it pretty much encompasses all the soul and resourcefulness one would hope for. The first half rides lightly as a somber, acoustic build-up with Chris’ most soulful performance on the album while the bass meanders along closely. Drums I especially love here because they sound very rich and juicy; Daniel takes his time with each hit of the kit, which doesn’t have a single fault to it. The song finds itself heading into a more positive direction as the lead progresses in a jazzy fashion before erupting into the most remarkably moving solo on the album.
While not particularly original, the album still stands out amongst its Swedish peers for the vocals alone. With more basic song structures, powerful movements, and receptive vocals, Three manages to be another keeper. It isn’t as profound as the first two, but that just means you’ll love it in a different way.
Christopher Amott's side project from Arch Enemy; like his brother, the man should quit his day job. Both Amotts make much better music with their respective side bands, Mike with Spiritual Beggars and Chris with Armageddon. Granted, the first two Armageddon offerings weren't quite up to par considering they were against the likes of Black Earth and Stigmata instead of the filth Arch Enemy are producing these days. It is no wonder though. Christopher hardly has the writing experience of his brother and the style was cluttered as it was.
However, on the third album Christopher has shaken things up, a lot. Gone are the leanings of gothenburg and power metal and the music is straight up classic metal with a modern edge. That is not to say there are downtuned, chuggy riffs galore but that while the album is reminiscent of the 80s, you could never mistake it for an album that was recorded in then, even if it had a production job fit for an album pressed on vinyl. There's a naivety in Christopher's songwriting that speaks volumes on how he is paying tribute to his favorites without ripping them off. This naivety and the simplicity it brings forth in the songwriting is what makes the album so refreshing. It doesn't have any higher ideas on what it is or is trying to be. It just a whole lot of fun. So while it is a guitarist's solo project, there isn't that much guitar wizardry to be found. There are lengthy solos on every song, but they are there to enhance the song, not to showoff Christopher's guitar skills. In fact, Three tends to bog down whenever the songs get too complex like on the bridge of Rainbow Serpent or most of The Contract.
Another aspect that adds to the naivety of the album are Christopher's vocals. Yes, he has taken on the vocal chores himself and while I'm not sure how much of it is studio wizardry and how much it is he himself, he does a fine job at it. They're nothing amazing, but he has a clear and powerful voice and keeps well in tune. Everything is delivered with a fitting amount of bravado and emotion. The cheesy lyrics about emotionless women, ancient cultures and freedom just add to the attraction of Three. There are some drawbacks as well, however. Christopher's songwriting doesn't hold up for the whole 40 minutes. Everything is well and good until the seventh track, Winter Skies, which is the best song on the album with its straightforward riffs and soaring choruses. The next few tracks unfortunately pale in comparison. The two actual songs bog down and never get going while the instrumental is a throwaway track. Final Destination sounds more like a demo track than anything else.