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A high-quality debut minus one member - 78%

PorcupineOfDoom, December 7th, 2014

I've reviewed everything else by the band, so I think that I should complete the collection and add Black Earth and Burning Bridges to my list of Arch Enemy reviews. Johan Liiva certainly puts me off, but I think I can withstand his vocal 'talents' for two records. Anyway, this is the one that started it all. Black Earth, supposedly one of the classic melodic death metal albums from the '90s. This is back before melodeath was the cool thing to play, before everyone hopped on that bandwagon and made it accessible to the casual fan. Yes, this is the good stuff, the real stuff.

Unless you're someone like me. Someone with a taste for the modern stuff that gets slagged by half of the metal community. Someone sits on the side of the fence belonging to those that love the genre. Basically, I don't believe everything about this record being one of the most epic records ever released. The 2009 release The Root of All Evil where many older songs were rerecorded could probably outshine this record by a long way. The playing is cleaner, more precise, just generally better. Plus on that record you don't have to put up with the abysmal vocals offered by Mr Liiva.

There are worse singers in the world than Johan. Really, there are. I don't believe him to be the worst that has ever existed or will ever exist, because quite clearly that'd be wrong (anyone using pig squeals is worse, for example). But at the same time I really can't see what so many others seem to find in his voice. He just always sounds so bored and out of place, and he never sounds as if he's giving any effort at all. He just kills the mood that the guitars create as well, counteracts every bit of spectacular work that the Amott and Amott duo play. What anyone ever liked about his performances is simply unfathomable to me.

The aforementioned Amott brothers are as solid as they usually are. Obviously this was their first attempt at an album together and they play very well off of each other, always challenging one to strike a further blow against the other. What needs to be cleared up though is that the music is more death metal with melodic influences than melodic with death metal influences. It's a change in style from their modern-day works, but it's still good to listen to. It isn't as clean as I'd perhaps want it to be, but that's part of the effect that this album creates. It's meant to be dark, not the lighter stuff that they do nowadays.

Drumming is by Daniel Erlandsson just like with the AE that are still around in 2014, and he's just as good on his debut than he's proven to be ever since. He keeps a nice rhythm going in the background and for the entire album proves that he can indeed follow in his older brother's footsteps. While maybe not the most spectacular playing ever, he does as good a job as you could possibly expect from him.

The songs are very enjoyable for the most part (assuming you can ignore Johan crying out in the most boring way possible), and I'd have to say that it rivals Stigmata in terms of overall quality. The solos are the best parts, but there are plenty of positives to take out of this album. The only negatives are that the sound quality has a tendency to let down the quality of music being played and (of course) Johan Liiva's abilities are far outshone by everyone else's.

Super Amott Bros. - 92%

OzzyApu, March 16th, 2013

Black Earth is high in quality on Arch Enemy’s repertoire. Both Amott brothers knew they had to make an impression the first time around, so there was no doubt that all the goods were on the table with this one. Everything is coated in this ripping distortion and embalmed by dark, arcane atmosphere and soundscapes. It's so relentless and ferocious for melodic death of this nature with its deeply harmonized leads and monolithic scope. Erlandsson's playing is swift and thunderous like all drummers of his caliber should be.

Arch Enemy’s first singer, Johan Liiva, performs here with nothing held back. His vocal style is unique but also a bit on the inhibiting side at first. His words can be clearly heard due to his choice of yelling roughly, rather than outright grunts, growling, or screaming. It's an odd choice that grows to become rapturous and authoritative. On this matter, the first track itself is one of the best tracks on the album, displaying all the critical pieces of Arch Enemy’s early style. Liiva there is fierce, potent and concentrated.

Black Earth's songs have memorable riffs and brilliant (including dual) harmonized leads and solos that make it easy to know one from the other. They're all unruly, brutal, brooding, and majestic compared to the rest of the Gothenburg stuff at the time. The album's akin to The Jester Race by In Flames, but certainly a different breed of melodic death and way more vigorous as it steers closer to Iron Maiden's dynamic side. The best part of the album lies with all the Arch Enemy albums - Christopher and Michael. Of any brothers, these two created the best blend of dark and light themes spoken through the riffs and leads. Focusing on the instrumental prowess is “Demoniality” and "Time Capsule". The former consists of is a single riff that drags for the entire minute twenty, albeit catchy for the first couple of repeats. The latter, “Time Capsule”, redeems the first instrumental. To me, this is one of the most beautiful pieces of all AE’s instrumentals. It's so romanticized but executed in such a pristine fashion as to fit perfectly with the album's character.

This album kicked off what was a promising career. For the next two albums, Arch Enemy would go for two different styles of the same sound. One, Stigmata would be the mature, melancholic approach while Burning Bridges would be lighter. This entire trilogy is a world of its own to enjoy.

The Earth was a bit blacker back in 1996. - 87%

hells_unicorn, December 25th, 2011

The formative albums put out in the mid to late 90s by Arch Enemy, and their auspicious proximity to the latter day efforts of Michael Amott's contributions to Carcass are rightly praised as stalwart examples of how Swedish melodeath sounds when conforming to its peculiar orthodoxy. With maybe the exception of At The Gates, this outfit was much closer to the unique stylistic niche that was common amongst transitional figures between the early death/thrash scene and their progressive flirtation that, arguably, paved the way for this very style. This is the sort of blend of consonant, repetitive melodic figures and chaotic speed and murky darkness that could be acceptable to a number of non-melodeath fans that took to the earlier, more occult themed death metal of the late 80s, as well as a handful of Helloween and Iron Maiden fans who don't mind down-tuned guitars and non-tonal vocal sounds.

While there is a very clear consistency that dominates this fairly streamlined, song oriented debut, "Black Earth" has a very obvious duality that comes of as very abrupt in a number of ways. In much the same respect as the transitional nature of At The Gates' early work, the 80s heavy and power metal inspired melodies almost act like occasional gimmicks to either highlight a differing approach to what largely comes off as fairly standard death metal, or perhaps even instrumental place markers between a darker riff assault that tends to accompany the vocal sections. Unlike In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, when hearing the bludgeoning fury of "Bury Me An Angel" and "Transmigration Macabre" the picture is more along the lines of a death/thrash assault with occasional melodic interludes that is a bit more reminiscent of the sound characterizing The Crown after they changed their name from Crown Of Thorns.

Perhaps even more noticeable than the more traditional thrashing character of the riff set is the rest of the arrangement. While the battery of the percussion work here is pretty ferocious, it comes alongside a lead guitar assault and vocal lead that is very streamlined and, at times formulaic. The solo work on "Fields Of Desolation", which as a song tends to veer the closest to the power metal character sound that this style tends to get lumped in with, showcases a fairly reserved and almost singing lead guitar character reminiscent of a traditional baroque tune. Pile on top of this a vocal display out of Johan Liiva that is fairly similar to the largely deep sounding bark Chuck Schuldiner put forth on "Human", and this song (and much of this album for that matter) creates its own little world of symbiotic extremes, all fitting nicely into an equilibrium of aggression and sorrow that is largely missing from the current melodeath scene.

While "Stigmata" is a slightly stronger album, both that album and this one are prime rib for any carnivorous consumer of melodic tinged death metal where the punch has not been sacrificed for the sake of wider appeal. The stereotypical Maiden-like melodic hooks are present and at time really abrupt, but this is an album defined more by a blistering kick to the gut than an appeal to metal's softer side. It could almost be passed off as a product of its time, if not a slight throwback in that it tends closer to the older death metal style than most other bands of a similar persuasion, particularly the often mentioned and sometimes derided Gothenburg trio. Think of it as what Carcass would have sounded like if they put out one more album after "Heartwork" and invited members of The Crown and In Flames to help out with the songwriting.

Arch Enemy - Black Earth - 80%

Orbitball, August 13th, 2010

This is Arch Enemy's debut CD featuring the Amotts (Christopher and Michael) on guitars, bass guitar was also done on here by Michael until they found a replacement following this release, Daniel Erlandsson is on drums and former Johan Liiva on throat. Let me tell you that for a debut CD, there are many classic tracks on here. Michael is the force behind the riff writing with his brother contributed more so on the leads than on the rhythms. His leads are more technical than his brothers, whereas Michael's melodies/leads are more "feeling" based.

There is no intro exhibited here, just the slam of a snare beat then enter the band with vigor. From my standpoint, this debut could've been stronger if vocalist Johan had a little more variety to his bellowing throat outputs. There aren't too much variation exhibited on here from him, but his vocals don't drown out the melodic riffs. He just needed to have more feeling put into them. They were quite boring. I'd have to say that some of my favorite melodic tracks are on here are plentiful primarily because it's melodic death metal is my favorite genre, of which Arch Enemy plays dominates in.

The music features B-tuned guitars, which are thick and heavy throughout this whole CD. There are many tremelo picked rhythms as well as many melodic parts, especially during the chorus sections. They give the debut more augmentation to this aggressive main guitar riff-writing. The tempos vary. There are faster parts, more groove laden licks and slower chorus style writings. They keep the listener captivated with this writing ingenuity. In addition, there is an acoustic instrumental called "Time Capsule" and also a heavier one entitled "Demoniality."

As I meantioned previously, there are some great lead guitar work by Christopher Amott. Just listen to the outro solo on "Fields Of Desolation" and you'll hear what I'm talking about. Christopher's leads are way more filled with arpeggios and speed picking than his brother Michaels. Like I mentioned again also, Michael has more emotion involved in his lead guitar work. He likes to use the wah-pedal exclusively on his solos. Michael was more technical when he was playing for Carcass, quite noteablely on their "Heartwork" release.

The production is solid, though the bass guitar is difficult to hear. All of the rest of the band member's main guitars, drums and vocals are well heard. The mixing was well done nevertheless and the guitars are what stands out the most here. Most tracks reflected how talented this band is. But getting rid of Johan was not a good move, even though his vocals here are more death metal oriented. This isn't the case on future releases when he was still with the band.

On the import CD of this release, there are some bonus tracks featuring Iron Maiden cover songs. Strange to hear them in B-tuning with Johan on vocals. Songs to check out here are "Bury Me An Angel", "Eureka" and "Fields Of Desolation." If you're a big fan of melodic death metal, then you should check this CD out. It's what melodic death metal is totally about. You'll hear what I'm talking about if you decide to purchase the album.

Meat and Potatoes Melodeath - 80%

ImpureSoul, July 11th, 2010

Arch Enemy had been a band in my play list since I was 13, and since then my views of them have changed dramatically. I view them as a totally different group and, because of that, like them for different reasons than I did when I first heard Nemesis. I can say that, like many other fans, I got sucked in by the fact that, despite being DEATH METAL, they had a female vocalist. I first heard of them from a short interview with the femme fatale herself, Angela Gossow, on Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. I went on to hearing Doomsday Machine and Rise of the Tyrant before noticing that Gossow was not always fronting the band.

The man who had once been the vocalist of Arch Enemy is Johan Liiva. I heard his voice first from a live recording of “Let the Killing Begin” in terrible quality. I found his voice a lot harsher and grittier than Gossow’s, and after a while my skepticism turned into interest, and I found myself wondering what Arch Enemy’s debut album, Black Earth, sounded like. (Look at that CD cover and tell me you’re not interested!) It’s very hard to describe what I felt when first hearing Liiva after getting used to Gossow (I’d been a fan of Gossow for 6 months by now), but I’ll describe it as best as I can.

Right from hearing the first track, Bury Me an Angel, I was left speechless. Although it is by no means as accessible or flashy as some of Arch Enemy’s new stuff is, it really delivers on that “heavy fuckin’ metal” tone a lot better than songs like “Revolution Begins” or “The Day You Died” from Gossow’s time. The guitars are down tuned all the way to B, giving it a real edge, especially coupled with Liiva’s deep, raspy bark. I remember after first hearing Bury Me an Angel how the riff at 0:20 got stuck in my head and brought me back for more. The melodies on Black Earth are great, and tend to have more passion than in the newer stuff. In fact, I’m just gonna come out and say it: this album beats the bejesus out of the modern Gothenburg Melodeath genre. It knows when it’s time to be heavy and when to be melodic, and the two elements are combined excellently. Unlike modern “melodic death metal” albums like A Sense of Purpose, you don’t have to remind yourself that you aren’t listening to Mallcore. It stays true and strong,

The guitars in the album are great, and not just talent-wise. They manage to write a ton of great riffs and solos that really carry most of the music, courtesy of the Amott brothers. A lot of the guitars will please fans of Carcass, especially those that liked Heartwork. The songs aren’t written in any really technical way; it’s really more of what I’d consider your “meat-and-potatoes” melodic death metal. Although believe me when I say this isn’t the same Melodeath that comes to mind when you think of recent stuff. It doesn’t follow the crappy songs about being depressed and emo, or write left-wing protest songs with clean-vocals choruses, it keeps to the genre and stays focused.

The album isn’t just relentless non-stop brutality though; when I think of those things, I think of Cannibal Corpse: no interludes, no instrumentals, and the same overall feel that never alters from songs to song. In this album though, you get breaks from the heavy riffs in the form of relaxing and well-done solos that salute 80’s hard rock and heavy metal. They serve as perfect interludes for you to relax and savor the music, rather than everything getting rushed through. The best example of this is in the song “Cosmic Retribution” which has 2 solos and an acoustic interlude that makes this song my favorite in the bunch. There are also two instrumentals in this album: Demoniality and Time Capsule. Demoniality is one slow, heavy riff played several times that serves as an introduction to Transmigration Macabre, the fastest and most aggressive song on the album. I think that Demoniality shouldn’t be its own track; I think it would have been better if it had been cut down and put right into the song Transmigration Macabre. Time Capsule is quite different; a looser, more relaxing solo accompanying a simple acoustic riff.

Although it may be hard for some of you to get used to (it certainly took me a while), Liiva’s voice becomes infectious. Although it doesn’t have the range it did in the follow-up album Stigmata, and certainly not the range he had in Burning Bridges, there’s a lot of passion in his vocals, and you can sense his enthusiasm. A small fault in the album that does detract from the overall score is the lyrics. Yes, apparently the uninspired vocals that Arch Enemy has had have been around since before Gossow was writing them. Usually the lyrics are just average, but for the chorus of Eureka (“EUREKA! I FOUND THE SECRET OF LIFE! EUREKA!”), you can see that the vocals weren’t the main concentration of the music, for sure. But in my opinion, this album is still better than anything released while Gossow was at the mike, and it’s unfortunate that no one can seem to combine melody and brutality the same way as was done in Arch Enemy’s first three albums. A good way to describe the music on Black Earth would be if you imagined Carcass’ “Heartwork” combined with Furbowl’s “Those Shredded Dreams”. I recommend this to anyone who wants to hear a good Melodeath album for a change, but I’d recommend Arch Enemy’s magnum opus, Stigmata, first.

Recommended songs:
COSMIC RETRIBUTION: Short and sweet, but it really packs a punch. The double solo and acoustic interlude are what set it apart from the rest of the songs.

TIME CAPSULE: Really nice solo melody that brings you back to earth and puts you in a good mood right before the climax of the album.

IDOLATRESS: Liiva’s vocals get really intense on this one, although the chorus is repeated one too many times at the end. The solo here takes on the soft-slow approach that you would expect to hear from a Metallica power ballad, and takes on a quick arpeggio form as it nears the end.

Originally posted on spirit-of-metal.com under the username InfinityZero.

Dodsmetall for Dummies - 35%

centrifuge, October 12th, 2006

About a month after this album came out, a friend of mine who ran his own mail order pressed a copy of the CD on me, insisting that if I gave it enough plays the penny would surely drop. "You're the only person I know who doesn't like this album" he said uncomprehendingly. All I could do was shrug.

My complaint at the time was simple: I thought it was boring, very boring, and listening to it again now I see no reason to revise my initial opinion. On paper, Arch Enemy looked good enough. Michael Amott, one of the elder statesmen of Swedish death metal, and young prodigy Daniel Erlandsson on drums (who didn't seem intimidated by following in older brother Adrian's footsteps, and who had already impressed me with his work in Eucharist)... the chances seemed good that the mix would ignite. But for me it just never did, and for the life of me, to this day I can't understand why so many people rave about this completely uninspired, tedious and formulaic recording.

Let me clarify something at this point. I see that most (all?) of the previous reviewers are a lot younger than me, too young to have heard the album when it was released and certainly not old enough to remember the context, or the history of Swedish death metal up till then. Some of you are possibly under the impression that this was a groundbreaking recording, that if it sounds familiar now it's because so many other bands have ripped AE off? This is emphatically not the case. As early as 1992 the Scandinavian scene was swamped with teenagers trying to copy Entombed and Dismember, and for every creative band (and there were a lot of those) there was about ten copyists. By 1996 this sound was already very old and familiar, and had been showcased on hundreds of different recordings. There is nothing new or fresh about this album whatsoever.

And that's about the size of it, really... from first note to last, it sounds to me as if they were learning it from a textbook. There is not one original riff on the album, everything is entirely predictable throughout. "Cosmic Retribution" and "Transmigration Macabre" do stand out slightly as being the most committed and intense performances, but even then the music is just totally recycled. The acoustic break in "Retribution" is all very tasteful, but it doesn't seem to grow organically out of what precedes it - and on the other hand it's nowhere near unexpected enough to have the quality of a surprise. You just knew that there was gonna be a break like that sooner or later. I think the whole album can be summed up by the opener "Bury Me an Angel". It's a by-the-numbers mid-tempo thrasher, heavy Stockholm chords overlaid with occasional flashes of Gothenburg harmony, but a couple of minutes in, there's a bluesy guitar break. It has no musical logic of its own at all, says nothing and goes nowhere - there's not even a blues feeling to it. It's as if the riffs were constructed as shapes on the fretboard rather than sounds in the ear.

[In fact, now that I come to think of it... what's Michael Amott ever done that I truly like? His arrival in Carcass coincided with that band's heading downhill as far as I'm concerned (fans of the band tend to divide militantly into "early" or "late" - I'm firmly in the former category; and let me say also that when bands talk about being "influenced by Carcass", as literally thousands are, they're talking about the OLD sound). It's true that I love the early Carnage demos, but that's more a question of raw power and viciousness than of the music, which is pretty basic stuff; even the Carnage album Dark Recollections, which was put together after the band was already a historical project, is pretty dull and repetitive - except for "Gentle Exhuming" which is simply two early songs stitched together. Dismember, which was basically the same band minus Amott, already sounded stronger. Clearly the guy has something going for him because so many people love his music - but I don't hear it. Admittedly I've never listened to Spiritual Beggars, but you can see why I haven't got round to it.]

I am nearer 40 than 30, have been married for ten years, and don't listen exclusively to metal - so I no longer ask it to meet all my spiritual and emotional needs. Metal doesn't necessarily have to be immaculately produced or brilliantly played (which this isn't, by the way - it's perfectly competent without ever being out of the ordinary) to please me. But it DOES have to hit me in the guts, make me FEEL something, and the one fault which I won't overlook is that it should be boring. This album is really fucking boring! It's safe to say that most of you disagree with me and that newcomers are probably better off reading the preceding reviews, since apparently I just hear music differently from the rest of the metal world and am therefore not to be trusted. But it remains the case that metal is very close to my heart, and it remains the case that this album most certainly isn't.

The Amotts will rape you! - 100%

Axis_Corpsefucker, September 14th, 2005

Flawless, fast, melodic and brutal in all the right places, this album is Gothenburg metal at its finest. This album will rape any of those other pussy Gothenburg bands (such as Soilwork and other sellouts). This is melodic death metal, that doesn’t get gay in the chorus and remembers to be DEATH rather than MELODIC all the time.

I cannot stress how much this album could destroy any other fagass melodeath bands that comes its way, this has to be the Amott brothers at their finest. It’s a shame what happened when Angela came along and how fame and money got right into their heads.

The production done by Fredrik Nordstrom is as usual, excellent. The “wall of sound” technique that he has perfected fits the album perfectly with the heavy down-tuned, bass-oriented sound. Vocals done by Johan Liiva is perfect, there are a lot of people that aren’t a fan of his monotonous deep voice but I feel it fits the album. Drums done by Daniel Erlandsson is also fine, nothing impressive but its solid drumwork. Now, the guitar duo of the Amott brothers is completely flawless, it hits the spot in all the right places. Michael Amott providing his groove-oriented fast-paced guitar chugging, and Christopher Amott’s classical-based melodical riffing- its absolutely amazing. And when the two of them play together, harmonizing, and switching off leads, they’re almost untouchable.

From fast moshing riffs, to mid-paced headbanging riffs and even melodic leading and acoustic instrumentals, Arch Enemy pulls it off perfectly. Brutal, heavy, and melodic without being gay, this album reigns. The only down points are the three songs: “Fields of Desolation”, “Demoniality”, and “The Ides of March”. “Fields of Desolation” is doomy in song structure and although there is a really cool melodic lead and chorus, the song is too slow and I find myself pushing the skip button on the CD player. “Demoniality” is a pointless slow instrumental that just repeats the same riff over and over, I don’t see the point in it whatsoever. “The Ides of March” an Iron Maiden cover, really is just another boring instrumental, I mean its cool they want to suck Iron Maiden’s dick and all but why the fuck do I have to waste my time listening to this slow piece of shit. The other instrumentals are fine, they add a nice touch to the album but these three songs are just pointless.

Another down point is the lyrics. I mean, yeah I know they’re Swedish and all and other metal bands also have ridiculous lyrics like them but “Eureka! I found the secret of Life! Eureka!” and “We are all alone, crying in each others arms!” are just really gay. Metal isn’t about emotions and all that bullshit, its about killing people and Satan and how your testicles get frostbitten when you wander around naked in the middle of winter in Norway. But the vocals for the most part are unintelligible so it doesn’t really matter.

But just because of those downpoints doesn’t make this album unworthy of a 100. Its an amazing album. I just wish they had a hot chick as a model instead of that fat bitch with claws.

RECOMMENDED SONG: Dark Insanity
THE GAY SONG: Fields of Desolation
LYRICS: Gay
PRODUCTION: Bassy, Over-powering guitars, Flawless!
PACKAGING: Looks like a Siamese-twin trying to make out with each other.
OVERALL: Buy or Die, I loved it after the first listen, a masterpiece

Classic debut - 95%

Crimsonblood, January 16th, 2003

Black Earth, the debut from Arch Enemy is a lesson in aggression and subtle melodies. Fresh from his stint in Carcass, Michael Amott joined with his brother Christopher to make a CD that took the sound of older Swedish Death, and mixed it with a touch of Heartwork era Carcass and added in more melody. The result is one of the best debuts from any Metal band in the mid 90’s.

While Arch Enemy can correctly be termed as Melodic Death Metal, they have very little in common with bands like Dark Tranquillity and In Flames musically. Arch Enemy on Black Earth, are almost Thrashy in nature, being very riff heavy, with a lot of fast drumming and memorable leads. A lot of the riffs have that Carcass Death/Groove feel that was present on Heartwork as well and it mixes very well into the songs. Johan Liiva, who sang on the Carnage demos (Michael Amott’s first group, and one of the first Swedish Death bands), handles the vocals on Black Earth. While he sounds really good on “Fields Of Desolation” and “Bury Me An Angel”, overall his vocal performance is somewhat lacking. I’ve never been a huge fan of Liiva, as his style used is a somewhat grunt/growl that sounds like it’s almost spoken, rather than sung. Sometimes he sounds good, other times he doesn’t, but his gruff style does fit the music and you have to give him some credit, due to the fact that no one really sounds like him. Music wise most of this CD is very fast, especially the brutal opener, “Bury Me An Angel”. Other songs have some mid-paced, almost groove heavy sections, but generally speaking this is very fast Metal with plenty of double bass and aggressive drum runs, which are handled superbly by Daniel Erlandsson. The leads are also excellent with both brothers having distinct styles, and they really add a lot to the songs. In fact, “Cosmic Retribution” has one of my favorite sequences of leads. First is a blistering solo from Michael Amott, which eventually goes into an acoustic solo from Christopher Amott that fits surprisingly well. About ¾ of the way through this solo, some double bass comes in which eventually paves the way for the distorted guitars to come roaring back with Christopher Amott delivering a melodic solo of his own. Sure, there are better played solos out there, but just something about this sequence really makes it cool (for lack of a better word).

The only faults of this CD can be pinpointed to an overall vocal performance that isn’t quite at the same level as the music and a short length. There are only 7 full-length tracks on here, with the weakest being “Transmigration Macabre”, although this track is still has a lot of good moments. There are two 1-minute instrumentals, both of which are actually quite useful and good, however, 7 full length tracks is still a bit on the short side. Regardless though, this is an exceptional release that contains first-rate riffs, leads, drum work, and song writing. One of the most brutal and heavy Melodic Death Metal releases to be sure.

Song highlights: Pretty much everything, although my favorites are Bury Me An Angel, Dark Insanity, Cosmic Retribution, and Fields Of Desolation