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An aesthetically pleasing bridge of embers. - 86%

hells_unicorn, December 18th, 2011

The earlier days of Arch Enemy are a curiosity of sorts, inspiring a strong devotion amongst older school melodeath and death metal fans, and even roping in some outside of the general paradigm. At first glance, one might assume the preference for the period over the Gossow era to be merely a vocal one in the alleged chauvinistic tendencies that the extreme metal scene is often alleged to carry. However, a thorough parsing of the radical difference in overall sound reveals that with maybe the exception of the soon to follow “Wages Of Sin”, this is all but an entirely different band, exuding a character more in line with the archaic irreverence and socially conscious traits of the earlier 1990s.

“Burning Bridges” has been likened to a continuation of the spirit of what Michael Amott was bringing to the latter day Carcass sound (along with the two preceding albums). While there is a bit to this, the overall sound of this album actually points a bit more towards the “Symbolic” era of Death, though accented with some of the melodic contours in line with In Flames. The pacing is along the lines of a mostly up tempo thrash album with a somewhat depressive atmospheric veil, particularly during the vocal sections when riff layering creates a shimmering atmosphere that lightens the otherwise heavy punch of the usual lower end riffing associated with straight line death metal.

Much like the later albums with Gossow, this era is heavily guitar oriented, maintaining the soloing showmanship that was generally associated with the style’s thrash roots and avoiding the more recent trend of dumbing down the style. The Amott brothers prove quite apt at rivaling a number of progressive outfits with a variety of stylistic influences, sometimes embracing the wildly erratic character of Slayer, at others leaning towards a Petrucci sound that incorporates as much idiomatic melodic material as it does fluid shredding licks. A good example of this sense of contrast manifests in the mellow neo-classical interlude of “Demonic Science”, which all but hearkens to something heard on an early 90s Helloween album and is among a few of the quirkier moments on here.

Vocalist Johan Liiva, whom the band soon ejected for allegedly not getting the job done behind the microphone, is something of an outlier when measured against other bands that have embraced the Gothenburg sound. He’s more in line with a mid-80s Teutonic thrash vocalist mixed with a less guttural John Tardy than anything else, at times almost sounding like he’s actually singing. It brings a more old school feel to the overall arrangement, morphing faster songs like “The Immortal” and “Angel Claw” into something not all that far removed from a Kreator song mixed with a tiny hint of Iron Maiden during the brief instrumental passes, and on the lone doom-infused title song “Burning Bridges” almost hits upon the early death/doom sound of the early 90s.

Ultimately, what makes this album unique also proves to be a slight Achilles heel of sorts. It’s clear that while the overall air of this is pretty conservative, there is a clear effort at versatility that makes for a few odd, out of place moments (particularly on “Demonic Science”). But this is definitely on the more essential side of the equation, particularly when measured against the bulk of many contemporary melodeath offerings. It manages to be catchy and also nasty enough to remind of what originally shocked the masses when death metal was first born, which is an impressive middle ground to accomplish for a style that is often dismissed as too mainstream for the truer wings of metal’s true believers.