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3 stepping stones across the Shit River Rapids - 40%

BastardHead, June 1st, 2008

People have been loving this album a slightly ridiculous amount. Sure, it's a step up from Anthems of Rebellion, but so is a recording of me farting in a tin can. I actually found Doomsday Machine to be surprisingly good. Not magnificent, but solid and replayable, so I would never consider it a failure. Arch Enemy's latest offering, 2007's Rise of the Tyrant starts off as easily their best work since Black Earth, but quickly descends into the utter bullshit that they have become known for.

Two of the biggest ticks that have been stuck to Arch Enemy's ass since the turn of the millennium are repetition and stagnation. A good chunk of their Gossgow material has this irritating tendency to repeat the same hooks over and over and over again until I start to look for solace in the sweet release of death. The track Revolution Begins exemplifies this so well it's almost frightening. It has this strange, glossy, happy, almost innocent tinge to it, and the melodic chorus hook is repeated ad fucking nauseum. And even if a song has a smidge of originality, it'll most likely be at the beginning of the record. Why? That stagnation I was talking about, that's why. The first two tracks, Blood on Your Hands and The Last Enemy, rank as two of the best songs the band has written since the nineties. Yet, the rest of the songs on the album rarely deviate from the style established by these first two, so why did I give this such a crappy score? Because it gets boring. The Bohemian Rhapsody is a great song, but if Queen would've recorded ten other songs just like it, the album would blow goats barring that track. This is exactly what Rise of the Tyrant manages to do. And even the songs that attempt something different (I Will Live Again) do it very very wrong and actually make me pray for more unoriginal melodeath.

Now with that said, those that are either new to the style or militant followers of the Swedish melodic death metal scene will love this. The two opening tracks and the title track are pretty much my favorite melodic death metal songs as of now, and I'm not even a huge fan of the genre, so that has to mean something. But for nearly everybody else, the startling amount of rehashes and plain blandness will get on your nerves pretty quickly. Songs like In This Shallow Grave are above average when taken out of context, but when put on this album, they are completely unmemorable. Stuff like Night Falls Fast and I Will Live Again are pedestrian and bland, a combination that only infuriates me even more.

Maybe I wouldn't hate this album as much if it didn't have qualities like the Amotts' incredible leads or furious and interesting drumming. The parts when the double bass kicks it into overdrive are extremely enjoyable and I don't think there is even one lead or solo that isn't in the top fifteen percentile of leads and solos that Mike and Chris have ever written. Maybe it seems odd that I'm commending an album for having really, really good aspects, but then at the same time condemning it for the same thing. I do this because it's frustrating. It's like snack time at my old babysitter's house. Sometimes I would get macaroni and cheese with hot dogs in it, but other times I would get pickled pig's feet (no joke). So did I learn to anticipate snack time because sometimes I got good stuff, or did I learn to despise it because of the possibility of the nasty shit I had to eat? This album is exactly the same, for every juicy lead, there is a dry and tasteless riff that is repeated four times more than it needs to be used.

And throughout this whole deal, I have yet to mention Angela's vocals. Since it seems to be law to make a special mention of her in every Arch Enemy review, I'll just say that this is probably her best performance. As sedated and mechanical as she sounded on Anthems of Rebellion, here she is equally furious and crazed. The only time she ever sounds like absolute shit (which happens at least once an album), is on the inexplicably popular track Revolution Begins.

In the end, if you can look past deja vu like the opening to Vultures and the like, you are likely to find a brilliant record. If you have an IQ above sandpaper, you'll realize that there is very little here that you haven't heard a million times before. Blood on Your Hands, The Last Enemy, and Rise of the Tyrant are all exceptional tracks and are easily the highlights of the record, seamlessly fusing the melody and intensity the way melodic death metal really should be. Everything else is either rehashed or shamelessly commercial and completely lacking in balls/integrity.