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Solid, if somewhat commercial. - 77%

hells_unicorn, December 12th, 2011

As my continuing education in the well known subject of melodeath proceeds, along with it comes my perplexity at its polarizing nature. In many respects it comes off as an eclectic blend of modern power and thrash metal conventions with a hint of the archaic early 90s death metal scene before brutality began to reign supreme. Perhaps that is the problem, the lack of brutality, as Sweden’s contribution to this style has largely gone the way of near pop/rock simplicity. My new found interest in Arch Enemy, perhaps among the better known in this business alongside Amon Amarth, bucks this trend in some respects, while providing a much needed technical edge to it that shouldn’t be ignored.

Largely hailed as a comeback album after the perceived failure that was “Doomsday Machine”, “Rise Of The Tyrant” actually saw this outfit come into some mainstream success. This might be confusing to those who associate the Billboard Top 200 with Nickelback and Breaking Benjamin, but given the similar success of Behemoth, it’s far from unheard of. Arch Enemy is not at all inaccessible here when it comes to mainstream ears, particularly when considering the heavily rock infused “Revolution Begins”, the mid-tempo single hit that enjoyed regular play on Headbangers Ball, as well as the equally simple and restrained “I Will Live Again”. Either one of the aforementioned songs could just as easily rope in anyone who took to Children Of Bodom or In Flames back in their formative days.

Nevertheless, the charm of this band is found principally in their ability to balance aggression, catchiness, and virtuosity into a nice, tight package that can play to anyone who wants to hear something that’s animated yet not over-the-top. Keyboards are used sparingly, Gossow’s manly barks get the job done but are mostly one dimensional, but the riff work on here is fairly fancy, as is the lead breaks. Between the riveting solos that paint the frenetic bruisers that are “In This Shallow Grave” and “Blood On Your Hands”, as well as the smooth melodic candor of the neo-classical instrumental “Intermezzo Liberte”, a fair amount of Malmsteen and Kerry King influences shine through. Similarly, the largely modern sounding thrasher with a progressive edge “The Great Darkness” manages to throw in a couple 18th century musical clichés as a nod to the 80s Swedish icon that brought Bach to the metal scene.

This comes just a few inches short of finding itself in kickass territory, but this is actually a solid album considering that it coincides with a fairly massive dry spell in the Swedish death scene circa 2007. Not everything that hits pay dirt in the commercial realm deserves to be trashed, though that probably won’t stop the usual suspects from dismissing it on such grounds. If one can remember a time when In Flames and Dark Tranquillity made an effort at being animated, or when Alexi Laiho wasn’t infusing his vocal work with gimpy metalcore tendencies, this will prove to be a worthwhile reminder, though the sentimentality is accompanied by an updated sound that may come off as less than organic.